Tag: "quarantine"

Posted April 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this month, more than 70 electric cooperatives joined consulting firm Conexon in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to speed up planned rural broadband funds in response to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In comments filed with the FCC, Conexon called upon the agency to accelerate phase one of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction, planned for later this year, in order to connect rural communities and bolster local economies affected by the current crisis. Specifically, Conexon suggested that the FCC expedite RDOF applications and subsidies for providers that plan to build gigabit fiber networks, since under the current auction rules, those bidders are essentially guaranteed funding. The filed comments, available in PDF format below, included an open letter signed by dozens of electric co-op leaders who support the proposal.

While the urgency of rural connectivity has been underlined by the nationwide shutdowns intended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the need for better rural broadband isn’t new. Conexon stated in its comments, “Whether the current health and economic crisis lasts a few months or a year, funding long-term rural fiber networks is necessary and long overdue.”

Proposed RDOF Process

Unlike those who want to postpone RDOF until the Covid-19 crisis passes or the FCC collects more accurate broadband data, Conexon opposes any further delay of the auction. “If anything, in the current economic climate, the RDOF Phase I auction should be accelerated, not delayed,” the company stated.

FCC logoIn its comments, Conexon proposed a couple measures the FCC could take to expedite the RDOF process for gigabit-tier bidders while allowing the rest of the auction to proceed as planned. Most importantly, the FCC could streamline the application process by combining steps in the process and require faster broadband deployment from winning bidders. Conexon also suggested that the agency could extend funding for gigabit fiber networks even if RDOF is postponed, saying, “In the event the auction is delayed beyond this year, the FCC should fund such applicants at the [auction’s] reserve price.”

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Posted April 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting communities across the country in different ways. Recently, Christopher called up Scott Mooneyham, Director of Political Communications and Coordination for the North Carolina League of Municipalities, to find out how towns and cities in the Tar Heel State are faring.

Christopher and Scott discuss how the spread of the novel coronavirus has changed life in the state's communities and how local governments are responding to new needs while continuing to provide essential services. Scott shares stories from towns that are now struggling with broadband access, despite their proximity to major metros, creating public safety concerns.

The pair reflected on WRAL's recently released documentary "Disconnected," which compared connectivity in two North Carolina communities, Enfield and Wilson, and explored how the different levels of broadband access affected residents. They talk about how municipalities like Enfield would be able to partner with local companies to improve Internet access if the legislature removed the restrictive prohibitions currently in state law. Scott explains how the current Covid-19 shutdown has elevated the issues raised in the documentary while also piling many other priorities onto state legislators' desks.

This show is 22 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...

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Posted April 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Over the next couple weeks, the Rural Assembly is hosting two livestreamed events on Internet access in rural and Native communities during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The conversations will address the topic from different angles. The first event, scheduled for Thursday, April 16 at 4 p.m. ET, will explore how people in rural areas and on tribal lands are accessing broadband and the impacts of limited connectivity. Speakers at the second session, on Friday, April 22 at 4 p.m. ET, will discuss how federal policymakers and other government officials are addressing the lack of reliable rural broadband and what more needs to be done.

Register now for the free events.

Old Problem, New Urgency

This isn’t a new concern — rural and tribal communities have struggled with inadequate connectivity since before the Internet even existed, when people had to unite to invest in their own telephone networks.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent data, broadband is still unavailable to more than 20 percent of rural Americans. Nearly a quarter of the tribal population also lacks access to broadband infrastructure. Even when broadband is supposedly available, many households still can’t subscribe because federal data overstates coverage and services aren’t always affordable or reliable.

Now, the movement of most life online in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus has raised the stakes for rural and Native communities already impacted by poor broadband access. Not only will communities without adequate connectivity have a harder time keeping people safe at home and connected to essential services like schooling and healthcare during the global crisis, but they will also face a steeper climb out of the economic recession once the pandemic recedes.

Event Details

The Rural Assembly is hosting the first online conversation on Thursday, April 16 at 4 p.m. ET. Panelists will discuss the current state of connectivity in indigenous...

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Posted April 10, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Internet access is more important than ever before. Elementary school math classes, routine doctor’s appointments, after-work happy hours, and more all require a high-speed broadband connection now.

In response, many national Internet service providers (ISPs) have introduced free and discounted plans to keep people connected during the crisis (though there are still holdouts). Comcast has raised speeds and is offering 60 days of free broadband service to new low-income subscribers. Charter Spectrum is extending a free two month offer to new customers with students in the household. And AT&T is giving low-income families signing up for new service a couple of months free.

The charity of these companies is commendable, but their plans still leave many people disconnected, forcing them to choose between staying safe at home and accessing essential services. Eligibility oversights leave out households in need, and overwhelmed call centers make signing up for programs difficult. In many cases, families are falling through the cracks simply because the national ISPs are too big and too monopolistic to catch them.

Ineligible and Unaccessible

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has documented many of the issues that families across the United States face in trying to access ISPs’ Covid-19 offers. Ars Technica covered their concerns in a recent article, spelling out the shortcomings of various providers’ plans.

NDIA logo

One problem is the eligibility guidelines restrict many households from taking advantage of ISPs' programs. In many cases, free connections are only available to new subscribers, even though many people are now struggling with reduced incomes. A number of companies have excluded prior customers with...

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Posted April 9, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

With Covid-19 cases growing across the country, it's more important now than ever that households have access to telehealth services.

For the seventh episode of the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series, we spoke with Dave Kirby, president of the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association, about the role of telehealth in the healthcare system, both during the pandemic and after it ends. "Why NC Broadband Matters" is created in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization working to connect communities across North Carolina to high-quality broadband access.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png In his conversation with Christopher, Dave explains the important functions broadband serves in modern healthcare systems, and he describes different telehealth applications, including video visits and connected care devices.

The pair discuss how hospital closures and limited access to healthcare impacts rural North Carolina communities. Dave touches on some of the research into how broadband can connect underserved areas to remote healthcare providers. Unfortunately, many rural communities don't have adequate Internet access, and the lack of connectivity is a barrier to telehealth. Christopher and Dave talk about the challenges to expanding broadband for telehealth in rural areas but also about the potential cost savings of better healthcare access in the state

Before wrapping up the interview, Dave predicts that the current Covid-19 crisis will push more healthcare providers to adopt telehealth, even after the pandemic...

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Posted April 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As coronavirus trackers continue to tick, it’s becoming even clearer that the current pandemic will necessitate months, not weeks, of working and learning from home and other social distancing measures.

To make that transition easier for its members, North Dakota telephone cooperative BEK Communications is offering new subscribers four months of free Internet access on its Lightband Fiber-to-the-Home network. The co-op is also increasing speeds and implementing other efforts through its “BEK Cares” initiative, which aims to make better broadband accessible to rural North Dakotans in response to the growing Covid-19 emergency.

“BEK’s commitment to keep its customers and community connected has never been greater,” the co-op stated in a press release announcing its efforts [PDF]. “We want all of our customers and community members to know we are here for you.”

ISPs Pledge to Connect

Across the country, Internet service providers (ISPs) have launched various efforts to address the connectivity needs of communities impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

FCC logo

Earlier last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, a voluntary program in which ISPs promise to pause disconnections, waive late fees, and open Wi-Fi hotspots to the public. Hundreds of providers have since signed on, including national companies such as AT&T and Comcast as well as local cooperatives like BEK.

In addition to taking the pledge, some companies are also offering a couple months of discounted or no-cost service to households with students and other eligible subscribers. See the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s list of free and low-cost plans for more details on the programs being offered by national ISPs.

However, certain major providers...

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Posted April 3, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Like most other aspects of life, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the federal government’s plans to disburse grants, loans, and subsidies for the construction of rural broadband networks. But unlike the sporting events and concerts that can be put on an indefinite hold, these funds are now needed more than ever by the Internet access providers trying to connect rural households during a time when everything has moved online. Federal agencies, like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), must find ways to manage the challenges caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus and to leverage their funds to support essential networks for families stuck at home.

These agencies’ main rural broadband programs — the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and USDA’s ReConnect — are at different stages, both in their funding cycles and in their response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic has already led to changes at the USDA, which has extended the ReConnect application deadline and is set to receive additional funds from Congress. Meanwhile, the FCC has yet to alter the upcoming RDOF subsidy auction, but it could speed up the process to address the current crisis, which threatens to linger through the summer.

While more must be done to address the many digital divides exacerbated by the pandemic, federal agencies should at least use existing programs to their full advantage to connect rural Americans during this unprecedented time.

ReConnect Extends and Expands

USDA logo

USDA launched the ReConnect broadband program last year to award more than $1 billion in grants and loans to connect unserved and underserved rural areas. In round one of the program, the agency distributed more than $600 million to 70 providers across 31 states. Many of these awards went to community-owned networks, including rural cooperatives and local...

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Posted April 1, 2020 by Sushmita Shrestha

Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, recently appeared on Broadband Breakfast Live Online on March 31 to discuss the impacts of the pandemic in the broadband sector.

Along with Christopher, the panel discussion was joined by host Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher at Broadband Breakfast, Gigi Sohn from Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, and Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks. The panelists explained policies to support universal broadband access, shared issues with telehealth, and suggested short-term solutions to bridge the homework gap.

Here is an excerpt from Christopher’s discussion with Broadband Breakfast:

I think that the school backbone networks can be helpful right now. We need any fiber available to immediately bring high-quality Wi-Fi to parking lots so that people can access networks right now, perhaps with a heater on and soon with an AC on. I feel like that is the major priority of what we are seeing in terms of the reactions. In the longer term, to actually make sure everyone is connected with the high-quality network, I think those school networks in some cases will be useful. Certainly, in municipal networks we've long seen sharing of cost. So if you are opening a trench to put in a school network, you should put in other conduit or fiber for other usage. A lot of municipal networks have benefited from the shared cost. So that is just a good standard practice.

Watch their full conversation below or on Broadband Breakfast.

Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.”

As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.

Even before the current crisis, the “homework gap” meant that 7 million school-age children did not have Internet access at home, hampering their ability to get an education. Now, the digital divide is being thrown into even starker relief, as students struggle to access online classes and school districts grapple with equity concerns.

Though it isn’t a permanent solution to the homework gap, these community institutions and providers hope that the emergency Wi-Fi access will give students on the wrong side of the divide a chance to learn while schools are shut down.

Students Trade Desks for Cars

Earlier this week, the American Library Association (ALA) recommended that libraries leave their Wi-Fi turned on and accessible while facilities are closed. In a press release, ALA stated:

America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net . . . The COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students...

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Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Not even a pandemic can stop this week's guest, US Internet CEO Travis Carter, from finding ways to bring better connectivity to his company's subscribers and the community.

For the 400th episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviewed Travis (from six feet away) at the US Internet office outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. The pair discuss how the ISP is responding to the crisis, including by limiting home installs and opening up access to its public Wi-Fi network. As people transition to remote work, online education, and digital entertainment, Travis explains how the network is experiencing increased interest from new customers and greater demand from current subscribers.

Christopher and Travis also talk about US Internet's pilot project in low-income housing and how the ISP is trying to determine what barriers prevent households from signing up for the service. Travis describes some of the funding challenges he faces as he expands the network throughout the city and how US Internet differentiates itself in terms of reliability. Before closing the interview, he shares his disappointing experience with mobile connectivity during a big roadtrip he took last summer, arguing that wireless networks can never replace fiber.

Travis was previously a guest on Community Broadband Bits episdoes 359 - An Insider's Perspective on Urban Fiber Deployment, 301 - Wireless and Wired; US Internet Knows Both, and...

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