Join us live on Thursday, June 9, at 5pm ET in the chat for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Alan Fitzpatrick (Co-Founder and CEO of Open Broadband in North Carolina) and Matt Larsen (CEO of Vistabeam).
The panel will discuss the range of wireless approaches used in rural and urban areas to reach subscribers, how it competes with fixed broadband deployments using various technologies, and the advantages and challenges of it brings to the tool chest. They'll also talk about unlicensed versus licensed spectrum, Tarana, and how the federal broadband funding programs will change the landscape for fixed wireless in the near and long term.
An effort to foster digital sovereignty and support tribal citizens to build and operate their own broadband networks in Indian Country is gaining momentum.
Responding to the challenges of COVID and the opportunities created by the federal attention and investment into tribal broadband, our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, prominent Tribal broadband advocate and 20-year veteran behind the Tribal Digital Village, Matt Rantanen - along with a loose coalition of public interest tech people - have organized a series of trainings to help tribes tackle building and running networks for themselves.
These Tribal Broadband Bootcamps build on the work of Internet Society's North American chapter at an Indigenous Connectivity Summit. The first Bootcamp, held in the summer of 2021, brought together nearly two dozen tribal citizens from five indigenous nations who gathered in southern California to learn how to build and operate wireless networks using their FCC license for 2.5 GHz spectrum access. The second bootcamp, held in March 2022, focused both on wireless and fiber networks. The third bootcamp, slated for next week, will be the first on the sovereign territory of the Yurok Nation in northern California.
Tribal Connectivity Front and Center
Each bootcamp is a 3-day intensive learning experience that invites tribal citizens to come together with experienced network architects, managers, and policy experts to walk participants through what it takes to build a local broadband network, how to operate as Internet Service Providers, and handle the associated technical challenges.
While many rural areas outside of Indian Country lack decent access to broadband, the lack of high-speed Internet connectivity on Tribal reservations is particularly acute.
For decades, Tribes have been overlooked, ignored, and defrauded by telecommunications companies who, for the most part, have only sought to extract...
If you don't quite have enough good broadband podcast content in your life (we don't know how that's possible with a backlog of almost 500 episodes of Broadband Bits and nearly 40 episodes of the Connect This! show), you're in luck. The always-wonderful 99 Percent Invisible podcast, which looks at the design of the built world, takes on last-mile network infrastructure in the most recent episode of its bonus Future of.. series.
In "The Future of the Final Mile," Roman Mars uses the evolution of broadband access over a handful of years in Detroit and Chattanooga to illustrate what happens when a community sucessfully takes the future of its information infrastructure into its own hands. With interviews from local residents and broadband advocates, the episode addresses the uneven broadband marketplace, efforts to address inequitable access in Detroit through a citizen-created wireless mesh network, and a full fiber-to-the-home build in Chattanooga. Mars and his co-producer ask a lot of good questions about why more communities don't take bold steps, why preemption persists in 17 states, and what communities can do.
This week on the show, Christopher is joined by Angela Thi Bennett, Director of Advocacy & Impact at DigitalC, a community-based Cleveland nonprofit which operates a fixed wireless network in the city's unserved and underserved neighborhoods.
Before she leaves to become the first Digital Equity Director for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Angela sits down with Christopher to talk about everything the organization does to advance digital equity goals in the city, driven by an agenda that focuses on healthcare, education, and economic growth. She shares how the nonprofit developed a sustainable model to delivery reliable, fast Internet access for $18/month, how success comes from listening intentionally and regularly to what community members need and want, and what true empowerment means in the face of shifting agendas at the state and national level.
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...
In this episode of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Heather Gold (CEO, HBG Strategies LLC) and Milo Medin, an industry veteran who recently left Google as VP of wireless services.
The panel will tackle what we can expect to see in the broadband marketplace in 2022, with a special focus on fiber, including who is building it and why the capital markets are so hungry for it. What are we likely to see from builders big and small? What will competing against the national monopoly providers look like? Is fixed wireless a viable option ten years from now?
In Waldo County, a collection of local officials and community volunteers have formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) to organize efforts to bring broadband to five towns in rural Maine, clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta. Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont combined have only 3,300 houses along 340 miles of road. The need for better Internet access became particularly visible during the pandemic, as local officials tried to convene online for Selectmen’s meetings. Two selectpersons from neighboring towns connected over this shared need for access, and the coalition grew from there.
Phase I of the project included distributing a survey to assess connectivity needs across the towns, as well as taking inventory of existing infrastructure. This phase was funded by ConnectMaine, with support from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Island Institute. The initial connectivity need survey found that out of respondents who did not have Internet access, 55 percent had no provider offering wireline access, and for 32 percent access was too expensive. 76 percent of respondents with Internet access reported a deteriorated connection with more than one user online, and 56 percent experienced an Internet connection problem at least once a day. The data also showed that “96 percent of the 70 miles of road in Searsmont [the largest of the five towns], are either underserved or not served at all by current Internet service providers.”
The coalition has identified four possible models to solve the connectivity gap and...
The Benton Institute released a report in November naming the seven communities that the project will focus on: Blue River, OR; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Clinton City, MO; Detroit, MI;Loiza, Puerto Rico; and Yonkers, NY.
In the report that was released, Benton spotlights each community and the technologies they will use. The technologies include Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), fiber, fixed wireless and hotspots.
According to the initiative's guidelines, these communities were chosen because of how they vary in population, demographics, regions of the country, housing, and industry. The program will work with these communities to experiment in deploying innovative Internet connectivity solutions on a 12-month timeline.
The projects will collectively result in not only education, outreach, and local broadband organizing development efforts, but provide direct connectivity to more than 700 households.
For example, in a CBRS deployment in New York,
The Project OVERCOME pilot in Buffalo will provide equitable broadband access, enabling community members to engage with educational, telehealth, and government services. These services have been unattainable due to high internet costs and digital redlining. As part of the project, four Long-Term Evolution (LTE) antennas are being installed on top of the Buffalo General Medical Center (BGMC). These antennas will broadcast signals to the Fruit Belt using the newly available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Customer premise equipment (CPEs) and Wi-Fi access points will be installed at participants’ houses to catch the LTE signal and create a Wi-Fi network for home internet access. Through the installation of the LTE antennas, up to 140 households are projected to gain broadband service, with potentially hundreds more...
When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).
Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:
Specifically, LTD had not complied with the Board’s February 22, 2019 order, as LTD had not yet filed a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on its DPRS assessment, and had not yet filed an annual report with the Board for reporting years 2019 and 2020.
[B]eyond the procedural flaws in LTD’s Application, the company’s responses to Board . . . illustrate that LTD has routinely submitted regulatory filings with obvious errors, if filings were submitted at all . . . It is for this reason that the Board takes seriously LTD’s history of inconsistent compliance with this provision, as the regulatory burden is minimal and the consequence of failing to uphold the obligation ETCs pledge to carry out impacts the rest of the industry, the Board, and most importantly, the Iowans served by the program.
But the regulatory board took its comments a step further, basing its ruling also on the fact that the company's behavior in the state betrays what looks like a lack of ability to meet its bidding commitments during the auction:
The record in this docket does not merit the expansion of a credential that signals to the public that LTD has evidenced the technical and financial capabilities required to carry out the public interest obligations of those entrusted with federal funds. LTD’s responses and actions lack the candor that the Board would expect from a carrier seeking to evidence the expertise to take on this degree of expansion.
Back in July, with the support of the Internet Society and a crew of community broadband advocates interested in increasing digital sovereignty across Indian Country, five tribes participated in the first ever Tribal Broadband Bootcamp.
The Yurok Tribe (northern California), Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria (northern California), Hoopa Valley Tribe (northern California), Pueblo of Laguna (New Mexico), and Nation of Hawaii have all applied for and received a 2.5 GHz license to build a community network for their tribes.
In this video, Jessica Engle, IT Director for the Yurok Tribe speaks in more detail about the connectivity challenges her community has faced historically, and how she is returning home from the bootcamp ready to put her newfound knowledge to work.
“When you bring high-speed Internet, that’s when development happens and opportunity happens. So, you know, making sure that (tribal) council and everyone’s aware this is going to cost money, and it probably won’t have a huge return on investment directly. But there are a million different indirect benefits of bringing the access,” Engle says in the video.
Currently, the standard connection for residents is 1 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. The premium is 5 Mbps.
Both her and Linnea Jackson, General Manager for Hoopa Valley PUD stress the importance of tribes in their region being able to build and operate their own networks.
“You do have the ability to provide service for your own people,” said Linnae Jackson, General Manager of the Hoopa Valley PUD.