Tag: "American Rescue Plan"

Posted June 21, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Gainesville City Commissioners dealt a severe – if not fatal – blow to the expansion of municipal broadband in the Florida city where Gatorade was invented. Last week, five of the city’s seven commissioners voted to reject a proposal to spend $10 million of its American Rescue Plan funds to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot project.

As we reported here and here, city officials had been leaning in the direction of using $10 million of its $32 million in federal rescue plan funds to extend the city utility’s existing fiber network to bring high-speed Internet access to about 5,000 households caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has already deployed over 600 miles of fiber throughout the city, and for the past two decades, its subsidiary GATOR NET has been offering symmetrical gig-speed service to a limited number of area businesses, apartment buildings, government agencies, and community anchor institutions. 

In 2017, the citizen-led group Connected Gainesville began a public campaign with the hopes of persuading city officials to bring FTTH service citywide in a market dominated by Cox Communications, the incumbent monopoly cable provider serving this city’s approximately 141,000 residents, 56,000 of whom attend the University of Florida.

Death-knell for Municipal Broadband in Gainesville?

But now that city commissioners opted not to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime infusion of federal funds for broadband, Connected Gainesville founder Bryan Eastman sees last week’s vote as a death-knell for expanding municipal broadband in the city, he told ILSR when we spoke to him this week.

If we are risk averse with free federal money we will not likely look for...

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Posted May 27, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are at various planning stages in laying the groundwork to build their own municipal broadband networks, a rural Bay State town about 50 miles west of Boston has moved past the planning phase and is now offering municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service.

In Sterling (est. pop. 8,000) – the town that lays claim to Mary Sawyer Tyler, said to have inspired the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” poem – the town’s municipal utility is building out its aptly named Local Area Municipal Broadband (LAMB) network.

The project was initiated more than five years ago as a new division within the century-old Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD). As one of about 40 of the state’s 351 towns and cities with its own municipal electric utility, SMLD was awarded a $150,000 state grant to help finance the construction of a 23-mile regional I-Net ring in 2020. A year later, LAMB lit up its first residential customer in April of 2021.

Following an incremental approach, earlier this year, the LAMB added its 50th subscriber as construction crews are on track to build out a town-wide fiber network by the end of 2024.

Connecting with Nearby Towns

Like other communities across the nation with an established municipal utility, from a design and engineering standpoint, it was a relatively easy leap into broadband for SMLD, which currently supplies electricity to more than 3,700 residential, commercial and municipal customers.

Hanging fiber along SMLD’s utility poles to first build the network backbone, it allowed the town to connect 26 municipal buildings, which included the police and fire stations, library, town hall, the department of public works, water and radio towers, as well as SMLD’s substations.

It was a...

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Posted May 11, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Summit County has put together a multi-part, $75 million broadband plan to improve connectivity in the area: a middle-mile institutional fiber ring to connect the county’s public safety facilities and expand its broadband capacity, a new datacenter, and a fiber investment to specifically target residents and businesses in the county’s underserved areas and economic activity hubs. When completed, the whole project will go down as one of the county’s largest capital projects to date

Summit will dedicate $35 million of the $105 million it received from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) for the fiber ring, another $20 million in ARPA dollars to serve job hubs and areas of need, and $20 million of its own county funding for the datacenter. But the locally driven solution almost didn’t materialize, with recent movement in the state legislature threatening community-owned solutions that remain out of step with both residents and local officials. 

Defending Community Broadband Against State Challenges

The county’s potential for better connectivity was threatened last year, when the state of Ohio introduced some last-minute legislation that threatened to outlaw public broadband. In June of 2021, an amendment banning municipally-owned broadband was anonymously tacked onto the State Senate budget bill. The amendment barred the creation of new municipal networks and the ongoing operation of existing municipal networks in areas where a private provider offered service. It prevented city governments from accepting federal money for broadband projects, and allowed city-owned networks to provide service only in areas where no private provider was present (less than two percent of Ohio).

Up until this amendment was proposed, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro had been advocating for countywide expansion of FairlawnGig, a veteran network based in the city of Fairlawn. The network had been connecting residents for a...

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Posted April 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although we were initially concerned that certain language in New York’s proposed state budget would lock out municipal broadband projects from being able to capitalize on the federal funding bonanza contained in the American Rescue Plan Act and forthcoming money in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill that was ultimately signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul was amended and has some golden nuggets for municipal broadband.

The recently enacted $220 billion budget bill includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative, which Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office calls “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure (that) will leverage public and private investments to connect New Yorkers in rural and urban areas statewide to broadband and establish the first municipal broadband program of its kind in the nation.”

Cultivating a Municipal Broadband Ecosystem

In part MMM of the budget bill, it establishes a “municipal assistance program … to provide grant funding to municipalities, state and local authorities ... to plan and construct infrastructure necessary to provide broadband services.”

Municipal grant recipients, the bill says, will be required to build broadband infrastructure to “facilitate projects that, at a minimum, provide reliable Internet service with consistent speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and at least 20 (Mbps) for upload.” That shouldn’t be a problem as most municipal broadband projects use fiber optics that can deliver far more than that. 

How much of the ConnectALL money will be allocated for the municipal grant fund has not yet been determined. But, community broadband advocates should not lose sight of the significance of the broadband ecosystem that is being cultivated in conjunction with other parts of the budget bill.

The budget bill also includes two provisions that will reduce the cost of building last mile networks. One repeals the fees associated with laying high-speed fiber cables along state highways, which...

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Posted April 8, 2022 by Karl Bode

Cox Communications recently grabbed headlines for an announcement that the company would be investing more than $120 million in Rhode Island to expand and upgrade its Internet infrastructure. But officials in the state say much of the planned deployments may not actually even be new. The announcement appears timed to ensure that public funds from the American Rescue Plan are shifted away from potential competitors (including local governments), and toward a regional monopoly long criticized for underinvestment in the state. 

“Historic Investment”

On March 15, the region’s dominant cable broadband provider announced a $120 million plan to provide 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) service to an unspecified number of  Rhode Island residents over the next three years. The coordinated press event and announcement took place at the Old Colony House in Newport mansion of Governor Dan McKee, who heralded the “historic investment.” 

According to Cox, $20 million of the announced total would fund fiber new deployments to roughly 35,000 homes in the Aquidneck Island communities of Newport, Portsmouth, Middletown, and Jamestown. The rest will focus on providing less-robust hybrid coaxial/fiber service to the rest of the state’s residents. 

“We’re preparing for the next generation of Internet use in home and in business,” Ross Nelson, Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for Cox Communications said. “We are committed to being the Internet provider customers can count on to have the speed they need now and in the future.”

But several state leaders, well familiar with cable and phone monopolies' long history of under-investment in the state, say the announcement was largely decorative, and doesn’t come close to actually meeting the needs of long-underserved local Rhode Island communities. 

“When you break down the $20 million among just those four communities over three years, it is $1.6 million,” Rhode Island Representative Deborah Ruggiero said in a press release of her own, calling the Cox...

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Posted April 6, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

With an unprecedented amount of federal funds to build broadband networks flowing into individual states, lawmakers in some states are doing the bidding of the big monopoly Internet Service Providers and potentially blowing a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in the locally-accountable infrastructure that offers the best chance to bridge the broadband gap for millions of families once and for all.  

Two weeks ago we wrote about the anti-competition broadband legislation making its way through the State Legislatures in Illinois and New York as state lawmakers across the nation establish high-speed Internet grant programs.

That trend looks like it’s continuing in Michigan where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature recently reached a deal to pass a nearly $5 billion spending bill.

While the “Building Michigan Together Plan” is being “celebrated” by the governor’s office as a way to “grow the economy, create jobs, and benefit families in every region of the state,” the main supplemental spending bill, known as Senate Bill 565 (SB 565), may sink some hope community broadband advocates have for leveraging the windfall of federal funds the Great Lakes State is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the forthcoming funds in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA).

Protecting Incumbents from Competition

The legislation allocates nearly $251 million for a statewide broadband grant program to be overseen by the newly created Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI), a subdivision of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). But, buried in Section 359 of the bill, paragraph (3), it stipulates that Michigan's “infrastructure grants must only be allocated...

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Posted March 24, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Now that the fight over federal funding to expand broadband access has been largely settled with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), states and local communities are preparing to put those funds to work.

The Biden Administration had initially hoped to tip the scales in favor of building publicly-owned broadband networks as the best way to boost local (more affordable) Internet choice, and inject competition into a market dominated by monopoly incumbents. And while the Treasury rules on how Rescue Plan money can be spent does give states and local governments the ability to do just that, the rules for how the IIJA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program can be spent have yet to be finalized by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agency in charge of allocating those funds to the states.

Predictably, the big monopoly incumbents are focusing their lobbying efforts on state lawmakers as states funnel those federal funds into state broadband grant programs. In some states, Big Telco is getting the desired result: the shunning of publicly-owned network proposals to shield monopoly providers from competition. Of course, we expected some states – especially those with preemption laws that either erect barriers to municipal broadband or outright ban such networks – to shovel most of their federal broadband funds to the big incumbents, even though they have a long track record of over-promising and under-delivering

But while we might expect Florida and Texas to favor the private sector and stealthily move to shut out projects that are publicly-owned, we’re surprised that the first place it’s happening is actually Illinois and New York.

Illinois Lawmakers Thumb Nose at Federal Law

In January,...

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Posted March 18, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Located in southeastern Iowa, Dubuque (pop. 60,000) has considered the advantages of building a municipal network a number of times over the past fifteen years. Back in 2005, the city – as well as several other Iowa communities – voted to “grant the right to create municipal systems” (Telegraph Herald, 2009). The new legislation, however, did not result in many new telecommunications utilities. 

The road to better connectivity has been a long one, marked by repeated battles between locals served by poor or no service and the city’s incumbent providers. In 2009, Mediacom used the state’s right of first refusal law to keep competition out of its territory, causing the city to “cry foul” and Dubuque to reconsider a public network. In 2015, the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation joined forces to expand local connectivity in response to community demand. The partnership included convening private and public sectors to identify last mile infrastructure and foster collaboration, and supporting opportunities for expanded connectivity. By 2017, private providers including Wisconsin Independent Network, CS Technologies, Unite Private Networks, CenturyLink, and Mediacom had made efforts to serve some of the unserved areas, but pockets of the community were still left out. 

Only more recently has a formal proposal been set forth, with the potential to create a robust middle-mile network designed to dramatically improve competition and incent private ISPs to invest in the un- and underserved pockets of the community. 

A Formal Proposal for Public Broadband Infrastructure 

It’s been a long conversation with no definitive moves, but that may be changing soon. In February, 2022, Dubuque County’s Information Technology Department proposed a middle-mile underground conduit buildout to connect residents and anchor institutions across the county. The...

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Posted March 4, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like numerous U.S. counties, large segments of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota (pop. 44,000) lack access to affordable Internet service at modern speeds. So like many underserved communities, the county—situated about ninety miles west of Minneapolis—is looking to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime collision of funding opportunities to help finance a massive fiber broadband expansion across numerous county townships. 

A recent survey by the county unsurprisingly reveals that residents are greatly annoyed by the lack of affordable Internet access options, with 64 percent of locals saying they’re dissatisfied with the Internet service provided by regional monopolies.

Ten Projects on Tap

Hoping to address the shortcoming, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working on ten different projects to shore up Internet access around the county. 

Some of the proposed projects involve partnerships with national monopoly providers like Charter Communications, but others will involve the county and a local cooperative doing the heavy lifting. The county had hoped to fund the projects with a combination of subscriber fees, American Rescue Plan funds, NTIA grants, and upcoming Minnesota state grants.

The first major project closest to being “shovel ready” is a $10 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project in partnership with the Federated Telephone Cooperative of Morris. Federated is expected to finance twenty-five percent of the overall project, with new subscribers expected to pay about $1,250 per household to connect to the gigabit-capable network. 

Kandiyohi County is also eyeing the unprecedented federal funding opportunities created by both the recently-passed infrastructure bill and Covid relief efforts. All told, the country hopes to combine a large chunk of the $8.3 million it’s receiving from the American Rescue...

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Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

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