Tag: "state policy"

Posted November 1, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

An increasing number of local governments around the country have started taking steps to improve broadband adoption and accessibility in their communities. A recent Brookings Institution article discusses the role of states in broadband deployment and adoption and how lawmakers are making efforts, but still have room for improvment.

Special Interest Lobbying Leaves an Imprint

A few states have explicitly banned municipal government from telecommunication services while others have confusing and hard-to-understand laws and regulations. Local governments have stepped up in the best interest of their residents but the imposed barriers have created tension between the local and state governments. Huge players influencing state legislation affecting broadband are the telecom lobbying interest groups. Due to their efforts, 19 states face barriers ranging from blocks to outright bans.

Brookings writes that states are a key factor in expanding high-quality Internet access to citizens and calls for a state-centered approach to improve the situation:

Instead of waiting for the stars to align in Washington, we should focus on states as an important middle ground. States have access to a range of tools and resources—independent of federal action—to promote broadband availability and adoption within their borders. The question is whether they will actually use them.

Specifically, Brookings recommends that states allow local communities to function with local telecommunications authority:

However, there is still more that states can do. Many should reconsider laws that block local efforts to expand broadband access, which limit opportunities to service populations that privately owned broadband networks will not.

The various barriers set up by the state governments may be hard to find but researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts have created the State Broadband Policy Explorer, a handy tool to make research easier. Using this tool, anyone from lawmakers to concerned citizens can search...

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Posted October 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

We're pleased to bring you the first episode from a special bonus series of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast titled "Why NC Broadband Matters." The series is a collaboration with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on facilitating the expansion of ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses. We'll be working with NC Broadband Matters on this series to develop nine more episodes that center around broadband in North Carolina.

"Overbuilding Means Providing Internet Choice: How One Small Company is Closing North Carolina's Digital Divide," is a conversation between host Christopher Mitchell and Alan Fitzpatrick of Open Broadband. The North Carolina company delivers high-quality Internet access to local communities. As Fitzpatrick notes in the interview, Open Broadband uses different types of technology, depending on what's most effective in each region. The goal is delivering quality Internet access.

logo-nc-hearts-gig.png Christopher and Alan talk about how the term "overbuilding" is now associated with waste, rather than with competition. They discuss the benefits of overbuilding and competition, problems with of lack of choice, and Alan reviews some potential long-term policy changes that could encourage investment. Alan and Christopher talk about local government involvement in promoting competition for better access to high-quality connectivity. They also touch on how lack of competition can increase the digital divide and how North Carolina could make changes to allow local governments to...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Anonymous

In 2014, West Virginia wrote its Broadband Plan, but since then much has changed in the state, in the country, and with technology. Officials from the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council have now released a Request for Information on Actions and Partnerships to Advance Last Mile and Middle Mile Broadband Services in West Virginia (RFI). Responses are due November 4th and early responses are encouraged.

Multi-Purpose RFI

According to the RFI, the state has several reasons for releasing the RFI:

  • To update to the West Virginia Broadband Plan, last written in 2014. They seek input from broadband service providers currently in the state, and others who may wish to expand service within the state. 
  • To identify unserved areas which the private sector is likely to serve in the near future so as to better target its efforts. To identify areas where deployment will require public-private partnerships and potential partners. 
  • To seek input from companies related to the development of middle mile assets that can support better last mile service in West Virginia. The Council expects to receive access to a limited number of fiber strands along long-haul fiber routes. Because the West Virginia Legislature has encouraged the electric utilities to undertake feasibility studies for constructing and operating middle mile broadband Internet projects, the Council seeks comment from last-mile providers regarding these types of networks.  

The Council hopes to receive responses from:

  • Last-mile broadband service providers. 
  • Middle-mile broadband service providers. 
  • Network operators. 
  • Infrastructure investors and developers. 

Some of the goals that the program hope to fulfill include defining target areas that are unserved and helping local cities and counties in West Virginia obtain gigabit connectivity. The state is working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on the latter’s mapping initiative. The project is intended to better map Internet access and improve accuracy on a more granular level.

For details on the program goals related to middle mile and last mile projects, review the full RFI...

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Posted October 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.

Therein the Problem Lies

As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved. 

We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:

diagram-census-blocks-2018.jpg

When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.

This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].

Fixing the Maps

In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need. 

According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...

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Posted September 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

A mapping method to accurately depict broadband coverage in the U.S. remains elusive. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that they intend to work on the issue but officials in North Carolina aren’t waiting. They’ve launched their own efforts to document Internet access speeds in order to challenge to the FCC’s broadband coverage map, the basis for many loan and grant programs.

North Carolina began seeking self-reporting data from residents in 2017 via their online NC OneMap tool. With only around 6,000 people using the tool, however, state officials such as Jeff Sural have decided to seek help from the Measurement Lab (M-Lab), which has launched similar projects in Seattle and Pennsylvania. Sural is the state’s director of Department of Technology’s broadband infrastructure office and he's seeking ways to ensure communities in North Carolina have access to funding to expand rural broadband access.

Streamlining for the Masses

The goal of the new effort will be to make gathering the data as simple as possible. The NC OneMap site requires users to jump from a speed testing page back to the mapping site in several steps. M-Lab and North Carolina want to develop an application that will gather upload and download speed, IP address and coordinates of the device at the time of the test. They also plan to collect information on ISP, latency, and whether the connection is throttled or manipulated in any way. 

In an interview with StateScoop, Sural said:

“So far, one thing we have gleaned from our crowdsourcing tool is that there are a number of locations in areas where the FCC says there is [download coverage of 25 megabits per second and an upload rate of 3 Mbps] that are not getting those speeds.”

Faulty Maps Need Fixing

Officials seeking funding for unserved and underserved areas find themselves blocked due to grossly overstated FCC coverage and are looking for methods to collect data on their own. Because service to one premise in a census block deems that particular block to be “served” by the FCC, large rural swaths of property with no access or poor access are wrongly categorized and ineligible for a...

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Posted September 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

For community leaders, advocates, and researchers who follow broadband policy, trying to stay up-to-date on the many variations of state policy across the U.S. is a daunting task. As approaches change, the work becomes more complicated. Now, the Pew Charitable Trusts has launched a new tool that helps keep all that information sorted and accessible — the State Broadband Policy Explorer. Manager of the Broadband Research Initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts Kathryn de Wit sits down with Christopher to talk about the tool for this week's podcast.

Kathryn describes some of the challenges and discoveries her team encountered while developing the tool. She talks about the wide variations her team documented, especially in definitions, and their determination that those variations rely on who in each state determines which definitions will be used.

While working on the State Broadband Policy Explorer, Kathryn and her team were surprised to learn that, contrary to popular reporting, not as many states have established official offices of broadband deployment as they had expected.  She shares commonalities between states that they found surprising while she and Christopher ponder some of the many ways the tool may be used moving forward.

We've already bookmarked this valuable tool.

Check out the State Broadband Policy Explorer for yourself here.

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

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played...

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Posted August 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

In June, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, a $45 billion effort that will repair and improve all manner of infrastructure in the state. Within the plan, state leaders intend to dedicate $420 million to upgrade and expand broadband infrastructure. Such a significant investment can make a real difference in the state, as long as decision makers adopt smart policies and allow local communities to receive funding for broadband projects.

Gas Tax for Gigabits

An increase in the state’s motor fuel tax will fund most of the broadband initiative. The increase in gas prices at the pump, which took effect on July 1, jumped from 19 to 38 cents. Similarly, a special fuels tax on diesel, liquefied natural gas, and propane increased from 2.5 cents to 5 cents. State analysts anticipate the increase will garner an additional $1.24 billion to state coffers in 2020.

The Rebuild Plan also grants state bonding authority for infrastructure projects and Cook County municipalities are permitted to raise their gas taxes by an additional three cents per gallon. There are also title and registration fees that will contribute to the fund.

As part of the plan, Illinois created the Connect Illinois initiative, which is part of the Illinois Department of Commerce. One of the goals of the initiative's Broadband Office is to provide all K-12 students with high-speed Internet access at no charge. As part of the Rebuild Illinois plan, $20 million will be used to update and expand the Illinois Century Network, which serves K-12 schools, colleges and universities, public libraries, and Internet access providers.

seal-illinois.pngConnect Illinois and the initiative’s Broadband Office will administer the grants made possible by the fuel tax increase. The office will also work to determine federal grants that are available and how best to access them to advance the state's goals.

Connectivity Council

In mid-August, Pritzker...

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Posted August 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

An increasing number of local communities are investigating ways to improve connectivity through municipal networks. Some of these communities must find a way to overcome state laws that preclude them from investing in broadband infrastructure, or have established requirements that make doing so prohibitive. Recently, we’ve seen reports on state laws that inflate the number of states with these types of preemptive barriers in place. It's important that folks researching options for their communities get accurate information, so we decided it was time to address the confusion and recent state changes.

This week, Christopher and our Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco critique a list of states with preemptive barriers created by BroadbandNow. While we consider BroadbandNow a great resource, their definition of what makes a barrier goes a little farther than what is generally accepted among municipal network policy advocates. Christopher and Jess explain our definition and discusses the more general criteria BroadbandNow has adopted. 

Jess and Christopher also discuss why we decided to remove a couple of states from our list, reducing it from 21 to 19. They offer recent examples of state legislation that rolled back tight restrictions and the reasoning behind those changes. Finally, Christopher and Jess talk about ongoing efforts, places where there is still significant risk of increased restrictions, and possible outcomes for state or federal preemptions that may reduce state barriers.

For details on the specific state laws that limit local authority, be sure to check out the most recent version of...

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Posted July 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) recently released a call for Border to Border Broadband grant applications. The deadline to submit your application is September 13, 2019

This year, the State Legislature has appropriated $20 million in funding for projects located in unserved or underserved communities. As a reminder, Minnesota has established the thresholds as:

Unserved area: households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of  25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.  

Underserved area: households or businesses do receive service at or above 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps, but lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

The OBD has posted a map of the state which allows users to to input addresses and quickly determine if their location qualifies for grant funding. Check it out here

Who Can Apply?

As other states have shaped their broadband grant programs, they’ve looked to Minnesota for guidance. One of the shining characteristics of the Border to Border Broadband Broadband Development program has been the diverse field of eligible applicants. In some states, grants can only go to private sector companies, but Minnesota takes an “all hands on deck” approach. Eligible applicants include:

  • Incorporated businesses or partnerships
  • Political subdivisions
  • Indian tribes
  • Minnesota nonprofit organizations organized under chapter 317A
  • Minnesota cooperative associations organized under chapter 308A or 308B
  • Minnesota limited liability corporations organized under chapter 322B for the purpose of expanding broadband access

Eligible Program Costs and Matching Funds

Applicants can only receive grant funding if they provide matching funds, which can come from any public or private source. The project infrastructure must be able to support minimum symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps.

Costs associated with a project that will be eligible for consideration include those associated with acquisition and installation of middle mile or last mile infrastructure. In addition to project planning, awardees may also apply for grant funding to pay...

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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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