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Something for Everyone at Broadband Communities' 2020 Annual Summit
Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.
Last Mile Infrastructure and the Limits of CARES Funding
The first day of the program saw some heavyweight sessions from Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) on last mile digital infrastructure. For communities at all stages of broadband exploration and investment — whether exploring an initial feasibility study, putting together an RFP, or already planning for the future by laying conduit as part of other projects — partnerships dominated the discussion, with timing and debt also serving as common themes.
ILSR’s Christopher Mitchel helped kick off the conference by moderating the first panel in the Rural/Editor's Choice track, and was joined by Peggy Schaffer from Maine's Broadband Office (ConnectME), Monica Webb from Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ting, and Roger Timmerman, CEO of Utah middle-mile network UTOPIA Fiber.
The group discussed the open access models to start, and the benefits that could be realized from two- or three-layer systems. UTOPIA Fiber has seen some explosive growth and spearheaded significant innovation recently as it continues to provide wholesale service to ISPs that want to deliver retail service on the network. Ting, which recently signed on to be one of two providers on SiFi Network’s first FiberCity in Fullerton, California, also acts as an example of what can happen when we break away from thinking about infrastructure investment and Internet access as one-entity-doing-it-all.
Broadband Communities Summit 2020 Goes Virtual, Running September 22-24
This year’s Broadband Community Summit has gone digital to adapt to the ongoing public health crisis, but will still offer a wealth of information on and seasoned experts speaking to all sorts of topics relevant to community broadband networks. It runs this week from Tuesday to Friday, and interested parties can register here.
Something for Everyone
Note that the Coalition for Local Internet Choice program has two panel sessions on partnerships of all colors and one on federal and state incentives on the first day of the summit. Other topics include:
- Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships
- Funding Opportunities
- Broadband Mapping
- Deb Socia — President CEO, The Enterprise Center
- Roger Timmerman — CEO, UTOPIA Fiber
- Jim Baller — President, CLIC
- Dorothy Baunach — CEO, DigitalC, Cleveland, Ohio
- Matt Dunne — Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
- Ben Fineman — President & Co-Founder, Michigan Broadband Cooperative
- Nancy Werner — General Counsel, National Association of Telecommunications Officers Advisors
- Dr. Christopher Ali, PhD — Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia
What is Chris Up To?
Our own Christopher Mitchell will be moderating two sessions — one on last-mile infrastructure, and another on municipal broadband success stories. The first, on Tuesday from 11:20a-12:15p:
Net Inclusion 2020 is a Webinar Series
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s (NDIA's) Net Inclusion conference (which was moved to fall and then cancelled because of the ongoing public health crisis) has been converted into an eight-week long webinar series starting this Wednesday at 2pm ET. From the website, its aim is to:
[W]elcome digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers to discuss local, state, and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity, sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and digital inclusion best practices from across the country.
Each week on Wednesdays through November 4th, one-hour webinars will tackle a wide variety of topics. More than two dozen national leaders and experts will participate, and sessions include thirty minutes of wrap-up where viewers can ask questions of the panel. See the schedule below:
- 9/16: Digital Inclusion 101 – The What, The Why, And How To Advocate
- 9/23: Research And Data To Convince Locally, To Advocate With State And Federal Policymakers, And To Allocate Limited Resources
- 9/30: Racial Equity And Digital Inclusion
- 10/7: Local Government Digital Equity Strategies
- 10/14: What Works? New Research About The Effectiveness Of Digital Adoption And Skills Intervention Strategies
- 10/21: What New Digital Inclusion Models (Partners And Funding) Are Coming Together Due To The Pandemic?
- 10/28: Coalitions – Who’s At The Table, Who Is Convening, And How Are Strategic Decisions Made?
- 11/4: Final Plenary – How Did The Pandemic Change Digital Inclusion Work – On The Ground And In Policy?
Presenters include Brian Dillard, Chief Innovation Officer at the City of San Antonio, who will no doubt talk about how the city leveraged its infrastructure to deliver free Wi-Fi to 20,000 students for distance learning during the current school year. Other participants include:
Master the Basics of Broadband with ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell on Merit Webinar
Need better Internet access in your community but don’t know where to start? Want to educate your local leaders on broadband solutions but they can’t tell DSL from fiber optic?
Join the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Christopher Mitchell on Tuesday, May 5 at 12 p.m. ET for a webinar on broadband basics as part of Merit’s Michigan Moonshot Educational Series. The conversation will introduce various broadband solutions and technologies, giving participants the necessary foundation to start working on better Internet access locally.
Merit, a statewide educational and research network run by Michigan’s public university system, is hosting the event. Michigan Moonshot is Merit’s effort to improve Internet access in the state by collecting accurate data, disseminating educational resources, influencing policy decisions, and connecting communities to funding.
ABCs of Connectivity
Christopher’s presentation, on Tuesday, May 5 at 12 p.m. ET, will “explore the trade-offs, capacity, and economics behind common Internet access technologies, including cable, DSL, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, satellite, and fiber optic,” according to the event page. The webinar will aim to give participants “the confidence to engage in broadband discussions, debates, and efforts to improve broadband Internet access.”
This introduction is ideal for residents, community leaders, and business owners who want to engage with local efforts to increase connectivity. If you already have a good understanding of broadband technologies, consider inviting local officials or stakeholders to the webinar to build their knowledge.
Sign up online in advance for the webinar link.
Dust up on the Rules
Upcoming Rural Assembly Events Spotlight Critical Need for Better Rural and Tribal Broadband During Pandemic
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.
2020 Mountain Connect Set for May 18th - 20th
Make it to Colorado in the spring for Mountain Connect on May 18th - 20th. This is one of Christopher's favorite events located at the picturesque Keystone Resort and Conference Center in the Rockies. This year's theme is "Broadband: The Great Enabler for Disruptive Technologies."
Many past attendees cite the regional focus of Mountain Connect as one of the reasons they find the event especially valuable.
The mission of Mountain Connect is to move our western US communities forward by providing relevant and targeted content to help them make the most effective decisions as they build new or expand existing telecommunications infrastructure that enable the long-term vision of a community. We are agnostic of the technology that delivers broadband and as such, believe this provides a well-balanced foundation to make an educated and informed decision with input from industry and community leaders from across the US. Finally, we believe in looking forward and are inclusive of trending technologies that will shape our broadband future.
Expect to hear from some top-notch speakers, including:
- Jeff Christensen from Entrypoint Networks
- Angela Siefer from National Digital Inclusion Alliance
- Colman Keane from the City of Fort Collins
The agenda is still being solidified, but some of the topics to be included on panel discussions and from speakers include:
- The Impact of Emerging Technologies
- Why Master Planning is Paramount to Long-term Success
- Unique Funding Alternatives
- Policy and Legislative Considerations
- 5G/Small Cell
- Update on the progress on our Public Safety Broadband Network
- Economic Development
- Experimental Wireless Technologies with our Research & Academic Partners
Net Inclusion 2020, Portland, April 7th - 9th
As we trudge through the snow in Minneapolis, we dream about spring weather and Net Inclusion 2020. It’s one of our favorite annual events and this year folks will gather in Portland, Oregon, to discuss all things digital inclusion. This year, the event is April 7th - 9th.
The annual event, hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), brings together people concerned with digital equity and how to expand it. Policy experts, Internet access providers, and community leaders gather together in order to examine the issue of digital inclusion. Some of the conversations and presentations include:
Local, state and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity
Sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs
Digital inclusion best practices from across the country
The first day of the conference will consist of workshop events in the morning hours and site tours in the afternoon. Some of the locations attendees will visit include Free Geek, Open Signal, and the Boys & Girls Club. Wednesday, April 8th, will be dedicated to interactive sessions, as will the morning of April 9th.
Learn more specifics from the schedule here, where you can also check out the growing lost of speakers. Get your tickets before February 8th and receive a discount!
Quick as Lightning
One of the unique features of the Net Inclusion event is the ability for new, creative digital inclusion initiatives to present their ideas at the Lightning Round presentations:
Since our first Net Inclusion in Kansas City in 2016, NDIA has featured Lightning Rounds in plenary sessions as a way to shine a spotlight on dozens of great digital inclusion initiatives, and to encourage peer-to-peer networking among our affiliates and friends. Think of it as a beacon to find the people you’d love to have a hallway conversation with.
Nominate Young Leaders to Attend the Rural Youth Summit
This spring, the Rural Assembly will hold a Rural Youth Summit in McAllen, Texas, to discuss the issues young people consider important. The orgaization will fund the the event, including expenses for attendees, and bring fifty people between the ages of 16 - 24 together; apply now or nominate some one you think should attend. Nominations and applications are due by January 31st.
What is the Rural Assembly Youth Summit?
The event is scheduled for April 2 - 5, 2020, and the aim is to bring together a diverse group of young people from rural regions. The Rural Assembly wants to encourage discussions about rural geographies and identities, including income, race, culture, faith, accessibility, gender, and sexual orientation. Young people in rural areas face different challenges than those in other communities and the goal is to bring them together to explore ways to address the issues and create national rural policies to address those challenges.
Who Should Attend?
The Rural Assembly will cover travel, lodging, and food for all participants in the 2020 Rural Youth Assembly. Here's who they hope will attend:
The Rural Assembly is seeking young people who are interested in rural and Native issues and invested in strengthening their communities. We look for individuals who are willing to engage in respectful and sometimes challenging conversations, and are committed to finding common ground to create solutions. Most importantly, we seek participants who are excited and enthusiastic about making an impact in their local communities.
If you know some one who you'd like to nominate, the Rural Assembly suggests they be "mature and thoughtful leaders" age 16 - 24 with:
Christopher Mitchell Receives Courageous Leadership Award from Blandin Foundation
One of the most respected and well-known organizations dedicated to improving the lives of people in rural Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation, has honored Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with the Courageous Leadership Award.
The award was recently presented at the 2019 Blandin Broadband Conference in Nisswa, Minnesota.
The Blandin Foundation listed some of the many reasons for awarding the recognition to Christopher:
For his research, advocacy and leadership at the national level on behalf of community broadband networks, via public sector ownership and cooperatives, as a strategy for maximizing community benefits from broadband network development.
- Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance where he researches and publicizes the benefits of community-owned broadband systems.
- Honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology nationally by Government Technology magazine.
- Leads MuniNetworks.org, a comprehensive online clearinghouse of information about community broadband. Chris is also policy director at Next Century Cities, a national community broadband advocacy organization.
In response, Christopher said:
“It is an honor for our work to be recognized by the Blandin Foundation, which has done so much for Greater Minnesota. Achieving the promise of Border-to-Border broadband Internet access requires contributions from everyone, especially communities themselves. We have always felt that Internet access — a service that education already depends upon and medicine soon will — needs much more local leadership. That leadership is what we have seen from the communities that are reaping the rewards of the best connectivity available today.”
Read more about the award and read a the transcript of an interview with Christopher about his work on municipal broadband and about being a leader at the Blandin Foundation's website.
It's National Digital Inclusion Week! Help Spread the Word!
This week is Digital Inclusion Week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). As a reader of MuniNetworks.org, you're used to stories about local communities that develop strategies to deploy networks for many reasons, including to improve access to high-quality connectivity. These local communities recognize the necessity of finding a way for members of the community to obtain fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Access, however, is only one element of digital inclusion. We'll share stories highlighting local efforts to bring every person online with the tools they need to expand their use of the Internet.
Digital Inclusion Week (DIW) is October 7-11, 2019, and with your help we can move closer to our common goal: that all people have access to the Internet and the tools they need to use it. The week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, is an opportunity to raise awareness about digital inequities and nationwide efforts to close those gaps from California to the Carolinas. Digital Inclusion Week seeks to bring people who dedicate their lives to Digital Inclusion together to highlight the impact of their work and to come together to find solutions to close digital divides.
What is Digital Inclusion?
Digital inclusion isn't limited to the inability to subscribe to Internet access because one doesn't live in a place where is isn't available. NDIA applies five necessary elements:
Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes 5 elements:
1) affordable, robust broadband Internet service;
2) Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;
3) access to digital literacy training;
4) quality technical support; and
5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.
Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.