Tag: "affordable connectivity program"

Posted November 15, 2022 by Karl Bode

In 2020, New York City officials unveiled a massive new broadband proposal they promised would dramatically reshape affordable broadband access in the city.

Instead, the program has been steadily and quietly dismantled, replaced by a variety of costly half-measures that critics say don’t solve the actual, underlying cause of expensive, substandard broadband.

The New York City Internet Master Plan was ambitious. The plan featured a pilot program designed to bring affordable broadband to 45,000 residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, a major streamlining of broadband deployment bureaucracy, and several initiatives prioritizing subscriber privacy and choice.

At the heart of the proposal was a plan to spend $156 million to create citywide fiber and wireless open access networks in underserved portions of the city that would be open to all competitors. The plan specifically targeted the most underserved parts of the city, given officials estimated it would cost $2.1 billion to deploy such a network city wide. 

“The private market has failed to deliver the [I]nternet in a way that works for all New Yorkers,” the plan said, pointing out that 29 percent of city households lacked broadband, and 46 percent of families living below the poverty line lacked service due to high prices.

City officials predicted that their plan to boost competition would create 165,000 new jobs, result in a $49 billion increase in personal income, and create up to $142 billion in incremental gross city product by 2045 – all while delivering faster, more affordable broadband to 1.5 million city residents currently without access.

But elections have consequences.

In June of 2022, new New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city would be “pausing” the entire initiative for “re-evaluation.” Insiders familiar with the decision making process say the pause was more of an abrupt cancellation, leaving planners and network built partners high and dry after several years of careful preparation and planning. 

“Eleven service providers, many minority-owned, are ready and waiting to...

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Posted October 12, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Jessica Engle, Director of Community Outreach at Althea to talk about the Affordable Connectivity Program, the $14-billion fund that provides a $30 monthly service benefit ($75 on Tribal lands) to help defray the cost of Internet access to qualifying families around the country. It's a large and complicated program, and Jessica and Christopher talk about some of the bottlenecks that are causing friction both for households and for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This includes verifying eligibility in a timely fashion, modifying administrative and accounting systems, a lack of information transparency from USAC and the FCC, and the seeming lack of mechanisms for an audit should it become necessary down the road.

Jessica has started a Discord to help navigate the ACP

How much money is going out the door each month to pay for the Affordable Connectivity Program? Where have funds been spent at the state and zip code level? When will the money run out? Check out our dashboard at ACPdashboard.com.

This show is 17 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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Posted September 13, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by ILSR colleagues Sean Gonsalves (Senior Editor and Communications Team Lead) and DeAnne Cuellar (Outreach Team Lead) for a roundup of recent news. They talk about the release of our new tracking and advocacy tool, the Affordable Connectivity Program dashboard, the pace and speed of the municipal broadband build in Pharr, Texas, pilot program aimed at low-income households in Syracuse, New York, Boulder, Colorado's broadband plan, and Erie County, New York's revived connectivity plan.

This show is 33 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted August 31, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Update November 2022:  The previous version of this dashboard included both Enrolled and Claimed household numbers. At the time, we believed that these two values (as reflected in the publicly available USAC releases) represented an important (and increasingly so) reality where a large number of the households that were eligible and enrolling in the benefit were not using (or claiming) the benefit. Thus, the data seemed to show that millions of households who had been cleared to use the program were not getting the benefit each month. After further conversation with administration representatives regarding the ACP data releases, it seems this is not the case. Instead, the difference between Enrolled and Claimed households only reflects the procedure via which ISPs participating in the program are submitting payment claims to USAC at irregular intervals. Thus, sources say, all Enrolled households should be using the benefit, and reflect the best numbers for understanding how much of the fund is being used at present. We have adjusted the dashboard to reflect this.

On January 1st, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) with $14.2 billion in funding designed to help American households pay for the monthly cost of their Internet subscription. In May, we published a story about the fate of the program, based on a prediction model we built that was intended to visualize how long we might expect the $14.2 billion fund to last before needing new Congressional appropriations to sustain it. Back then, the data showed that the fund would run out some time in 2024.

We’re back today not only with a new and improved model (based both on more granular geographic data and fed by an additional 16 weeks of enrollment data), but a new dashboard that pulls together a host of information from the Universal Service Administrative Company on where and how the Affordable Connectivity Program money is being spent. 

A New Resource for Broadband Advocates, Local Policy Makers, and Elected Officials

Located at ACPdashboard.com, this new resource from ILSR includes information local broadband advocates, nonprofits, state legislators, and...

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Posted May 19, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

On Monday last week, the White House made much ado of an announcement that it had secured commitments from a collection of large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to adjust speed tiers and monthly costs for their existing plans so as to be able to offer a $30/month, minimum 100 megabit per second (Mbps) download offering for low-income households across the country. The goal was to create plans for households that qualify for the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to get access to faster connections while ensuring no additional out-of-pocket costs. The recent White House announcement said that the 20 private-sector providers that have joined together cover 80 percent of households (skewed towards urban areas).

There’s no argument that the move will directly benefit hundreds of thousands of households by boosting their wireline connections and reducing their monthly expenses. And yet, it’s a treatment of the symptom rather than the disease, as the administration continues to refuse to address the larger structural dynamics that have made Internet access increasingly expensive in this country and perpetuated a broken marketplace via poor regulation and a lack of strong leadership.

This will become immediately apparent the moment that the Affordable Connectivity Program runs out of money, and those households suddenly face higher costs with no option for recourse. Our analysis shows that even if only a third of eligible households ultimately enroll (ten percent more households than are enrolled today), absent an additional allocation, the fund will be exhausted by the beginning of November 2024. But even under the best-case scenario, with the benefit reaching as many people as possible, current enrollment rates show that only 68 percent of eligible households will be able to sign up before the funds run out. In this model, the money will be exhausted just 18 months from now, on January 1st, 2024.

A Necessary Benefit, But There Are Enrollment Disparities

Today,...

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Posted May 12, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

There is a long-term solution to the broadband affordability gap that can be found in America’s first gig city. Thanks to Chattanooga’s wildly successful municipal broadband network, EPB Fiber, and its partnership with The Enterprise Center and Hamilton County Schools, over 15,000 low-income students in 8,500 households in Hamilton County are already getting a decade of free high-speed Internet service at no cost through a program known as HCS EdConnect.

It was borne out of the community’s response to the pandemic as local leaders looked to leverage an existing community asset to allow students to participate in distance learning, enable educators to expand educational opportunities outside the classroom, and support parents in pursuing their own professional and personal goals.

It’s an example of the one of the many benefits of having a locally-controlled, publicly-owned broadband network in which the infrastructure is seen as a public good like roads or a water system. It’s an approach that sees broadband infrastructure as something that should be accessible to everyone in the community and not used as a tool to simply benefit those who can afford it.

We wanted to visually document the power that HCS EdConnect has had in transforming the lives of program participants by weaving together a compilation of video diaries that will give you a glimpse of how a visionary municipal network made this Tennessee county more resilient in the face of the pandemic and ensured no one in their community was left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Big Telecom Band-Aid or Local Long-Term Solution?

The short video below, produced and edited by our multimedia specialist Henry Holtgeerts, stands in stark contrast to the Presidential press conference...

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Posted May 9, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The Biden Administration is poised to celebrate the nation's largest telecommunications monopolies today even as these companies do the bare minimum for digital equity while undermining his administration's broadband agenda.

Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, had this to say today about the undue influence of Big Telecom and its effort to block the confirmation of GiGi Sohn as an FCC commissioner: 

As we enter the third year of a pandemic that has supposedly redefined the crucial importance of broadband, the Federal Communications Commission has failed to update the definition of broadband it set in 2015. Few expect the FCC to publish accurate maps of where broadband is until 2023. It might help if President Biden seated his third commissioner. 

The Biden Administration took a painfully long time to nominate the most obvious candidate for the position - Gigi Sohn - and has done precious little to have her confirmed in a reasonable time frame. Though it would be easy to blame Republican opposition, the truth is that it simply does not appear to be a priority for the Administration.

We join the effort to praise all companies that are helping move toward digital equity, but if simply discounting the cost of service from cable and telephone providers were sufficient, we might have less of a problem now, 11 years after Comcast launched Internet Essentials. To actually connect everyone, we will need an effective FCC as well as local engagement. However, some of the very companies being praised by the President today are spending millions in lobbying and ad-blitzes to prevent Gigi Sohn from being confirmed and to stop needed investments.

If they succeed in blocking Gigi, they will have confirmed something else: that they are the actual regulator of telecom services and the Biden Administration is not serious about the lofty goals it set in 2021. 

We support the work of countless people within the executive branch who are making the rules to spend the various funds appropriated by Congress to expand broadband access. And, while the low-cost...

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Posted March 10, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last November the LA County Board of Supervisors quietly and unanimously approved a project that could dramatically reshape affordable Internet access in the largest county in the United States. While success will require coordination at an unprecedented scale to avoid the mistakes of the past, this new effort has momentum and funding options on its side.

The newly approved plan first aims to deliver wireless broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles county that currently don’t subscribe to broadband service, starting with a 12,500 home pilot project. But the vote also approved a new feasibility study into a Los Angeles county-wide municipal fiber network. 

The motion tasked the LA County Internal Services Department, directed by Director Selwyn Hollins, with coordinating the effort. Hollins in turn is working with the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street lighting  (which had already received a CBDG grant to help fund local Wi-Fi networks) and other regional city agencies already engaged in digital divide efforts. 

Sources familiar with project planning say it’s too early to specify pricing and speeds, but one goal is to be able to provide symmetrical 100 Mbps service for $30/month. As with other communities (like Fort Pierce, Florida), the county then hopes to layer on the $30 discount from the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program to ensure costs are negligible for low income residents. 

The Covid crisis, as it did across countless U.S. communities, not only placed a bright spotlight on the overall lack of affordable broadband access across the Los Angeles area, organizers say it has galvanized unprecedented momentum...

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Posted February 11, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Located in the most northeastern part of Tennessee, BrightRidge has served as Johnson City’s public power utility for nearly 80 years. About a decade ago, BrightRidge stepped into the broadband space, and has since been taking serious strides to connect Johnson City residents and surrounding communities. 

When we left off with BrightRidge in 2019, the utility was about to start into the first three phases of a fiber buildout to provide 3,847 homes and 373 businesses with broadband access. Since then, state and local funding as well as utility investments have allowed BrightRidge to reach thousands of residents in the area.  

Back in 2009 is when Johnson City, Tennessee began thinking about a possible fiber buildout. Since then, the city of 67,000 has considered a number of approaches, eventually landing on building out a hybrid (fiber and fixed wireless) network and serving as a publicly owned broadband utility to bring Internet access to residents. Known today as BrightRidge Broadband, the utility offers symmetric speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (for $149/month) in Johnson City and nearby communities.  

Originally slated to be complete in 2026, demand and success in rolling out the infrastructure has led the utility to speed up its deployment plans. According to a June press release, BrightRidge anticipated “collapsing its 8-year build-out plan down to seven years, with 5,449 customers with service available compared to the original FY 22 plan of 2,940.” The release also cited a plan for Phase 5 of deployment, “beginning in July 2023 [and adding] 8,248 customers – 5,300 more than originally planned for the phase.” BrightRidge is currently halfway through Phase 4 of buildout, and has a current coverage area of over 15,000 homes and businesses in Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County. Importantly, the network construction so far has been funded internally with the help of local, state and federal funding: electric customers will see...

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Posted January 13, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas. 

When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.

Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule. 

After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks. 

Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May. 

As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.

Summary and TL;DR

 

The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys...

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