Broadband Census South Carolina
This is the 15th of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories. Among the next profiles: Nebraska, Utah, and Virginia.
September 21 – The South Carolina Educational Broadband Service Commission is under pressure to develop an innovative solution for state-wide broadband access, but the clock is ticking.
The seven-person commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting on September 22 – and will have only four months thereafter to submit its plan to the Federal Communications Commission for transitioning a unique band of radio frequencies from its educational broadcasting service to wireless broadband.
The frequencies occupy the 2.5 Gigahertz (GHz) band of spectrum. This band is distinct from the much-talked-about 700 MHz band licensed to commercial broadcasters, and which is the subject of the transition to digital television scheduled to take place on February 19, 2009.
These 2.5GHz frequencies are reserved for educational organizations and institutions, but South Carolina is the only state in the nation with state-wide control of frequencies. In South Carolina, the spectrum is used by state-owned broadcaster ETV.
As ETV transitions to a more efficient digital broadcast by February 2009, a large portion of the 2.5 GHz band could be utilized by other broadcast technologies, including wireless broadband.
Although state officials in Columbia, the capital, have been engaged in the issues surrounding broadband spectrum, many questions remain about the efficacy of a state-wide wireless network and the best model for utilizing the frequencies.
It is still unclear whether the state government will be able to take advantage of its unique opportunity.
Many in South Carolina are concerned that the state government is not moving quickly enough to seize upon the opportunity presented by the 2.5 GHz spectrum.
”Of all the impacts we could have on education in South Carolina, better and more broadband to all our schools and communities is the biggest,” said State Rep. Dwight Loftis, serving District 19 in Greenville County.
“The leadership of South Carolina needs to move fast,” says Representative Loftis, “we have a deadline of January 19 and I’m afraid we’re not moving fast enough.”
Dr. Jabari Simama, vice president of community development at Benedict College, has also promoted the availability of broadband technology on the local level. He said that the economic development of communities in South Carolina depends upon affordable access. His series of conferences on “Broadband in Cities and Towns” have been a focal point for discussions on technology and economic development among South Carolina communities.
To meet the deadline for submitting a plan for the 2.5 GHz spectrum to the FCC, the South Carolina Broadband Technology and Communication Study Committee recommended the state undertake two studies.
One would assess the current state of broadband infrastructure in South Carolina and citizens’ access to it. The other would assess the best business model to move forward so that the state receives the most benefit from the newly opened spectrum.
To meet the first recommendation, the state briefly partnered with Connected Nation, Inc., a non-profit group that conducts broadband needs assessments and develops programs to improve connectivity. The group initially estimated that 94 percent of South Carolinians had access to broadband, but the state has not followed up for more in-depth studies.
Little has been produced in response to the recommendation to study the best uses of the 2.5 GHz spectrum, either. Meanwhile, the South Carolina Educational Broadband Service Commission has been tasked by the legislature to seek proposals that utilize the spectrum capacity through business models and then to choose the best business model and private sector partner for the state.
The Commission’s upcoming meeting in Columbia should shed more light on the process for South Carolinians concerned about improving broadband access and the state’s plan for the valuable spectrum.
“If we pass this [spectrum] on to the FCC it will be a great loss,” said Loftis. “South Carolina will lose an excellent opportunity to reach everyone in the state with broadband technology.”
Broadband Census in the States:
- 1. In Massachusetts, Governor to Sign $40 Million Broadband Bill Aimed at Spurring Investment
- 2. Task Force to Debate Whether A Gigabit Per Second is Too Fast for Minnesota
- 3. Relaunched Oklahoma City Wi-Fi Network Showcases City-Services Model
- 4. New York City and State Each Craft Broadband Policies; City Nixes Muni Wi-Fi
- 5. With Large Underserved Areas, Idaho Seeks to Establish Statewide Educational Network
- 6. Hawaii Broadband Task Force Aims to Tackle Problems of Speed, Competition
- 7. Modern-Day Alaskan Broadband Benefits from Satellite Earth Station Competition
- 8. First in Broadband Mapping, North Carolina’s e-NC Now Wants Faster Speeds
- 9. Colorado Innovation Council Seeks to Make Good on State’s Promise of Better Broadband
- 10. New Mexico Infrastructure Report Fails to Incorporate Broadband Access
- 11. Illinois Plants ‘Johnny Appleseed’ Projects Promoting Broadband in State
- 12. Maryland Continues on Long Haul Towards Universal Broadband
- 13. Verizon as a Cable Guy To Shape Broadband Battle in Washington, D.C.
- 14. ‘Connect ME’ is Maine’s Mantra For 90 Percent Broadband by 2010
- 15. South Carolina Weighs State-Wide Wireless Access in Broadband Plans
Broadband Census Resources:
- Joint Resolution Creating the South Carolina Educational Broadband Service Commission
- South Carolina Broadband Technology and Communications Study Committee: The Legistlature’s website with all the relevant resources on the Committee’s work, including the final report and recommendations [PDF].
- The ETV Educational Broadband Service: South Carolina’s state-wide educational broadcaster’s site with a host of informative links on the digital transition.
- Wireless Broadband in South Carolina Talking Points: A summary of the efforts to utilize wireless spectrum in South Carolina.
Cities Collecting Broadband Data for Maps Ahead of FCC
The FCC is racing to release updating maps to federal money can begin moving out of the door.
PORTLAND, February 17, 2022 – Some city broadband officials said Wednesday that they have been collecting their own broadband map data ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s own effort to provide maps, which could come as soon as this summer.
Juliet Fink Yates, from Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology, said at Portland’s Net Inclusion conference her city is collecting their own data as the FCC works on its own. Specifically, her office worked with school districts to survey the broadband situation in local areas, but the office faced a problem when unserved and underserved could not complete the questionnaire because it was online. This prevented accurate data collection, said Yates, who said the city is now working on a survey that can be translated into five different languages.
The new digital inclusion manager for San Antonio, Candelaria Mendoza, said her office is also conducting their own surveys on the quality of internet service, another local effort to expand broadband locally.
The states are expected to receive a minimum of $100 million from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, passed in mid-November. Before the National Telecommunication and Information Administration can distribute the $42.5 billion in broadband funds allocated from the bill, the FCC will need to complete its maps, which Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said could come this summer.
But for a while now, around the country, states have been working on their own maps, despite the FCC promoting some of their test maps as the most accurate. States including Georgia and Maine have instituted measures to collect their own broadband data.
Some states are flush with cash not just from their own coffers, but from existing pandemic funds from the federal government. These states have been trying to figure out how to utilize American Rescue Plan Act money to put toward broadband – and accurate maps are often needed to figure out where exactly those funds need to go.
But Mendoza said the $65 billion allocated by the IIJA is not be enough to connect every American and that setting the “unserved” threshold below speeds of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload – which to her is too low – should make everyone “offended.” However, she did not say what would be a more adequate alternative.
Getting ahead of natural disasters, digital equity plans
Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Broadband and Connectivity, also shared insight into how exactly his office is addressing the unique challenges Louisiana faces due to hurricanes.
According to Iyengar, his office is surveying the land south of Interstate 10 in an effort to determine where it could put infrastructure underground. Most of Louisiana’s infrastructure is above ground, on poles, which is then crippled by harsh weather and heavy winds.
For Portland’s Office for Community Technology and Digital Inclusion Network, it’s about coming up with a plan to tackle these issues. Rebecca Gibbons, the office’s strategic initiatives manager, said her office has been working with lawmakers and community partners, like local libraries, to make a digital equity plan.
Congress Should Give States More Authority Over Broadband Priorities, Experts Say
Experts suggest states and municipalities should have more leeway with federal broadband funds.
June 30, 2021–Congress should allow the states authority over where and how to invest broadband dollars, experts said on a panel Tuesday.
The panel discussed the problem with federal agencies restricting states to only use funds for a distinct purpose, as opposed to allowing them to decide where the money can best be spent.
Federal agencies tend to focus on accessibility, affordability, and future-proofing broadband, but states all have different immediate needs, according to the panelists hosted by America’s Communications Association (ACA) on Tuesday. The panelists were discussing the $65-billion allocated to broadband as part of the infrastructure package announced by President Joe Biden last week.
The panelists said they hope that the $65 billion will be directed in a similar way to funds from the American Rescue Plan, which grants states flexibility in spending.
ACA projects $400 million needed for broadband
The panel also discussed recent proposals and statistics gathered by the ACA, which show that roughly 12 million households in America remain underserved, having less than the federal minimum standard of 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps download. An additional 30 million are underserved for other reasons, including affordability.
The results, they say, show that closing the digital gap rests in addressing availability and adoption, and that these issues can be resolved best by deferring to localities.
The ACA report found that these issues can be address if spending was increased to $399 billion, a significantly greater amount of money than Congress is currently mulling. The lack of funds, experts said, means that there will have to be prioritization of funds to either availability or adoption.
Derek Turner, research director at media advocacy group Free Press, said this would amplify the need to let the states handle the money their given because they’ll know how to prioritize the funds.
The state of broadband…in the states
States are already being encouraged to take matters into their own hands and form partnerships with private firms to expand broadband access. Experts suggest that, to offset the expenses of building broadband in more rural areas, the government will have to step in and subsidize some of the costs.
In a recent Pew article examining the details of the American Rescue Plan Act, Kathryn de Wit of the research center pointed to the flexibility given to states to assist the federal government in bridging the digital divide. She drew attention to the fact that states have a large role to play in addressing that gap.
Meanwhile, the Texas legislature has already begun to take measures in creating an office dedicated to oversee improvements in broadband in the province. The legislature recently passed House Bill 5, which seeks to expand broadband service to certain areas and requires a state broadband plan be created. The bill is awaiting a signature from Governor Greg Abbott.
Aside from Texas, most states already have a statewide broadband plan.
Vermont House Backs $150 Million Broadband Plan Creating New State Office
A bill dedicating $150 million of anticipated federal funding to create a new state broadband office to coordinate and accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet access throughout Vermont passed the State House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support.
On March 24th, the Vermont House approved H.B. 360 by a vote of 145-1, backing the creation of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority. If the bill becomes law it would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure between Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners, which include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers.
The bill was introduced in the state Senate last Friday, and discussed for the first time in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Enabled by a 2015 law, CUDs are local governmental bodies consisting of two or more towns joined together to build communications infrastructure. They were established to create innovative solutions to build broadband networks and provide a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless Internet connectivity in their respective territories across Vermont, especially in areas where incumbent ISPs fail to provide adequate service.
Vermont’s CUDs, which have called for federal funding assistance since the onset of the pandemic, are ideally positioned to distribute funds in a way that will provide reliable and high-performance Internet access to every nook-and-cranny of the state. Vermont’s active CUDs have already constructed deep pockets of fiber.
Whether or not the CUDs will be able to reach the state’s goal of delivering universal 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet service by 2024 now rests in the hands of Vermont’s Senate, Congress, and the Biden Administration as state and federal lawmakers wrestle with how to best expand access to broadband.
CUDs Desire State Block Grants
The U.S. government has not yet provided guidance on how states will be able to distribute the federal dollars headed their way. In this sense, amendments added to H.B. 360 before it passed Vermont’s House, increasing the bill’s appropriation from an initial $30 million to $150 million, reflect the CUDs call for federal funding and state lawmakers’ desire for the federal government to establish rules that give states flexibility to utilize the funding how they see fit.
As of yet, it appears one of the main sources of broadband infrastructure funding allocated under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, will be awarded in the form of state block grants. States will be awarded between $100 million and $500 million in block grants for capital projects, which include building improved telecommunications networks at a time when remote work, education, and telehealth are more prevalent than ever.
Vermont’s CUDs are hoping little to no constraints are placed on how states can spend incoming federal grant money. In conversation with ILSR, Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet (the operations company of Vermont’s first fully-operating CUD, ECFiber) expressed deep frustrations about the strings that were attached to CARES Act funding. Recipients of CARES Act money were required to spend the funds within months of it being distributed. Monroe lamented the fact that it forced recipients to pursue short-term solutions.
“By the time it reached the state, it was too late to do anything except a few wireless access points here or there,” said Monroe.
“We’ve all been hoping for an infrastructure bill, but I think there will be many strings attached,” she said, cognizant of her past experiences with bureaucratic contingencies on funding. If the funding comes in the form of “block grants to the state it will make it much easier to move forward” because Vermont has a strategic and well-developed plan.
CUDs Need Startup Capital, and to Consolidate
Based on a Magellan Advisors’ report commissioned by Vermont’s Department of Public Services, it is estimated that it will cost $1 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure to the estimated 254,000 locations (82 percent of Vermont) that currently lack 100/100 Mbps symmetrical service (see inline map below, or high-resolution version at the bottom of this story).
CUDs have historically had limited access to the financial capital necessary for expansion into unserved and underserved areas of the state, as previous broadband grant programs have not offered the scale to solve the problem, and traditional funding sources tend to shy away from investing in entities with limited revenue history and little collateral.
Though private investors are beginning to show interest in funding CUDs initiatives, Vermont’s CUDs see the incoming federal funding as a rare opportunity for the infusion of start-up capital initially necessary for CUDs to be financially self-sufficient.
Monroe said that in order for CUDs to be self-supporting they need enough capital for three years of audited financials, three years of positive cash flow, and three years of positive EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). After getting CUDs to that point, they would then be able to access the municipal bond market, in which interest on money borrowed is not taxable.
While H.B. 360 will help by developing favorable taxing, financing, and regulatory mechanisms to support CUDs, Monroe suggested that it may also make sense for some of Vermont’s smaller CUDs to work together, consolidating Vermont’s nine CUDs into perhaps five or six. Some of the CUDs are very small (serving only about 10 rural towns), which may make it more difficult to gain return on investment.
At the heart of H.B. 360 is a call for increased partnerships to deliver resilient last-mile broadband infrastructure. It will be interesting to follow Vermont’s CUDs to see what entities they end up partnering with, as each partnership is likely to be unique.
Last Friday, Consolidated Communications, a major provider of Internet service in the region, responded to a CUDs request for proposal, demonstrating that the private ISP is willing to partner with the CUDs to deliver high-speed Internet service.
According to Monroe, a large portion of ECFiber’s 6,000 current subscribers switched from Consolidated Communications, so the company quickly learned they needed to improve its service and/or partner with the CUDs to remain viable in the state.
Consolidated Communications could be a desirable partner for Vermont’s CUDs given that they already have access to many pole attachments throughout the state. This will save CUDs from spending already-limited funds on utility pole attachments and make-ready work that often leads to increased costs in the buildout of broadband networks.
Another potential partner for CUDs is Green Mountain Power (GMP), the major electric utility in Vermont, which recently reached an agreement with the Department of Public Service to cover the costs of up to $2,000 for make-ready work in each of the utility’s unserved locations. With 7,500 unserved locations in the utility’s service area, the agreement would reduce the cost of building broadband networks within their footprint by as much as $15 million. Many CUDs are working to calculate how the cost-savings agreement could significantly advance their efforts to expand broadband into unserved regions.
The electric utility’s contributions would also help bring equity to Vermont’s energy sector. Currently all Vermont electric ratepayers are contributing to the rollout of clean energy technologies, yet not all ratepayers are able to access those technologies because they do not have access to adequate broadband.
One thing is clear: Vermont state lawmakers see federal funding, guided by new state legislation, as key to creating a more equitable future and delivering universal broadband access for its citizens.
See a high-resolution map of locations served by 100/100 Mbps in Vermont here.
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper with the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally published on MuniNetworks.org, the piece is part of a collaborative reporting effort between Broadband Breakfast and the Community Broadband Networks program at ILSR.
- Public Knowledge Urges VoIP to Be Regulated Under Title II to Stop Robocalls
- Jeremy Jurick and Paul Schneid: Preparing Data for the FCC’s Broadband Filing
- Google Not Publisher to Australian Court, Omnispace Testing 5G Satellites, AT&T’s $6M to Digital Literacy
- All States Want BEAD Funds, Digicomm Secures Investment, Glo Fiber Expanding in PA
- Institute for Local Self-Reliance Announces Two Initiatives to Foster Local Broadband Solutions
- Broadband Breakfast on August 31, 2022 – How to Maximize Minority Participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program
Signup for Broadband Breakfast
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
Crypto Regulation Bill, Ziply Fiber Acquires EONI, AT&T Tests 5G via Drone
Fiber2 months ago
AT&T Says Gigabit Download Speed Demand Continues to Grow
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia
Broadband Roundup1 month ago
TikTok Data Practices, FCC’s Mandate on Wireless Outages, AT&T First Responder Network
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
Global Tech Competition Bill, AT&T Hits 20 Gbps Symmetrical, Hargray Fiber in Georgia
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
FiberLight Buy, T-Mobile Shuts Down Older Networks, AT&T and Dish Lead US O-RAN Alliance
Broadband Roundup1 month ago
Broadcast Transparency Decision, AT&T McDonald’s Expansion, Brightspeed in Missouri
#broadbandlive3 months ago
Broadband Breakfast on June 29, 2022 — Broadband Mapping and Data