Tag: "digital divide"

Posted November 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Catherine Nicolaou, External Affairs and Marketing Manager for Sacred Wind Communications, a rural local exchange carrier in NW New Mexico that has been focused on serving the Navajo Nation communities there. She shares the history of Sacred Wind, from buying copper infrastructure from Century Link 13 years ago in a region where just 26% of the households had Internet access to its 400 miles of fiber infrastructure today, allowing it to bring broadband to more than 92% of those living there.

Catherine tells Christopher how the company has had to rely on the full array of technologies to bring broadband access to families in a large area with particular geographic and topographic challenges, from Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to TV White Space (TVWS) to infrared to fixed wireless and, of course, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). They talk about what it means to Sacred Wind’s subscribers that the provider has never raised prices, and the work it’s been doing during the pandemic to make sure everyone gets and stays connected.

Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on Youtube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day. 

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes...

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Posted November 11, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As the nation’s eyes are riveted on the political divide in Georgia and the implications it has for the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, many state residents are also keeping an eye on the digital divide in the Peach State with an aim to expand broadband service to rural residents.

Georgia’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) are promoting a new “Georgia Solution” to bring more broadband connectivity to the state’s rural regions.

That’s what the statewide trade association representing Georgia’s 41 electric cooperatives is calling its unique “roll out the red carpet” initiative as they hope to lure private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to expand broadband service now that state lawmakers passed the Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act during the 2020 Georgia General Assembly.

The law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp in August, authorizes the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to set “rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments between communications service providers and electric membership corporations and their broadband affiliates.”

Filed on October 23 with the state’s PSC to consider for approval, the “Georgia Solution,” aims to entice private ISPs with two “generous and unprecedented offers” -- the “One Buck Deal” and the “Georgia One-Touch-Make-Ready Program.”

Two-Part “Georgia Solution”

The “One Buck Deal” is a financial incentive in which the EMCs will “forego recovering a fair share of their costs to own and maintain … EMC utility poles, and instead charge these broadband providers just one dollar, per pole, per year to attach their wires and cables to the pole.” The offer would be available to any qualified broadband providers that will deliver new high-speed Internet service in unserved EMC regions, which covers 73% of the state’s land area, providing electricity to 4.4 million residents, or nearly half of Georgia’s population.

That one dollar, per pole, per year “introductory rate” would last for five...

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Posted November 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This piece was written by Christopher Mitchell and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The second round of Techdirt’s Greenhouse Policy forum lands on the topic of broadband in the age of Covid and brings together a collection of voices speaking to facets of an important conversation. “The triple whammy of limited competition, regulatory capture, and Congressional corruption,” Karl Bode writes in introduction, “has resulted in the U.S. being utterly mediocre (or worse) in nearly every major broadband metric that matters.” Deb Socia and Geoff Millener have contributed to talk about online education, Harold Feld writes about radio spectrum, Terique Boyce talks about New York City’s Master Plan, and Jonathan Schwantes writes about treating broadband like a public utility. We likewise contributed an essay on community broadband and the steps local governments have taken to get citizens connected.

We encourage you to read it over at Techdirt, but will repost it below.

***

When it comes to the goal of ensuring all Americans have affordable and reliable Internet access, we are pretty much stalled. Sure, the FCC will make noise every year about our quest to bridge the digital divide, but it has focused solely on for-profit private solutions. And while there are many hundreds of good local companies making important local investments, the FCC has tended to throw the most money at the few extremely big ones (the same big ones that are on the other side of the revolving door at the FCC for most employees, whether staff or political appointees.)

In response to the pandemic, companies like Charter and AT&T have been on their best behavior and done their best to extend connections more widely than they did in normal times. It...

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Posted November 4, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As Mayors must concern themselves with everything from public safety and health to the development of the local economy and the provision of essential municipal services, they tend to have a particular focus on the infrastructure necessary to support it all, amid a cacophony of competing interests.

Over the summer, having reached consensus on the fundamental importance of “the digital infrastructure of tomorrow,” a particular focus of the United States Conference of Mayors 88th National Annual Meeting was to issue a resolution declaring the necessity of “Preserving Local Public Rights-of-Way and Regulatory Authority to Most Effectively Deploy 5G Broadband Access and Bridge the Digital Divide during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

The Mayors’ resolution comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities. 

At the heart of the regulatory debate: local governments’ ability to determine the amount of fees to charge mobile carriers that want to place 5G equipment in Rights-of-Way. In addition to putting limits on those fees, the FCC Order also sets strict timelines by which cities and towns must respond to carrier applications. The FCC decision, issued over the objections of industry observers and policy experts, essentially eliminates local communities’ ability to negotiate in order to protect their own Rights-of-Way and the poles, traffic lights, and other potential structures within those Rights-of-Way.

Preempting Local Authority

When the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 we noted that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carrier corporations while placing additional restrictions and undue financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments. 

To justify the order, the...

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Posted October 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

News stories highlighting the breadth and depth of the digital divide and its impacts in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic have dominated the headlines in recent months, but a new report emphasizes the degree to which dozens of communities in one Canadian province have struggled with connectivity issues for years. The recently released Nunavut Infrastructure Gap Report [pdf] shows what broadband access looks like for the 35,000 or so mostly Inuit residents of the nation’s youngest province, and what solutions exist for closing the gap for tens of thousands who struggle to get online.

Nunavut is the northernmost of Canada’s provinces, made up of two interlocking geographies: the landmass immediately north of Manitoba and east of the Northwest Territories, and the large collection of islands curled around Baffin Bay to the west of Greenland. It has a population barely 1/20th the size of Wyoming (the U.S.’s smallest by population) despite being the second-largest political subdivision by area in North America, and a population density of just 0.05 persons/square mile.

A Host of Infrastructure Gaps

The new report was released by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), an “organization that represents the territory’s 33,000 Inuit and their rights.” It looks to quantify existing infrastructure and obstacles in support of the pledge made by the Canadian government in 2019 to close gaps where they exist around the country. The report covers wide range of projects, but broadband access plays a prominent role in the province’s telecommunications infrastructure gap, especially in light of the nation’s goal to achieve universal 50/10 Mbps (Megabits per second) access by 2030.

Its aim, according to NTI President Aluki Kotierk, is “not so much to draw attention on the deplorable state of infrastructure in our communities, as it is to set the premise for a renewed engagement with our partners on fulfilling the...

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Posted October 28, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

Over the summer, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new program to bring high-speed Internet service to the alarming number of households who do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.

The initiative, referred to as Chicago Connected, aims to provide free high-speed Internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. One of the ground-breaking features of the effort is that it includes funds to enlist the support of a number of Community Based Organizations to assist with enrollment in the program, digital literacy and skills development training.

At the end of September, during a virtual town hall meeting, Mayor Lightfoot said that while CPS was making progress connecting eligible families, they had not yet reached the goal.

“We’re not where we want it to be. And I think part of the difficulty is, even though it’s free, it’s about making sure that families feel safe in signing up,” Lightfoot said. “Currently, we have over 25,000 households that are signed up, and that is the equivalent of almost 38,000 students towards our goal of 60,000 households at 100,000 students.”

How It Works

Using a sponsored service model, Chicago Connected seeks to provide the high-speed connection for up to four years by directly paying for the service for eligible families. The program primarily relies on donations from philanthropic partners, CPS and city funds, with an additional $5 million from the CARES Act to fund the $50 million program. Donations, which includes a $750,000 commitment from former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, will cover the first two years, with CPS paying for the third and fourth years...

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Posted October 26, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

At the end of August, Alabama rolled out what has been a unique state-level response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a decision by every school district to offer remote learning as an option for the current school year. Using $103 million in CARES Act funding, the governor’s office enacted the Broadband Connectivity for Students initiative to help low-income families pay for existing or connect new service via a voucher program that runs through December 31st of this year and is worth, on average, about $400 per family. 

To date almost 60,000 vouchers have been redeemed representing more than 100,000 students, and while we would wish to see such a large pot of funds go instead towards permanent connectivity solutions, for thousands of families it’s meant immediate and necessary relief. It also highlights the ongoing importance of fast, reliable, affordable Internet-access for distance learning. 

The process began in late July, with the state issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] soliciting responses as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as wanted to participate in the program. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is heading it up, with the state's Department of Education providing the identifying information for households with students on free or reduced lunch. CTC Technology and Energy is serving as contractor (and receiving approximately $3.4 million for its design work and services).

37 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, cable, and satellite service ultimately made the cut to participate in the program. See the full list of ISPs, but it includes a handful of municipal networks and cooperatives we’ve covered in the past, including: 

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative
  • New Hope Telephone Cooperative
  • North Alabama Electric Cooperative
  • The Electric Power Board...
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Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Along the banks of the Columbia River, Multnomah County (pop. 813,000), Oregon is considering a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network after being handed a study more than a year in the making. The report estimates that a countywide network reaching every home, business, and farm in a five-city area would cost just shy of $970 million, and bring with it a wealth of savings and other benefits to the community it serves.

Origins

The study has its origins in a 2017 push initiated by an advocacy group called Municipal Broadband PDX which has sought more affordable and equitable Internet access in the region. In 2018, the County Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be explored and approved the funding of a study, with the city of Portland and Multnomah County each contributing $100,000 and the remaining towns of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, and Wood Village joining the effort to collectively contribute an additional $50,000 for funding. Over the next year, CTC Technology and Energy conducted a comprehensive survey, analysis, and evaluation, and the results were delivered at the end of September.

The report offers good news: the majority of residents in Multnomah County want a publicly built and operated FTTH network, and it would be economically viable to provide symmetrical gigabit service to as many of the more than 320,000 households as want it for $80/month. At a projected 36% take rate on a 4% bond over a 20-year period, the network would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $966 million, depending on a host of local and market factors, some of which are fixed and others subject to change. It would see net positive income by the end of its fourth year of operation, and see a total of more than $54 million in positive net income by the end of its 20-year depreciation period (a standard model for fiber infrastructure, though they often last longer). These numbers change when adjusting the take rate and interest rate, but in the vast majority of scenarios, building a community owned FTTH network in Multnomah County is feasible. 

Broadband in Multnomah County

...

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Posted October 19, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

More than a year and a half of planning and negotiation will culminate in fiber infrastructure laid to every household in one Tennessee county over the next few years. West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative (WK&T), using its own funds along with money from the Henry County Commission and the state of Tennessee, will extend its existing network to cover the entire county and give residents access to its broadband network and services.  

Expanding Their Commitment

The recent news serves to expand a partnership that was originally announced in the spring of 2019. At that time, WK&T (founded 1951) pledged $2 million in investment and was awarded $2 million in matching funds from the second round of the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to reach 912 unserved homes in Henry County. 

Local officials have decided to aim higher, however, with the county commission joining the effort to commit $3 million of its own funds to reach as many as 1,400 homes in what County Mayor Brent Greer explained in an interview is the first phase of a countywide build that will take shape over the next 24-26 months. The cost of the first phase will be approximately $8 million, with $3 million coming from the county commission, $3 million from WK&T, and $2 million from the state. By the time it’s through, though,  the project will total $20 million and bring WK&T infrastructure to every home, business, and farm. 

Henry County sits in the northwest part of the state and has a population of 32,000 spread across a little over 13,000 households, with the city of Paris holding about a third of the population. The county is predominantly white, with average household incomes below $41,000/year. As part of the terms of this first phase, 325 homes low-income will receive free access for three months...

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Posted October 13, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Seattle, Washington sits at the technology epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, and its residents have historically enjoyed better wireline Internet access options than many Americans across the country. A new report, Seattle Internet for All [pdf], provides a wealth of analysis which identifies those remaining in the city who struggle to get online. And while it outlines a detailed set of steps the city can do to reach the 5% or so of residents who report not having any subscription, most of them remain small, with no bold strategies offered to solve the connectivity gap once and for all.

The report comes as a result of the Internet for All Resolution passed by the city council in July in order to address digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While the city has been successful in increasing Internet access over the last five years, there are important income- and race-based gaps that still need to be fixed. Currently, the report says, 17,575 households with 37,365 residents sit on the other side of the adoption gap, and it concludes that the majority of the disparity is driven by affordability and a lack of digital skills.

Summary of Findings

The report argues that Seattle remains one of the most connected cities in the country, with 93% of the city having access to gigabit broadband from one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs); according to the FCC Form 477 data (which itself overstates competition) that number sits at 75%, but in either case it's worth noting that for Comcast and Wave subscribers this will be asymmetric gigabit with far slower upload speeds. 

The report finds that 88% of households currently pay for wireline subscriptions, while 4-7% use cellular or free options to get online. But 5% report not having any Internet access at all, and these residents are concentrated around particular areas: South Central Seattle (Pioneer Square, Yesler Terrace, and International District), South Seattle (New Holly, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill), West Seattle (High Point...

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