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Broadband Conferences This Week in Three Time Zones to Consider National, Regional, State Initiatives

in Broadband's Impact by

June 8, 2015 – Broadband conference this week in three time zones will consider the next stages of nation-, region- and state-wide broadband initiatives.

The conferences, in the Mountain, Central and Eastern Time zones, begin on Monday and Tuesday in Vail, Colorado with the “Mountain Connect” program. The program includes keynote presentations by Connected Nation Exchange and Dave Zelenok, chief innovation officer for the city of Centennial.

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At Chicago’s McCormick Place, the web site Light Reading’s third annual Big Telecom Event on Tuesday and Wednesday includes an array of discussions about building Gigabit Networks across the country. On Tuesday, former National Broadband Plan Director Blair Levin participates in a panel discussion about “network services” for the Gigabit Age.

And on Thursday and Friday, in Albany, the New York State Broadband Program Office hosts its third annual broadband summit.  The summit this week will highly New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new $1 billion state broadband program designed to leverage public and private resources, and which the program office called “the largest and boldest state investment in universal broadband deployment in the country.”

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At the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in Vail, Moutain Connect aims to “facilitate and accelerate the maturation of broadband infrastructure transforming technology innovation, policy and sustainable economic prosperity for communities in Colorado.”

In 2014, the program featured keynote addresses from Phil Halstead, then-Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, plus individuals associated with a Wi-Fi network in Vail.

This year, in addition to Centennial, the program includes individuals from communities in Colorado including Longmont, Montrose, Vail and others. Also addressing the audience will be a range of companies offering services to build public-private networks.

The Big Telecom Event in Chicago is a resurgent national telecom conference by up-and-coming web site lightreading.com, which calls it the “largest, best qualified gathering of service providers in North America.”

In addition to its focus on Gigabit Networks, the event includes tracks on the Internet of Things, the virtualization of networks including finding new revenue streams for high-capacity networks through tools including software-defined networks.

The New York State event includes awards for:

  • The Broadband Leadership Award
  • Most Innovative Broadband Project
  • Most Collaborative Broadband Project
  • Best Broadband Adoption Project
  • The Economic Leadership Award
  • Extraordinary Broadband Team Award
  • Most Collaborative Broadband Adoption Initiative/Program Award

 

First Broadband Stimulus Funds to Middle Mile Projects, Libraries and Rural Last-Mile

in Broadband Stimulus by

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2009 – The broadband stimulus projects identified in a White House report issued Wednesday, and embargoed for release Thursday, include:

  • The North Georgia Network Cooperative, $33.5 million to deploy middle-mile infrastructure to eight counties in northern Georgia and North Carolina
  • The partnership between the for-profit ION in Albany, New York, and the Development Authority of North Country, a public benefit corporation, for a $39.7 middle-mile infrastructure grant in rural upstate New York
  • The Biddleford Internet Corporation, a public-private partnership between the University of Maine and internet service providers, will receive $25.4 million to construct middle-mile infrastructure across rural Maine
  • A public computer center to the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records that will help 84 libraries enhance computing facilities that serve more than 75,000 users per week and more than 450,000 residents in total
  • The Consolidated Electric Cooperative in North Central Ohio will receive a $2.4 million grant/loan to construct a 166-mile middle-mile network that will also connect 16 electric substations to support its smart grad technology initiative
  • A last-mile grant to Rivada Sea Lion, an Alaska Native Corporation, to provide fourth-generation wireless to 30,00 residents in 53 subsistence-level communities in southwestern Alaska – the first broadband services for these Native Alaskans
  • A last-mile grant to the Bretton Woods Telephone Company in New Hampshire for a fiber-to-the-home project, which will pass 386 households, 19 business and six community anchor institutions, and will allow two-way broadband of up to 20 Megabits per second (Mpbs)

Note: Brian Webster Consulting, a partner of Broadband Census Data (d/b/a BroadbandCensus.com, the sister company of Broadband Census News d/b/a BroadbandBreakfast.com), conducted the data and mapping services used to complete the grant application process for Rivada Sea Lion in Alaska, in conjuction with other consulting services.

For more information about services by Broadband Census Data, see http://broadbandcensus.com/broadband-mapping/, or contact Robert Sepe, Mapping Services, Broadband Census Data, at maps@broadbandcensus.com, or 919-467-5392.

For more information about both the news and data operations of Broadband Census LLC, see http://broadbandbreakfast.com/about/

Broadband Stimulus Rush Begins with $182 Million Dispensed Today in Dawsonville, Ga.; Less Than 3 Percent of Total Funds

in Broadband Stimulus by

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com; and Winter Casey, Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2009 – The White House announced that $182 million in federal funding for broadband stimulus funding will be dispensed Thursday by Vice President Joe Biden at Impulse Manufacturing in the rural town of Dawsonville, Ga.

The initial grants are the first of a $2 billion disbursement in broadband funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act over the next 75 days, the White House said.

The funding, said the White House, is “to bring broadband to communities that currently have little or no access to the technology.”

The projects to be unveiled on Thursday includes 18 program that benefit 17 states.

The $182 million in funding on these 18 projects announced Thursday will be matched by $46 million in private investment.

Of Thursday’s total, $129 million comes from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and $54 million comes from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.

See our related story on BroadbandBreakfast.com, that summarizes information known about the projects announced on Thursday.

The award include middle-mile projects in Georgia, Ohio, New York and North Carolina, a public computing center award in Arizona, a wireless project in remote Alaska, and two last-mile projects, in Maine and New Hampshire.

The White House is being extremely cautious in its unveiling of broadband stimulus funding. The $182 million in projects to be announced Thursday accounts for only 9 percent of the $2 billion that will be dispensed by the end of February.

In turn, that $2 billion represents only 27 percent of the $7.2 billion in federal funding allocated for broadband stimulus grants.

If the grants to announced by the end of February 2010 are the sum total of first round funding awards, that would leave nearly three-quarters of the remaining broadband funds to be announced in the second, or final, round of funding.

Put another way, Thursday’s announcements constitute merely 2.5 percent of all federal funds allocated for core broadband investments under the fiscal stimulus legislation, passed in February 2009.

In a Wednesday briefing embargod until Thursday, NTIA Chief Lawrence Strickling said that the government is not announcing more funding awards because they are carefully selecting the projects.

The first awards were initially planned to be announced in November – and completed by the end of December. The announcement was delayed. The Administration now plans to release grant recipient names on a rolling basis starting Thursday.

In a report issued by the National Economic Council said that “broadband investments will create tens of thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy in the near term.”

The NEC Broadband Report, entitled “Recovery Act Investments in Broadband: Leveraging Federal Dollars to Create Jobs and Connect America,” continues: “By providing broadband-enabled opportunities to previously underserved communities, these investments will also lay the foundation for long-term regional economic development.”

The report summarizes three major categories of broadband investment: middle-mile, community anchor institutions and last-mile connections “to rural America.”

The report downplays one key segment of broadband expenditures – “sustainable broadband” – targeted by the Recovery Act.

In the report, “middle mile” investments are seen as critical. “Investments in the ‘middle mile’ extend the reach of the Internet into communities that would otherwise lack adequate access to broadband and its many opportunities. Moreover, Recovery Act middle-mile projects are specifically designed to improve connections to community institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries in order to enhance the quality of their critical services and reach large numbers of people.”

“By focusing on these institutions,” the report continues, “federal investment will connect more workers to broadband at their jobs, empower more children with digital skills through schools and libraries, and lead to increased broadband adoption in homes and businesses.”

The report also analogies current federal investments in broadband infrastructure to the government’s traditional investments in the Internet’s backbone.

The report quotes President Obama as saying, on September 21, 2009, that “one key to strengthening education, entrepreneurship, and innovation in communities… is to harness the full power of the Internet, and that means faster and more widely available broadband.”

Broadband Speeds Matter Just as Much as Internet Access, Say New Yorkers

in National Broadband Plan/Premium Content/States by

NEW YORK, December 13, 2009 – Broadband speeds matter just as much as does internet access, in order to ensure educational, economic and social opportunities for individuals of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds, participants in a community broadband hearing here agreed on Friday.

Policy officials, not-for-profit organizations, small businesses, community-based organizations and others came together Friday for to discuss how New York fits into the national broadband plan currently being developed by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.

The event was organized by Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and taped for FCC review and consideration.

The FCC’s year-long survey of the nation’s internet infrastructure was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included broadband initiatives intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States.

The stimulus package “will be the driving force in this country for many years to come” as it relates to science and technology, Edward Reinfurt, executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson has appointed the New York State Broadband Development and Deployment Council, which is holding its first meeting December 14 as his designated entity coordinating broadband stimulus activities.

The council is helping New Yorker seek federal stimulus funding. Council members and other New York officials see broadband as a means to achieve greater educational capabilities, internet access and economic development. New York’s broadband adoption rate averages around 54 percent – below the national average. An April 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said some 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband Internet connections at home,

“That’s probably where I see the synergies the most: how important broadband access and speed is to economic development in the state,” Reinfurt said.

In the portions of this story included below as Premium Content, BroadbandBreakfast.com provides further analysis of Reinfurt’s remarks, reports on the comments by New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer, plus comments from non-profit and industry officials testifying at the hearing.

[Private_Free Trial][Private_Premium Content]Not only is broadband essential to rural areas in order for those communities to participate in the global community, but super-high-speed access is also essential, officials argued. And it’s not just rural areas that are underserved on this front, they said –but cities, too.

Reinfurt pointed to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2008 State New Economy Index, which shows that New York still only ranks among the third quartile – one range below the top – when graded on indicators in categories such as knowledge jobs, globalization, economic dynamism, transformation to a digital economy, and technological innovation capacity.

It ranks ninth in the nation when taking all of these factors into account, but 38th in online population, 37th in technology in schools, 24th for online agriculture, 21st in health information technology and 22nd in high-tech jobs. It ranks seventh for broadband telecommunications.

“We’re not keeping up … this is serious and we need to understand this,” Reinfurt said, adding that New York is hoping to receive another round of stimulus funds in 2010 that can help improve its broadband speeds, in particular.

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, chair of the city council’s Committee on Technology and Government, noted that a 2006 survey conducted by the city showed that while internet service is readily available in New York, lower income population adoption rates are about half that of higher income – plus there is an absence of computer literacy skills among this group.

“Still, there is a lack of understanding of the value of broadband in children’s education,” she added.

Large businesses in the city are served well with broadband, but industrial and manufacturing entities have limited service options, she said. Many older owners feel they don’t even need computers. But still, city officials want to ensure the opportunity is there. New York is also pursuing ways to install wireless internet services in more public spaces throughout the city, including parks.

“We get very excited when we have one park in Brooklyn wired – it’s pretty frustrating,” Brewer said.

Expanded broadband service can be particularly helpful in the public health sector, Brewer continued. For example, a resident signing up for Medicaid should not have to fill out forms 27 times. Brewer hopes increased broadband services will allow more of these functions to be carried out online. But that will only work if people have access.

“The city’s going in that direction with a lot of applications, but you need the speed and the affordability to be able to do it at home,” she said.

Brewer hailed President Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for being “extremely innovative” in thinking outside the box in terms of how to wire more parts of the country.

Other state and city groups also vocalized the merits of having more broadband coverage – including everything from teaching school children and their parents all the Internet has to offer, to connecting often isolated senior citizens to their friends and family who live far away, to helping communities of color transition to a green economy, to training laid-off or unemployed workers for jobs in the new economy.

The not-for-profit Per Scholars in the South Bronx, for example, has for 15 years provided over 80,00 computers and support to low-income families and nonprofits, and trained more than 3,000 New York City and Miami residents for careers in information technology.

“Many of our families … understand the importance of the Internet. They understand the importance of broadband and technology and understand it can have a profound impact on their lives. They just don’t know how to get it,” explained organization President Plinio Ayala. “The digital divide, the broadband divide, is not just giving someone a computer – it needs to be a comprehensive solution.”

Andrea Taylor, who directs the community affairs North America program for Microsoft, noted that New York has lost nearly 250,000 jobs in the financial sector alone in the past few years, and many workers won’t return to those jobs because they either don’t exist anymore, or they require a new skill set.

To address this, a joint venture of Microsoft and the National Governors Association will soon be introduced in New York. The effort offers e-learning training for workers to prepare them for sustainable jobs. The program has already been introduced in Washington state and Illinois. At least 10 million to 20 million Americans are in need of skill upgrades, Taylor added. And high-speed, widespread broadband is critical to the program’s success, she said.

“The real hunger and demand among adults to upgrade their skills and broadband is a part of that solution because of people don’t have access they can’t do the kind of training and prep that’s needed,” Taylor said. “It’s a critical process” needed for those people “who want to get skills and get the country moving again from an economic perspective.”

Brewer’s committee will hold a hearing this Wednesday in New York’s City Hall, which will focus on how small business and technology can work together in a way that ensures startups have the same opportunities as larger businesses.[/Private_Free Trial][/Private_Premium Content]

Verizon Wireless Launches New Anti-AT&T Ad, Suits Dropped

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact by

Verizon Wireless started running a new advertisement this week in the “There’s a Map for That” campaign that has caused competitor AT&T much angst. The ad features Santa Clause’ reindeer prepping for the big night with the one using AT&T’s third generation coverage map failing to light up while the reindeer equipped with the Verizon Wireless maps being ready to go.

Verizon’s map commercials have been at the crux of a lawsuit AT&T filed against the company reportedly claiming the ad campaign was false, misleading and damaging the company. Verizon subsequently filed a lawsuit against AT&T. “Verizon and AT&T have dismissed the litigation between them in Georgia and New York,” a spokesman for Verizon Wireless told Broadband Census News on Wednesday.

Massachusetts Offers RFP for Broadband Consultants

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA/States by

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2009 – The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative on Monday issued a statewide Request for Proposal (RFP) concerning contract oversight in its expanding broadband development.

In cooperation with Massachusetts Broadband Institute, the RFP hopes to “solicit responses from firms or teams of firms with experience providing consulting services on the development and operation of broadband infrastructure, writing requests for proposals, outreach and evaluation of industry partners and creating business plans and pricing models.”

Applying consultants ought to be able to perform the four tasks listed by the Collaborative:

  • establishing 60 firms as possible future broadband partners;
  • develop scoring methodology and initial briefing event with future partners;
  • develop sustainability plan for projects; and
  • incorporate partnership and sustainability into an RFP for broadband development in western Massachusetts after the state submits its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant application around August.

The list of 60 possible future industry partners might “include both wired and wireless retail broadband service providers, wholesale broadband service providers (including those associated with electric utilities), and broadband construction firms,” said MTC.

The $40 million given to MBI by the Broadband Act is hoping to only be a first step in broadband expansion.

February’s ARRA funding – up to $7.2 billion for broadband projects – has led Massachusetts to accelerate its plan for public investment in backbone and regional distribution network capacity.

The proposals are due by 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, July 8, 2009. Decisions are expected to be made by July 15, 2009.

Other states, such Virginia and New York, with two Requests for Information (RFIs) released this month by New York City, have been actively pursuing broadband development. Much of this activity is anticipation of the NTIA rules that are expected to released late on Tuesday, or early on Wednesday.

State Efforts Could Harm Speech, E-Commerce, Group Warns

in States by

By Alex Tcherkassky, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 – Overly interventionist legislation could severely threaten the way Americans interact and conduct business on the Internet, NetChoice President Steve DelBianco said on a call to announce the group’s new initiative: Internet Advocates’ Watchlist for Ugly Laws (iAWFUL).

The project is a continuous round-up of ten most potentially harmful legislative proposals regarding internet and e-commerce.

Some of the proposed laws that iAWFUL views as particularly dangerous involve supposedly unfair and discriminatory taxation of online goods and services. DelBianco sees these proposed taxes as a “there’s a tax for that” mentality developed by cash-strapped states recognizing how much business is done online.

There are taxation proposals out of North Carolina and New York that he said unfairly tax online businesses. For instance, North Carolina’s Digital Downloads Tax Bill doesn’t make a distinction between compact discs bought in a store and those downloaded online – even though digital downloads often carry restrictions physical media does not have, he said.

Taxation of e-commerce “deserves to be debated in the light of day,” he said. The lack of taxes on online music purchases is an incentive to use “the greenest way to buy music. “

Another proposal which penalizes e-commerce is New York’s proposed Online Employment Services tax, which would classify job boards and resume services as “online employment services” subject to taxation. Brick and mortar job boards and services would not be taxed.

DelBianco also expressed concern over some states attempts to engage in “misguided childproofing” of the internet. The most heinous of these – and the worst overall proposed bill on the list – New Jersey’s Social Networking Safety Act. If passed, the bill would strip companies of the discretion to implement internal processes to determining if behavior on the site is indeed harassing, and require that they hand offending communications to the state as evidence.

But all social networking sites have effective means to report abuse, he said. Imposing a legal mandate could “lower the bar for what is considered harassment” and make it far easier to have someone’s access revoked unfairly. The New Jersey bill “has the potential to turn the ‘report abuse’ button into a form of abuse,” said NetChoice spokesman Hani Durzy.

State initiatives are particularly worrisome to NetChoice because they can have consequences reaching far beyond the state’s borders, and because of the speed with which states can act, DelBianco sald: often as quickly as two weeks from a draft bill to a signed law.

States Seek Best Strategies on Obtaining Broadband Stimulus Funds Close-to-Home

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 – As the Obama administration on Monday begins poring over the nitty-gritty details about how they will be spending $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds, individual states are grappling to find their own best strategies to tap the funds.

At the public meeting on March 10, officials at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration made clear that the broadband grants – unlike the past several decades’ trend toward “block grants” – will not be channeled through states.

Rather, with the exception that at least one grant be awarded within each state, the NTIA’s broadband grants will up for grabs by the most qualified applicant.

But that hasn’t discouraged representatives from states and state groups.

In fact, many are quite pleased with the way the broadband stimulus program is taking shape, and are eager to have their voice heard in the next phase of the broadband stimulus process.

Among their grounds for optimism:

  • States and their political subdivisions are themselves eligible to receive grants through the various broadband programs of the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.
  • States have the on-the-ground knowledge about particular communications needs that positions them to play the kind of coordinative and facilitative role that will be necessarily in an expedited process of broadband expenditures.
  • States’ engagement with economic development officials allows them to work collaboratively with both public- and private-sector partners.
  • States have been among the principal players in the attempts to map out broadband deployment.
  • States have filled what many regard as a leadership void in the field of broadband policy over the past several years.

Almost immediately following the March 10 public meeting, for example, broadband officials in the state of Illinois held in a conference call to consider statewide strategies to tap into federal dollars.

Prior to assuming the governorship, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had assumed the cause of broadband, saying that “We have to be the modern-day, 21st century Johnny Appleseeds, planting good technology projects all over the state.” He did so as part of the state’s Broadband Deployment Council.

Massachusetts, another state leading the broadband drive, announced that it, too, would hold a conference call on Thursday, March 19th, from Noon to 1:00 p.m., to discuss broadband stimulus in Massachusetts.

The conference call is being organized by the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, a non-profit with $40 million in state funds seeking to ensure universal broadband within the state.

That next phase of the broadband stimulus debate begins on March 16 with a six-day series of public meetings of the NTIA and RUS. Meetings on March 16, March 19, March 23 and March 24 will be in Washington. The meeting on March 17 will be in Las Vegas, and March 18 will be in Flagstaff, Ariz.

These state actors believe that states are poised to play an important and influential role in the process.
“The states bring a good deal to the table” when it comes to broadband policy, said Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Larry Landis. “This is going to be a huge undertaking for NTIA, and the states can help them get up to speed relatively quickly.”

Landis, co-chair of a joint board proposing broadband actions by both state regulators and the Federal Communications Commission of the NARUC, points to the way that states stepped in over the past several years to fill a perceived void in federal policy-making with respect to broadband. At least 39 states have taken some steps toward creating statewide broadband policies and better access, he said.

In addition to Massachusetts and Illinois, California conducted a detailed census of broadband availability and speeds, which it released in January 2008. Over the past 18 months, Virginia directed money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to provide the best-quality broadband possible to its rural industrial parks. And the Minnesota legislature, in passing its broadband legislation last summer, toyed with the notion of requiring broadband on the order of 1 Gigabit per second, or more than three orders of magnitude higher than what currently passes for “broadband” under the FCC’s definition.

BroadbandCensus.com has been profiling the state of broadband, and of broadband, within each state at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/2008/09/broadband-census-in-the-states/.

Several state-level officials – including D.C. Public Service Commission Chairman Betty Ann Kane, New York State Public Service Commissioner Maureen Harrison, and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Frederick Butler – will be featured during the NTIA/RUS events.

Chairman Kane, for example, is a featured speaker at Monday’s first panel, a panel of private sector eligibility. Kane has been working with the NARUC/FCC joint board on broadband, and has been focusing on creating a web site in which the efforts of the states may be showcased and coordinated. Butler and Harrison are scheduled for subsequent meetings.

Kane is also a confirmed panelist at BroadbandCensus.com’s Broadband Breakfast Club event on Tuesday, April 14, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Registration for the event is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

In the lead-up to Congress’ passage of the federal stimulus legislation on February 13, states were actively lobbying on the issue. “States have intimate knowledge of the communications environment, geography, and demographics within their boundaries,” said Butler, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions.

Further, said Butler, “states can assure efficient utilization and targeting of stimulus monies and states have every incentive to make certain the money is not wasted.” Of particular concern to Butler was that “early adopter states should not be penalized,” according to a NARUC policy statement.

In other words, a state like Massachusetts shouldn’t become ineligible to recoup broadband funds spent out of its own treasury prior to the enactment of broadband stimulus legislation.

Massachusetts and a group of six other states made similar points in their own position paper, “Broadband Investment for Economic Recovery: Perspectives of an Ad-Hoc Group of State Broadband Entities,” (PDF) submitted to the administration and to Congress on February 9.

The states, including Arizona, Georgia, Maine, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina, called themselves “a small sample of the many states that are well positioned to make quick use of federal monies to partner in the effort to build out much needed broadband infrastructure.”

They argued for the full $7 billion in funding, for ensuring that the bulk of funding was made available through grants and not through loans, and that in-kind contributions by states be allowed to meet the 20 percent matching requirement called for the stimulus law.

Editor’s Note

4/2 – The preceeding story has corrected to the name of the President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. It is Frederick Butler.

Broadband Stimulus Package Should Include Funding for State Data, Says Massachusetts

in Broadband Stimulus/States by

WASHINGTON, January 2, 2009 – Congress and the incoming administration of President Obama should include broadband-related investment in the pending legislation designed to promote economic stimulus, and the federal government needs to begin with better data about broadband availability, said a top Massachusetts government official.

In particular, Congress should fully fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492, which passed last October without any appropriated or authorized funding levels. Prior to passage, an earlier version of the bill had included language authorizing $40 million for the Commerce Department to allocate to state-led broadband mapping efforts.

“Full funding of the Broadband Data Improvement Act through the economic recovery package would be a wise investment that would quickly jump-start efforts to stimulate broadband availability,” wrote Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O’Connell, in a letter last week to the chairs of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

O’Connell also urged flexibility in the way that states structure their individual broadband programs, extending stimulus funds to spur broadband demand among the poor, and recognizing that some forms of communication, like satellite service, are inferior methods of delivering broadband.

Massachusetts is one of the leading states in the drive to promote universal broadband deployment and availability. In August 2008, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signed legislation authorizing up to $40 million in state funds to ensure that broadband is available to all the state’s citizens.

In addition to his capacity as state secretary of economic development and housing, O’Connell is the chair of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a non-profit entity that will administer the state’s up to $40 million investment in broadband infrastructure. Last week, MBI posted the submissions it had received in its first request for proposals about the ways to expand broadband availability in western Massachusetts.

O’Connell’s letter, which included a five-page memo on the role of broadband investment in the economic recovery, laid out the approaches that various states are taking with regard to broadband infrastructure.

One set of states – including Massachusetts and Vermont – are investing their own funds in publicly-owned infrastructure, he said.

A second group of states, including California and Maine, have adapted their instate Universal Service Funds to support broadband deployment, generally through a surcharge of telephone service. Those funds are made available to companies, non-profits and public bringing broadband to unserved areas, said O’Connell.

Although Massachusetts chose “a public-private partnership approach in authorizing the use of state bond funds for investment in selected long-lived components of broadband infrastructure, such as conduit, fiber and wireless towers,” O’Connell said that the federal government should “build as much flexibility as possible into federal funding approaches.”

On the issue of broadband demand, O’Connell urged that stimulus funds go toward targeting services at “key demographic segments, such as older or less educated Americans.”

With regard to a Kentucky-based non-profit organization focused on broadband, he said that “Connected Nation has received quite a bit of attention for its user education activities intended to stimulate and aggregate broadband demand.” He also noted that “while the Connected Nation model is sometimes portrayed as a universal broadband strategy, the model does not actually involve any public investment in infrastructure deployment.”

Finally, O’Connell criticized the fact that broadband grant and loan program of the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service “does not include any indication of broadband quality as part of their evaluation criteria. This policy is inconsistent with the Obama-Biden’s administration’s goal of restoring U.S. leadership in broadband.”

Separately, this week New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, also wrote to President-elect Obama, urging him to include broadband in the stimulus package. In a December 29 letter, he wrote:

“In New York, we have 17 broadband projects, totaling $88.6 million, which will help New York reach its long-term goal of ensuring every New Yorker has access to affordable high-speed broadband. Of these projects, nine, totaling $8.5 million, can be completed in 180 days. These include projects to light up dark fiber across the State and county-level private/public partnership projects.”

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com has been surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories. The articles about the 17 states profiled so far can be found at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=713

Broadband Breakfast Club

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Jennifer Schneider, Legislative Counsel, Office of Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., Incoming Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

Gates Foundation Grants $7 Million to Connected Nation and American Library Association

in Broadband Data/States by

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected; see below.

WASHINGTON, December 19 – Connected Nation and the American Library Association will receive a $7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a broadband initiative designed to improve internet connections in public libraries, the foundation said Thursday.

The goal is to ensure that all public libraries within seven states – Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Virginia – have broadband connectivity of at least 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps). Connected Nation will convene broadband summits within each of these “pilot” states.

The states were chosen because they have large populations with individuals living below the poverty line, said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Gates Foundation.

Despite overwhelming demand for technology services, up to one-third of all public libraries have internet connections too slow to meet the every needs of patrons, according to a recent report compiled by the American Library Association.

In an interview, Nishi said that the 1.5 Mbps speed goal is a minimum, and that the foundation will strive to ensure higher speeds in the seven states. In June, the Federal Communications Commission raised its definition of broadband from internet connections of at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) to 768 Kbps, or about half the speed that Nishi described as a “floor.”

“We believe that all people in this country should have access to high speed internet and that public libraries are a key institution in delivering this internet access,” said Nishi.

With the deepening recession, librarians are reporting that online services are in high demand for job-seekers.

With home broadband adoption rates leveling off, and with less workers in jobs and able to access the Internet at the office, the library becomes a crucial “third place” for connecting online, she said.

Among public libraries, 73 percent are the only source of free, public internet access in their communities, according to the ALA report, which was also funded by the Gates Foundation.

Nishi and the American Library Association described the grant’s focus on libraries as a key to subsequently enhancing the quality and availability of broadband within the surrounding communities.

“Public libraries can and should provide access to the ever-expanding universe of knowledge, tools, services and resources available on the Internet,” ALA President Jim Rettig said in a statement. “They also act as catalysts for improving internet services for entire communities.”

Similarly, Nishi said that by allowing for “a broader emphasis in ubiquitous deployment, a public library can expose [patrons to] what broadband can afford. In some cases, they can be a demand center” for individuals who may not have considered subscribing to broadband.

Connected Nation, the Kentucky-based non-profit organization that is funded by Bell and cable companies and by state appropriations, has emphasized the importance of “demand creation” in stimulating broadband adoption in Kentucky and in other states. It also provides maps of broadband availability within several states.

“Libraries are often the best point of internet access for people who otherwise could not afford access,” Brian Mefford, CEO of Connected Nation, said in a statement. State and local leaders must “recognize this important community service and commit to supporting local library efforts to ensure access to quality broadband.”

Under the $6,959,771 Gates foundation grant, $6,107,882 will go to Connected Nation and $851,889 will go to the ALA. Nishi said that 85 percent of the $6.1 million for Connected Nation will fund travel expenses for officials to attend the summits.

ALA’s $850,000 will go toward research and expertise in aiding the library agencies in the seven states to develop implementation strategies for faster library broadband connections.

The goal of the summits and of the implementation strategies is to find ways to financially support faster connections through means besides the Gates Foundation.

Hence the summits are designed to collect librarians within the state, state government officials that oversee the libraries, state and local politicians, and local broadband providers.

“One of the messages we want to impart [in the summits] is the role of broadband access, the information and the opportunities [through broadband], and that it is critical for every community to have this access,” said Nishi.

Nishi also said that more libraries need to take advantage of the e-Rate, which is part of a federal universal service fund subsidizing telecommunications services in schools and libraries.

Also as part of its work in preparing for the $6.9 million grant, the Gates Foundation is conducting a census-style survey of the speeds, prices and providers of internet access to all 16,000 public libraries in the country, Nishi said.

Nishi said that the speeds, prices and names of providers will be publicly released. Although major telecommunications carriers have objected in the past to the public disclosure of the ZIP codes in which they offer broadband, Nishi said that providers do not object to making this information public.

“We think that the providers will find this information helpful in terms of seeing this as demand creation,” she said.

The census-style survey is under contract to the Lieberman Research Worldwide, and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2009, said Nishi.

Correction and Clarification:

January 11, 2009 – A Gates Foundation official called BroadbandCensus.com to say that it is 50 percent, and not 85 percent, of the $6.1 million grant to Connected Nation that will fund travel expenses.

With reference to the question of whether telecommunications providers object to making information about the speeds, prices and names of providers publicly available, the official clarified that the Gates Foundation had not asked telecommunications companies whether they object to making the information public. The foundation is simply conducting its census-style survey of internet access to public libraries and releasing the information to the state library boards, which are then expected to publicly disclose this information.

-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

Broadband Breakfast Club:

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

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