Tag: "low-income"

Posted May 29, 2020 by christopher

I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.

Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.

But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.

However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.

They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.

In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.

City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...

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Posted April 22, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Schools across the country have moved instruction online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but many students are struggling to log in and learn. We’ve written before about how schools, libraries, and Internet access providers are taking steps to connect students with Wi-Fi hotspots. Still, many kids don’t have access to appropriate devices they can use to complete online schoolwork. According to PCs for People, a digital inclusion nonprofit and computer refurbisher, almost a quarter of students don’t have a computer.

To overcome that barrier, PCs for People partnered with Schoolclosures.org, GoFundMe, and Google Fiber to launch the Give Computers project, which will connect unused computers sitting in empty corporate offices with students in need. The initiative will refurbish computers and other devices donated by businesses and send them to eligible students. Details and donation information are available online.

Donation and Distribution Details

PCs for People and its partners will welcome donations from all businesses, from large corporations to small mom-and-pop shops, as well as from individuals. Accepted equipment includes working and non-working laptops, desktops, tablets, and computer accessories. PCs for People, which has an NAID AAA certification for data sanitization and R2 certification for e-waste recycling, will securely erase any data on the devices and restore the computers to operable condition, recycling any unusable devices or materials. More information is available in the Give Computers FAQ.

Submit an inquiry online if you wish to donate. PCs for People will help set up shipping or a free pickup for the equipment.

If your child or another student you know needs a device to complete online schoolwork and meets PCs for People’s eligibility guidelines, you can ...

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Posted April 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Our lives have mostly moved online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the millions of Americans who don't have access to home broadband have been left behind. Whether it's unavailable or just unaffordable, these families must risk their health to access essential services, like healthcare and education.

This week for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), about the many ways that the pandemic has highlighted digital divides in our country. Angela shares how NDIA is helping address urgent connectivity needs by supporting digital inclusion practitioners on the ground and by raising public awareness during the crisis.

One of NDIA's efforts is their list of Free and Low-Cost Internet Plans from national broadband providers. Christopher and Angela review some of the providers' offers and discuss the problems that NDIA has found with the plans. (Spoiler: Comcast is doing, well, pretty good actually. Charter Spectrum on the other hand . . . ) Angela explains why it's important that these plans serve more than just students if we want to keep people safe at home.

The pair also talk about creative efforts to temporarily deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots as well as longer term plans to improve broadband access and availability. However, Angela reminds...

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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 November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

"The Same Fabric of Truth-Seeking"

The 150-page report provides examples of successes, challenges, and many more detailed recommendations for a forward-thinking broadband policy agenda. As the author notes, extending high-performance broadband to all of...

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Posted October 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

Deploying Better Networks, Creating Choice

In addition to better data collection in order to know where Internet access is inadequate, Sallet writes that policymakers and citizens should also have access to information about Internet access that hasn't...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

Since 2017, AT&T has been called out for digital redlining in Cleveland and Detroit. Now, Dr. Brian Whitacre from Oklahoma State University has compared 477 data from the company to poverty levels in Dallas County, Texas, and discovered similar findings. He entered into the project under the request of Attorney Darryl Parks, who filed the complaint against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against AT&T relating to digital redlining in Cleveland.

Dr. Whitacre provided a statement of his findings to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) to be published in full. Read his findings here.

In his POTs and PANs blog, Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting analyzed Whitacre’s findings. AT&T offers Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH), VDSL, and ADSL2 or ADSL2+, which all provide dramatically different speeds. As Dawson summed up:

It’s worth noting before going further that the… speed differences, while dramatic, [don’t] tell the whole story. The older ADSL technology has a dramatic drop in customer speeds with distances and speeds are also influenced by the quality of the copper wires. Dr. Whitaker noted that he had anecdotal evidence that some of the homes that were listed as having 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) of 6 Mbps might have speeds under 1 Mbps.

Dr. Whitaker then overlaid the broadband availability against poverty levels in the county. His analysis started by looking at Census blocks have at least 35% of households below the poverty level. In Dallas County, 6,777 census blocks have poverty rates of 35% or higher.

The findings were as follows:

  • Areas with high poverty were twice as likely to be served by ADSL – 56% of high-poverty areas versus 24% of other parts of the city.
  • VDSL coverage was also roughly 2:1 with 25% of areas with high poverty served by VDSL while 48% of the rest of the city had VDSL.
  • Surprisingly, 19% of census blocks with high poverty were served with fiber. I’m going to conjecture that this might include large apartment complexes where AT&T delivers one...
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Posted August 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this week, Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren released her Plan to Invest in Rural America, which contained a framework for improving broadband policy and expanding high-quality Internet access.

You can read her full plan on Medium.

Funding Needed, Spent Wisely

Some of Warren’s goals for proposed policy changes include:

  • Passing federal statute that ensures municipalities have the right to invest in network infrastructure
  • Ending anti-competitive behavior from big corporate Internet access companies that engage in activity designed to reduce competition
  • Pass a Digital Equity Act, which will provide $2.5 billion over 10 years to states in order to help them develop digital inclusion projects

Warren’s plan also focuses on financing infrastructure development in rural areas, and creates some guidelines to address the problems with the current system. Her plan includes:

  • Dedicating $85 billion to expand broadband networks with grant funds awarded exclusively to cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, and local government
  • Funding will be reserved for regions that are unserved, underserved, or where there is minimal competition
  • Grants will only go to projects that offer one discount plan and must include a 100 Mbps symmetrical tier, along with specific requirements for low-income subscribers
  • $5 billion will be earmarked for grants to projects that will benefit people on tribal Native American lands

Improving the FCC

Warren also wants FCC Commissioners who will restore network neutrality protections and improve mapping. By making changes in the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, Warren plans to further attack the digital divide for indigenous people.

Read more of Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Invest in Rural America at Medium.

Posted May 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Local communities continue to search for ways to tackle the digital divide and in San Francisco, the city is making strides by working with a local Internet access company. The City by the Bay and ISP Monkeybrains have adopted a new model to bring high-quality connectivity to residents in public housing. The approach not only creates new opportunities for people who were once denied economic and educational opportunities, but does so in a way that is financially self-sustaining. With modest maintenance and start-up costs, Monkeybrains and San Francisco has found a way to bring the same high-speed Internet access to low-income households at an affordable rate. Read our new report, A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig, to learn how the partners found a way to shrink the digital divide in public housing facilities.

Download A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig [pdf], here.

Lessons for More Communities

Every community, regardless of population, must contend with digital inequity. As local communities continue to recognize all residents’ need for high-quality Internet access, models such as the approach developed by Monkeybrains and San Francisco spark further innovation. 

From Christopher:

“These households need Internet access to search for jobs, improve their education, access government services, and for many other reasons common to modern living. Monkeybrains' work in San Francisco shows how smart one time investments in public housing can guarantee high-quality access to all in public housing.”

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