Tag: "digital divide"

Posted October 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes back Will Aycock, General Manager of Wilson, North Carolina’s municipal network Greenlight, and Rebecca Agner, Communications and Marketing Director for the city of Wilson.

Christopher talks with the duo about what it took for the city to be named one of the ten best small towns in the country to start a business in 2019, and the city’s efforts to use its municipal infrastructure to launch an affordable new ridesharing initiative which takes into account social distancing needs and user cost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also spend time discussing how Greenlight is spearheading efforts to make sure the county’s most economically vulnerable residents have options to connect in 2020, including a public housing initiative that makes sure low-income residents have an affordable, reliable connection and a flexpay program that gives residents the option to pay for small chunks of Internet access according to their means and needs. 

Finally, the group dives into the network’s future plans as it approaches paying off the last of its debt in the near future.

This show is 31 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 in our index.

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Posted October 2, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

State officials in Tennessee have allocated an additional $3 million from CARES Act funding to the project to go towards the 10-year maintenance endowment to keep 28,000 students connected, as well as provide devices for students in need.

Posted September 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

EPB Fiber, the municipally owned broadband utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has already connected more than 4,400 households and 6,800 students to free, 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet (with no data caps) in its bid to reach all 32,000 students on free or reduced lunch in Hamilton County schools. Listen to Episode 425 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast to learn more.

Posted September 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Over the summer, Oregon took a second swing at revising its state Universal Service Fund program by passing SB 1603, a bill which will create a larger rural broadband development fund by including retail wireless and VoIP service (in addition to traditional telephone service) in the fees it collects to bring basic connectivity services to unconnected parts of the state. The new law lowers the current tax rate on telecommunications service provider's gross revenue (from 8.5% to 6%) but dramatically broadens the collection base, which will bring in needed dollars to expand broadband access to state residents without it in coming years. The move comes on the heels of the state’s move to establish a Broadband Office in 2018 to “to promote access to broadband services for all Oregonians in order to improve the economy and quality of life.”

Nuts and Bolts

SB 1603, which passed the state legislature on June 26 and was signed into law on July 7, directs the Oregon Business Development Department  (OBDD) to transfer up to $5 million of the funds collected each year to a broadband fund for rural development projects, administered by the OBDD. While the amount that will be collected remains unknown at the moment, it will no doubt represent a significant boost: the current mechanism for funding rural information infrastructure projects — the Rural Broadband Capacity Pilot Program — received 25 applications for almost $5 million in requested funding, but was only able to grant $500,000, or 10%. SB 1603 caps the money to be collected by the Oregon Universal Service Fund at $28 million annually.

As a result of SB1603, Oregonians can expect the average cell phone bill would go up by about $4 a year, and those with landline telephone service will see an annual decrease of $12 a year. Some VoIP providers had contributed willingly prior to the bill — that voluntary opt-in is removed.

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Posted September 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), privately owned infrastructure builder and operator SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with the company's subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market. 

A Different Approach

SiFi’s FiberCity model remains somewhat unique in the United States, and is much more common in Europe and Asia. CEO Ben Bawtree-Johnson attributes their success to cracking the economic code for private investment in open access information infrastructure, which has seen more attention in recent years as investors and fund managers have seen opportunities. “[O]ur vision really is to create as many last-mile fiber optic networks as we can across the USA in a long term sustainable fashion,” Bawtree-Jobson remarked on an episode of the podcast last fall. “[W]e're all about long term, dry, low yielding, risk mitigated investments, so everything we do is based around 30-year plus type investments.”

Fullerton, according to SiFi, was an ideal candidate for its first FiberCity because it applied to be one of the original candidates (though not chosen) for a Google’s fiber program, begun in 2010. The company sees it as sitting in the Goldilocks’ zone in terms of size and population. Construction started last November, and currently consists of around 600 miles of fiber all underground via microtrenching. Nokia serves as the main equipment partner on the project. 

Turning on the Lights

The first residential customers...

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Posted September 14, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s (NDIA's) Net Inclusion conference (which was moved to fall and then cancelled because of the ongoing public health crisis) has been converted into an eight-week long webinar series starting this Wednesday at 2pm ET. From the website, its aim is to:

[W]elcome digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers to discuss local, state, and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity, sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and digital inclusion best practices from across the country.

Each week on Wednesdays through November 4th, one-hour webinars will tackle a wide variety of topics. More than two dozen national leaders and experts will participate, and sessions include thirty minutes of wrap-up where viewers can ask questions of the panel. See the schedule below:

  • 9/16: Digital Inclusion 101 – The What, The Why, And How To Advocate
  • 9/23: Research And Data To Convince Locally, To Advocate With State And Federal Policymakers, And To Allocate Limited Resources
  • 9/30: Racial Equity And Digital Inclusion
  • 10/7: Local Government Digital Equity Strategies
  • 10/14: What Works? New Research About The Effectiveness Of Digital Adoption And Skills Intervention Strategies
  • 10/21: What New Digital Inclusion Models (Partners And Funding) Are Coming Together Due To The Pandemic?
  • 10/28: Coalitions – Who’s At The Table, Who Is Convening, And How Are Strategic Decisions Made?
  • 11/4: Final Plenary – How Did The Pandemic Change Digital Inclusion Work – On The Ground And In Policy?

Presenters include Brian Dillard, Chief Innovation Officer at the City of San Antonio, who will no doubt talk about how the city leveraged its infrastructure to deliver free Wi-Fi to 20,000 students for distance learning during the current school year. Other participants include:

  • Rene Gonzalez, CSO and Founder at Lit Communities
  • Leon A. Wilson, Chief of Digital Innovation & Chief Information Officer at The Cleveland...
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Posted September 9, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

North Carolina’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) broadband grant program announced two new rounds of winners recently that will bring Internet access to more than 11,000 households, businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions across the state. The roughly $16 million in projects represents a significant bump in the state’s commitment to its least-connected people, though there remains significant work to be done.

Counties in Need

The winners span projects in 11 rural counties: Bertie, Columbus, Duplin, Edgecombe, Graham, Greene, Martin, Nash, Robeson, Rockingham, and Swain. The first round, announced in July, includes $10 million in GREAT funds joined by $2 million in CARES Act money to bring access to 8,017 households and 254 businesses, farms, and community institutions. The governor announced a second round at the end of last week that leverages an additional $4 million in CARES Act funds to connect 3074 households and 191 businesses.

Duplin County (pop. 59,000), in the southeast part of the state, won particularly big this time around, with four providers (CenturyLink, Cloudwyze, Eastern Carolina Broadband, and Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC)) pursuing projects totaling more than $3 million. See the full list of winners here.

Among them are a handful of community networks (like ATMC) and local ISPs (like Eastern Carolina Broadband). Last year ATMC won $7.9 million from the United States Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, which it paired with matching funds to deliver Fiber-to-the-Home to more than 2,700 homes, businesses, and farms.

A Great Program, With Caveats

The...

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Posted September 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In July we wrote about West Des Moines’ announcement that it would build an open access citywide conduit system to spur broadband infrastructure investment, and how Google Fiber became the Iowa city’s first partner. 

In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Christopher is joined by Jamie Letzring, Deputy City Manager for West Des Moines, Iowa, and Dave Lyons, a consultant with the city, to discuss in more detail how things unfolded behind the scenes.

Together, the group digs into the how West Des Moines started with a long-term vision—called West Des Moines 2036—that, in part, brought local leaders together to discuss universal high-speed Internet access as a path to equity, economic vitality, and citizen engagement. Jamie and Dave share the challenges that came with a rapidly congesting right of way (ROW) landscape, and how that ultimately led to the decision to commit to a citywide conduit model that has attracted Google Fiber. Finally, Chris, Jamie, and Dave talk about what the citywide conduit system will do for business development and city residents once it’s complete. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 40 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.

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

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Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them. 

A Neighborhood in Need

The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.

Canal neighborhood residents are also among the least connected in the county. A recent survey by local nonprofit Canal Alliance showed that 57% of residents don’t own a computer, compared to just 10% of those...

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Posted August 31, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

For those in research, policy, community support, and the host of interrelated spaces who are hard at work to make sure that everyone in the country who wants to get online can, expanding broadband is a two-fold problem: that of broadband availability, and that of broadband adoption. 

The first of these relates to the problem of making sure that federal and state legislation and the policies that go with them work towards building the infrastructure and creating the competitive markets that result in reliable, low-cost, high-speed Internet access for all. The second of these — broadband adoption — relates to the collection of obstacles that keep people offline even after an Internet connection is available up to their door. Cost remains one of the most problematic, but there are others as well. 

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic this year has made overcoming these challenges more important and immediately pressing than ever, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has initiated a program to help: one-on-one, phone-based support from locally trained people across a range of digital inclusion services call the Digital Navigator Model

The concept was developed last April, and the completed Digital Navigator Model, developed by NDIA along with partners and allies, was released this August. Its purpose, from the press release:

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sudden, massive public need for trustworthy digital inclusion services. Millions of Americans need support from digital inclusion programs: to get connected with affordable home internet, find affordable computing devices, and learn basic digital skills. “Digital Navigators” is an adaptation of traditional digital inclusion programming to this new reality, providing one-to-one dedicated support via phone service.

The idea is to train volunteers and individuals already working in communities (including public library workers and other relevant city staff) across the country to handle the range of barriers that individuals in their communities face to getting...

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