Tag: "connect america fund"

Posted July 12, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

At the beginning of the year, our Community Broadband Networks team visited North Carolina as part of the Let’s Connect speaking tour. While preparing for the trip and after returning to Minnesota, we researched and mapped Internet access and broadband funding in the state. Here’s what we found.

Broadband Availability by County

According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, which is riddled with errors and fundamentally overstates coverage, almost 95 percent of North Carolina has access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Despite seemingly widespread connectivity, many rural parts of the state are still not connected. While the FCC data shows that nearly all of urban North Carolina has access to broadband and about 97 percent has access to higher speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps, more than 15 percent of rural North Carolina is entirely without broadband and more than 24 percent lacks access to speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps.

However, far more North Carolinians don't have Internet access than the FCC says, particularly in rural communities. The FCC's data collection method relies on self-reporting by providers at the census block-level, which inherently exaggerates the extent of broadband coverage. Even if a provider offers Internet access to only one home within a census block, the entire census block is counted as served. Rural areas, where the census blocks are large and homes are far apart, are especially harmed by this approach.

View the map below to see which parts of the state have high-speed Internet access, according to FCC data.

For greater detail, download the county-level maps from this Dropbox folder.

NC Internet Service Availability by County

Cooperatives Connect Rural N.C.

Rural North Carolina isn’t entirely devoid of high-...

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Posted July 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Summer is the time for the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference, one of the events that Christopher is sure to attend every year. This year, it was held in Dillon, Colorado, and while he was enjoying the scenery, he collected a series of interviews. This week we hear from Brian Worthen, CEO of Mammoth Networks.

With its home base in Wyoming, Mammoth serves locations in eleven western states. They primarily provide wholesale middle mile service, but the company also offers last mile connectivity in select locations. Brian describes how, over time, Mammoth has developed a system of adopting combinations of technology to get the job done. They provide service in areas that are often sparsely populated, in areas where the geology varies, and Mammoth adjusts to the needs of their diverse customers.

The company received an award at Mountain Connect for their work on Colorado’s Project THOR. In this interview, Brian describes their involvement with the project and with several other local projects in the state. Christopher and his guest talk about cooperatives and their expanding role in delivering high-quality Internet access. They consider which levels of government are best suited to offer financial assistance to broadband initiatives, especially in rural communities, and discuss the potential for Low Earth Orbit Satellites to contribute to universal broadband access.

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

This show is 32 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...

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Posted March 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Over the past few years, Partner Jonathan Chambers of Conexon has become our “go-to guy” for FCC conversations. This week, he joins us to talk about a recent issue that revolves around the Connect America Fund Phase II auction and one of the grant recipients, Viasat.

With former experience working at the FCC in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Jonathan has insight we try to tap into every time a thorny issue arises. Satellite Internet access provider Viasat was one of the top winners of federal funding, winning more than $122 million. Questions remain, however, if they will be able to deliver services that meet the requirements and deliver what they promised. Apparently, Viasat is unsure if their chosen satellite technology will be able to meet the testing thresholds and have asked the FCC to retroactively adjust the requirements to ensure their services pass muster.

The FCC has yet to decline this request, which raises direct and indirect issue with the CAF II program, the FCC’s administration of the program, and Viasat. In this interview, Jonathan and Christopher discuss the issue in more detail and use the matter as a springboard to more thoroughly talk about the role of federal, state, and local government in developing rural broadband. Jonathan and Christopher ponder ways for local residents to have more of a voice in how broadband is funded and deployed in their communities and how ways to improve the process.

For a list of the CAF II winning bidders, check out the August 2018 FCC press release. You can also learn if your area is in a region where Viasat has won a bid by checking out the CAF II Auction Results map.

To learn more about voice...

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Posted January 11, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

...

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

A year ago, we last had Jonathan Chambers of Conexon on the podcast to discuss the pros and cons of the Connect America Fund. Since then, the FCC has held an auction to expand connectivity in rural areas as part of the Connect America Fund Phase II (Auction 903) and recently released news of the winning bidders. In episode 321 of the podcast, he’s back for another conversation on the process and the results.

In addition to a brief history on the Connect America Fund, Jonathan and Christopher spend some time discussing the arguments for and against federal funding dedicated to rural deployment. Do ISPs really want to serve residents and businesses in rural areas? Based on the results of the auction, the answer is yes.

As Jonathan notes, this year’s bidding process has been more transparent in years past, but in order for the program to be a true success, there also needs to be accountability. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss the results from this auction and the strong showing that rural electric cooperatives made in the auction. They talk about some of the technological challenges that may arise for some of the bidding firms that promised results that may be beyond their capabilities. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss some of the areas of the country where firms receiving Connect America Funds will deploy.

You can view lists of bid winners and the news release about the auction at the FCC website. There are also maps available at the FCC, to offer visual representations of areas to receive infrastructure, along with eligible areas, and related documents.

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

This show is 51 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here....

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Posted August 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted August 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

This report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Download Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted August 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you haven’t already taken a look at our most recent report, now is your chance to get some insight before you download it and dive in. Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom, written by our Hannah Trostle, recently left ILSR to attend grad school, and Christopher Mitchell, transforms FCC Form 477 data into a series of maps that reveal a sad state of competition in the U.S. broadband market. For episode 317 of the podcast, Hannah and Christopher discuss the report and the main findings.

Download the report here.

Hannah and Christopher provide more insight into the main findings of the report, which analyzes where competition exists and where large national providers fail to invest. The result ultimately creates densely populated areas with more competition for broadband (as defined by the FCC) than rural areas. Due to their de facto monopolies, the top national providers capture huge segments of the population.

Hannah and Christopher also talk about the quality of the Form 477 data and the need for better benchmarks, we learn about why Hannah and Christopher felt that it was time to take the data and turn it into a visual story. You’ll learn more about their methodology in developing the maps and their analysis. Hannah, who created the maps that make the foundation of the report, shares some of the surprises she discovered. The two talk about the Connect America Fund and the policies behind the program and how the results have aggravated lack of broadband in rural America and how cooperatives are picking up the slack where big corporate ISPs are failing rural America.

cover-monopoly-report-2018_0.png If you want to learn more about how cooperatives are running circles around the big ISPs in rural areas, download our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want...

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Posted July 6, 2018 by htrostle

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

A recent report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

Boots on the Ground

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

Result: Little Broadband Access

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Read the full report from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted May 2, 2018 by htrostle

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we analyze data and explore public policies to empower local communities. Our initiative staff work on varied issues from composting to broadband, but all these issues affect our daily lives and our communities. In the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, we often analyze high-speed Internet service availability using the best data that is publicly available. Some of this data, however, is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued.

FCC Form 477 Fails in at Least Four Ways

The most common source of this data is the Form 477. It is designed to be standard, uniform, and provide the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with detailed information to make sound decisions. The FCC distributes form 477 to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to collect data on their service availability. This form is only accessible online through a government web portal, and it has an accompanying 39-page instruction document. Some of the information is confidential and stripped away before the FCC releases the data to the general public.

The FCC Form 477 may not accurately reflect broadband availability in four main ways: 

1). ISPs may fill out the form improperly. Some ISPs may misplace key information into the form, creating havoc for those analyzing the data. They may input numbers in Kbps instead of Mbps, causing further confusion. For example, a fixed wireless ISP outside of Rochester, Minnesota, offers a maximum speed of 10 Mbps on their website, but the FCC Form 477 states that this ISP advertises a speed of 244 Mbps. Perhaps the ISP meant customers can usually expect a maximum speed of 244 Kbps? Even then, that doesn’t make sense. 

2). The data is out of date. ISPs submit the form twice a year, but the FCC takes time to process this data. By the time we produce maps and research, the underlying data may already be too old to be useful. Mergers may not yet be adequately reflected. For example, at this writing in May 2018 the most recent data currently available is from December 2016. That means the data, the maps, and the research are about a year and a half out of date.

3). The data only includes information maximum advertised download and upload speeds. What the average customer experiences is likely different. They may have bought a lower tier package (see also,...

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