By Don S. Samuelson and Andrew Lowenstein
LAKE FOREST, Ill., January 11, 2010 – Last July when the Round 1 of Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program was announced, Don Samuelson suggested that public housing authorities across the country ought to be applying to BTOP for financial assistance to promote the use of the Internet by their senior residents:
Every public housing authority in the United States should apply for stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Agency to set up a program to promote the benefits and use of the Internet for its senior housing residents. The goal should be to make the case for the practical benefits of broadband and the Internet sufficiently compelling so that seniors would want a computer and Internet connection in their individual units. The use of the Internet should be as valuable as a TV or a phone. This is a “value proposition” that remains to be made.
It appears that no one followed the suggestion. There were no sustainable adoption proposals in the first round of BTOP for senior housing. We’ve since updated our analysis and refined our thinking.
The Missing Definitions of “Adoption” and “Sustainable Adoption.”
While “Sustainable Adoption” is one of the three categories of grant assistance contemplated by BTOP, there is no explicit definition of “sustainable adoption,” or even “adoption” in the Round 1 Notice of Funds Availability or the Sustainable Adoption Application materials.
Mr. Samuelson commented on this omission in his response to the NTIA request for comments in November of 2009:
“It is critical that the criteria to be used in evaluating sustainable adoption be clearly set out in the submissions section and in the section dealing with the evaluation criteria. For example, what does it require in terms of broadband and Internet literacy and use to say that an “adoption” has occurred? What must be shown to demonstrate that an adoption has become sustainable or is scalable?”
Two of the statutory purposes of BTOP are: (1) to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment and support to vulnerable populations (e.g. residents of public housing); and (2) to stimulate demand for broadband.
The Round 1 Sustainable Adoption Application Provides Hints of the Definition.
There are clear “hints” of what BTOP policy makers are looking for in the Round 1 Sustainable Broadband Adoption Application. In Section #7, the Executive Summary, a statement is requested of the “problem” related to improving broadband service adoption rates. It also requests an explanation of the potential broadband subscribers your project will reach. The emphasis is on increasing the number of subscribers.
In Section #8, Project Purpose, the emphasis is on increasing broadband access in unserved and underserved areas, and providing “education, awareness, training, access, equipment and support to … vulnerable populations.” The statements can best be read as complimentary.
In Section #13, the questions is asked: “How many total new home subscribers (household accounts) to broadband do you expect to generate through the used of BTOP funds over the life of the program funded?” In Sections #17 and #18, the questions relate to the extent of training programs and the numerical reach of the training. Sections #24, #25 and #26 relate to the targets of the awareness campaign, the methods for increasing awareness [of the benefits of broadband and the Internet] and the numerical results of the awareness campaign.
The sustainable broadband adoption application also asks for program explanations and strategies with respect to access, devices, awareness raising and training. However, the bottom line appears to occur in Section #27 when the applicant is asked: “What is the total cost of your project per new subscriber (household, individual or institutional) or new end-user?” Therefore, it can be inferred that “adoption” equates to becoming a new subscriber, but the definition of “sustainable” remains unclear.
The Chicken Crossing the Road (Digital Divide) Metaphor.
The answer to the question – why did the chicken cross the road – is that the chicken saw sufficient value on the other side of the road to take the trouble and assume the risk of crossing the road. The analysis of why vulnerable populations adopt and sustain broadband/internet usage involves similar calculations. Prospective users have to see that there are important and practical benefits available through the Internet worth the time, effort and cost of getting online and using the Internet.
For example, for seniors – the largest underserved segment by age according to a 2009 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project – need to see practical values resulting from their use of the Internet in one or several of the following areas: (1) staying connected to children and grandchildren; (2) keeping in touch with neighbors and friends; (3) getting free e-mail services; (4) researching interests through web-accessing search engines; (5) accessing information on health care; (6) keeping current on Medicare, Medicaid and prescription drugs; (7) using government financial support programs; (8) accessing online entertainment and education programs; (9) keeping connected to churches, hobbies and other social networks; and (10) using tools for budgeting, banking and bill paying.
These broadband and internet applications will continue to grow over time. Once a person joins the “online community” they will continue to learn of new and exciting opportunities available over the Internet which will evolve over time. The “senior chicken” will be increasingly grateful that it is on the online side of the digital divide.
Is Crossing The Digital Divide “Sustainable Broadband Adoption”?
After a comprehensive intervention strategy which the authors will discuss in a subsequent article,. the senior will have to be shown the benefits of the Internet. Basic computer skills will have been taught first time users. The senior will have learned how to use the Internet and will have an e-mail or messaging account to connect with others.
Is this the end point that the BTOP application has in mind when it is funding sustainable broadband adoption proposals? Is it enough to know how to perform a Google search or subscribe to a free e-mail account? Does it qualify to use the computers and the Internet connectivity in the building’s computer learning center or in a local library? One could become an active user of the Internet without having a personal computer or an individual connection to the Internet. Is that sustainable broadband adoption?
We believe there is a difference between getting off line individuals “online” and crossing the digital divide and achieving a sustainable broadband adoption objective. In achieving sustainable adoption, the individual – with or without government subsidy programs like the Universal Service Fund – has to find sufficient value in the service to be willing to pay for the service.
The service has to be sufficiently valuable to warrant an initial subscription and the costs of a device and training. More importantly, to achieve “sustainability,” the value of broadband services has to be remain sufficiently valuable to justify the ongoing costs of connectivity, equipment and content.
Returning to the Issue of “Sustainable Broadband Adoption”
It’s clear from the Sustainable Broadband Adoption application that BTOP has an interest in promoting increases in broadband service adoption rates and in generating new subscribers. The awareness of benefits, an e-mail address and active Internet use are all important milestones in coming to the conclusion that broadband and the Internet are essential tools in a 21st Century life and in the active participation in government programs and in the networks that make up community life.
As with the origins of Universal Service in the 30s, there is a public interest in maximum broadband participation. There appears to be significant legislative interest at this time in extending the application of the LinkUp and Lifeline telephone subsidies to broadband services.
The milestone points are likely “necessary” but not “sufficient” parts of the process of achieving “sustainable broadband adoption.” It is useful to identify these way-stations on the path to sustainable adoption, measure achievement in reaching these milestones and give credit to proposals which are effective in creating a meaningful “pipeline” of individuals on their way to sustainable adoption.
But ultimately, the acid test should be the number of individuals who have concluded that broadband is sufficiently important to their lives to invest in connectivity and a device whereby they are “subscribers” to broadband.
For senior living communities, once successful adoption programs bring broadband to seniors in their apartments, the buildings can enjoy cost savings and improved operating efficiencies. First, in order to embrace adoption programs, both owners of senior buildings and residents need to appreciate how Internet benefits are meaningful to them. Building owners need to see cost savings sufficient to justify capital investments. Seniors need to experience benefits to warrant the cost of a broadband subscription. These benefits become “sustainable” once continuous and growing benefits exceed costs and owners of senior buildings and seniors themselves pay for the cost of broadband services.
Editor’s Note: The preceeding guest commentary appears by special invitation of Broadband Census News. Neither BroadbandCensus.com nor BroadbandBreakfast.com endorse the views in the commentary. We invite officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all commentaries may be published.
Don S. Samuelson of DSSA Stratategies has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. Andrew Lowenstein is with MyWay Village, Inc. Samuelson has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.
Christopher Mitchell: Brendan Carr is Wrong on the Treasury Department’s Broadband Rules
The Federal Communications Commission has no excuse for why the agency finished with the same bad data it started with.
With all due respect to Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, his reaction to the Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Fiscal Relief Fund (SLFRF) spending rules is way off base. As I wrote last week, the rules for broadband infrastructure spending are a good model for pushing down decision-making to the local level where people actually have the information to make informed decisions. (Doug Dawson recently also responded to Commissioner Carr’s statement, offering a response with some overlap of the points below.)
See Christopher Mitchell, Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding, Broadband Breakfast, January 13, 2022
The Final Rule from the Treasury Department gives broad discretion to local and state governments that choose to spend some of the SLFRF (SLurF-uRF) funds on broadband infrastructure. The earlier draft of rules made it more complicated for networks built to address urban affordability challenges.
However, in coming out against the rules, FCC Commissioner Carr is giving voice to the anger of the big cable and telephone monopolies that cities can, after collecting evidence of need, make broadband investments even in areas where those companies may be selling services already. Commissioner Carr may also be frustrated that he has been reduced to chirping from the sidelines on this issue because the previous FCC, under his party’s leadership, so badly bungled broadband subsidies in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that Congress decide NTIA should administer these funds and have the state distribute them.
Nonetheless, the issues that Commissioner Carr raised are common talking points inside the Beltway and we feel that they need to be addressed.
The failure of the FCC to assemble an accurate data collection is many years in the making. No single presidential administration can take the full blame for it, but each of them could have corrected it.
President Joe Biden’s FCC is not yet fully assembled because of delays in appointment and in Senate confirmation, but it would not be reasonable to lay blame on the current FCC for the failures discussed below. That said, it is not clear that we are on a course for having better maps and data that will resolve these problems anytime soon.
Commissioner Carr’s Criticism
Commissioner Carr jumps immediately into the rural vs urban frame, suggesting that the Biden Administration could leave rural families behind by allowing local governments to invest in broadband in areas where an existing provider may already claim to offer service. Outlawing this practice – which he and others close to the largest cable and telephone companies call “overbuilding” – has been a major point for Republican FCC Commissioners.
- Rather than directing those dollars to the rural and other communities without any Internet infrastructure today, the Administration gives the green light for recipients to spend those funds on overbuilding existing, high-speed networks in communities that already have multiple broadband providers. This would only deepen the digital divide in this country.
Pardon me? Logically, it is not clear what exactly Commissioner Carr is griping about here. Using Maryland as an example, if Baltimore is allowed to spend some of its funds to ensure unconnected families in public housing have high-quality Internet access, it is not clear that rural Garrett County in the western part of the state is harmed. Local governments do not receive different amounts of funds based on whether they spend it on broadband or other allowable expenses.
See Christopher Mitchell and other from the Institute for Local Self Reliance in the Broadband Breakfast Live Online for Wednesday, January 19, 2022 — The Community Broadband Network Approach to Infrastructure Funding
States could be the issue. Perhaps Commissioner Carr is concerned that Maryland will use some of its SLFRF money for broadband and it will spend too much in urban areas rather than rural regions. That would be an historical anomaly, even though there are far more people living in urban areas than in rural areas who are not on the Internet. And yet, nearly all state and federal dollars have gone to rural areas for infrastructure improvements, with very little being spent to help the low-income families left behind in urban areas. There is no history of states prioritizing urban investments over rural.
Bad Data, Srsly?
What I found really galling though was this bit:
- It gets worse. The Treasury rules allow these billions of dollars to be spent based on bad data. It does this by authorizing recipients to determine whether an area lacks access to high-speed Internet service by relying on informal interviews and reports—however inaccurate those may be—rather than the broadband maps that the federal government has been funding and standing up
It is 2022. The FCC announced three weeks ago that it did not have a timeline for better maps. Many of us have complained for more than 10 years about the misleading and inaccurate collection of claims that the FCC advances as its understanding of where broadband exists in the United States.
Commissioner Carr has been an FCC Commissioner for more than four years, nearly all of that time when his agency was run by a Republican. For part of that time, the Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. They have no excuse for why his party’s FCC finished with the same bad data processes it started with. No one was defending the FCC data or maps during those years, but the FCC did not bother to begin collecting new data.
Now Commissioner Carr claims that “parts of this country” have broadband services at speeds near 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. OK, Commissioner. Where? Do you have a secret list? No, these are talking points to obscure the fact that Commissioner Carr and his agency has utterly failed to track precisely what “parts of this country” actually has access to broadband.
Will I agree that most, perhaps 80 percent, of the country has access to 100 by 20 Mbps? Yes. But that doesn’t matter if no one can agree which homes are well-served. And it opens up a whole other set of questions that Carr neatly sidesteps, which is that contemporary broadband service goes beyond the academic question of whether an ISP provides that service most of the time at some price. If the price isn’t affordable, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Or as we like to say, if it’s not affordable, it’s not accessible. And, if the service is not very reliable, then there is a problem that must be addressed.
This is why the final rule is both necessary and good: because it allows communities the flexibility they need to address not just the gaps in infrastructure, but reliability and affordability as well. But of course Commissioner Carr should know that we do not have this information at the federal level, because I’m quite sure he opposes collecting pricing and other information. Despite the many instances in which providers have lied to the Commission in presenting the areas they offer service, Carr objects per se to local evidence gathered via interviews to understand where broadband actually is.
A Prediction: This Is Not A Problem
It is remarkable to see the amount of performative horror Commissioner Carr expresses at the prospect of a city like Baltimore using some of the Rescue Plan dollars to ensure its families in public housing are on the Internet, even if a cable provider could theoretically sell them Internet access for $75/month, or provide a subsidized service if they jump through all the right hoops. Compare that to the silence from the Commissioner when it became clear that the largest telephone companies took billions of dollars in broadband subsidies and might have forgotten to upgrade their services.
The SLFRF Treasury Rules give the appropriate amount of deference to local and state leaders to act in an utter void of information about what is available to each home. Commissioner Carr is deeply worried – because the largest cable and telephone companies are deeply worried – that some places will use these dollars to build networks that are unneeded or would create too much competition for the existing companies.
My prediction is that communities will not do this. Of course it’s not zero: a cardinal rule of dealing with large numbers of humans is that there are always outliers. But of the cities that allocate some of their SLFRF dollars to broadband infrastructure, they will overwhelmingly focus on areas where there are real affordability and reliability challenges from existing services. The reality is that very few of these investments will result in any material losses to existing ISPs, but the monopoly providers know that even modestly opening the door to locally built and operated infrastructure driven by community-driven solutions could open the floodgates to the competition they fear so much.
Commissioner Carr has spent years as one of a very small number of people that could correct the abject failure of the FCC to collect useful information about broadband deployments. The rest of us have had to move on and figure out how to work in the absence of data. The best option is to allow for local decision-making where they can collect evidence and act. And most importantly, they will have to take responsibility for their actions and lack of action in ways that FCC Commissioners often do not.
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on January 20, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
Ron Yokubaitis: GOP Putting Partisanship over Reform with Gigi Sohn’s FCC Nomination
Nominated by President Biden as Federal Communications Commissioner, Sohn understands the real reason net neutrality is necessary.
The Federal Communications Commission has persistently gotten communications wrong for the past 20 years, even before broadband was a thing.
The commission was supposed to oversee telecommunications networks while leaving the then-nascent internet alone for the most part, but they dropped the ball. Gigi Sohn is the right person to help the FCC get back to its open access roots.
The 1996 Congress envisioned an open, interconnected, interoperable and user-centric internet that offers users “control over the information they receive” and facilitates “diversity of political discourse.” Congress knew that these goals necessarily required an underlying telecommunications infrastructure that was also robustly competitive and itself open, interconnected and interoperable. That is why they enacted new laws basically adopting and extending the FCC’s even then longstanding Computer Inquiries regime that made the internet possible to begin with.
“Broadband” is now provided over fiber. Even broadband wireless requires fiber for backhaul. These are telecommunications facilities, that are – or should be – subject to the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction. Firms providing fiber-based transmission for a fee are – or should be – common carriers. That, in turn, means they must interconnect, interoperate with and sell network access to other telecommunications carriers and those who provide information services on reasonable terms.
Computer Inquiry, the 1980s AT&T and GTE divestitures and the 1996 legislation all so required. But the FCC went rogue in the late 1990s. It allowed the dominant telephone and cable companies to close their local infrastructure, which allowed them to dominate mass-market internet access. The FCC purposefully killed most local market competition. Most independent internet service providers and competitive local exchange carriers were then forced out of business. Only a few major players still compete at the local level, and it is they who control mass-market “access to the internet” over “Broadband.”
Texas.net dueled early in the Lone Star state with Southwestern Bell
I started Texas.Net in 1994. We were one of the first independent ISPs in Texas. Southwestern Bell controlled the local network, and it soon started limiting our ability to get the lines we had to have so our customers could get to the internet. We turned to competitive local exchange carriers, and even became one ourselves.
SWBT and the other incumbent carriers convinced the FCC to limit competitors’ access to the last-mile connections serving homes and small businesses. The FCC refused to enforce its Time Warner Cable open access mandate. More than 7,000 independent ISPs were put out of business. That is why the telephone and cable companies now have a largely unregulated mass-market telecommunications and internet access duopoly.
“Net neutrality” was and is necessary only because of the FCC’s decision to close access to local infrastructure. America will continue to suffer high cost, rationed broadband telecommunications and internet for residential, small business, rural and high-cost customers for so long as the FCC allows and encourages the telephone and cable companies’ domination over local network access. The FCC must return to its “open access” roots.
Sohn is practical and willing to compromise in seeking bipartisan solutions
I have known Gigi Sohn since she led Public Knowledge. She understands that net neutrality is just a patch and the real solution is true open access to the underlying local telecommunications infrastructure. I certainly don’t agree with 100% of Sohn’s viewpoints, and we’ve told her so. But even when we disagree our voices are heard, understood and considered. She is practical and willing to compromise. She will seek bipartisan solutions to the real problem.
The Republicans’ effort to derail Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the FCC is misguided. All it does is cripple the FCC’s ability to return to its roots and do what is truly necessary to get America up to speed with the rest of the developed world when it comes to advanced infrastructure in general and internet ubiquity in particular. This is too important a moment for partisan gamesmanship. Billions of dollars and the connectivity of millions of Americans are at stake.
Sohn is the right person at the right moment in history. Her 30 years of experience in telecom, broadband and technology policy, her strong commitment to the First Amendment and diversity of viewpoints, and her work to promote a competitive environment where consumers are best served more than qualify her to be an FCC Commissioner.
Ron Yokubaitis is CEO of Golden Frog, a company dedicated to protecting internet privacy online, and a director of sister company Giganews, a global provider of Usenet. Both are headquartered in Austin, Texas. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
Christopher Mitchell: Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding
The Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that the Institute for Local Self Reliance identified in May.
Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas.
When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.
Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule.
After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks.
Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May.
As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.
Summary and TL;DR
The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys.
Recipients may fund high-speed broadband infrastructure in areas of need that the recipient identifies, such as areas without access to adequate speeds, affordable options, or where connections are inconsistent or unreliable; completed projects must participate in a low-income subsidy program.
The relevant broadband infrastructure sections of the final rule are on pages 260-264 and 294-313. Pages 85-90 focus on digital inclusion, which is relevant and overlapping depending on community plans.
In general, the SLFRF has simplified the rules to give more flexibility to state and local governments (across all of the eligible uses, not just broadband infrastructure). The original rule focused on areas lacking reliable 25/3 Mbps service – with a big focus on the word “reliable.” But there is no mention of 25/3 in the Final Rule.
Local governments do still have to make a determination that they are building the network to solve one of the problems that SLFRF uses as a trigger to allow broadband infrastructure investments, but they do not have to get approval from Treasury or any other entity. More detail below, but the triggers include lack of access to a reliable 100/100 connection or lack of access to affordable broadband service.
Any network built with SLFRF must be designed to deliver 100 Mbps download and upload, with the ability to do only 100/20 Mbps in some situations. That is the same as in the Interim Final Rule but now networks must also support the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for as long as the program exists.
Qualifying to Use SLFRF for Broadband Infrastructure
Treasury set the tone for the revisions by noting on page 261:
- Treasury recognizes that there may be a need for improvements to broadband beyond those households and businesses with limited existing service as defined in the interim final rule.
This was a primary concern we heard from cities back in May – that the focus on served/unserved/underserved based on available broadband speeds did not adequately address the problems they faced, even with a strong caveat about reliability.
Cities may have 100 percent high-speed cable coverage but still have neighborhoods where many people are not able to access a broadband Internet connection due to challenges common to impoverished households. Treasury listened to these comments and adjusted the Rule (page 302 – emphasis added):
- The final rule expands eligible areas for investment by requiring recipients to invest in projects designed to provide service to households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment. Recipients have flexibility to identify a need for additional broadband infrastructure investment: examples of need include lack of access to a connection that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds, lack of affordable access to broadband service, or lack of reliable broadband service. Recipients are encouraged to prioritize projects that are designed to provide service to locations not currently served by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 100 Mbps of download speed and 20 Mbps of upload speed, as many commenters indicated that those without such service constitute hard-to-reach areas in need of subsidized broadband deployment.
Local governments need to identify areas where at least some households lack high-speed services, or lack affordable access, or lack reliable broadband Internet service. As Treasury has made very clear, not every housing unit served by a network has to meet this condition (pages 302-303 emphasis added):
- Households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment do not have to be the only ones in the service area served by an eligible broadband infrastructure project. Indeed, serving these households and businesses may require a holistic approach that provides service to a wider area, for example, in order to make ongoing service of certain households or businesses within the service area economical.
We believe that a good source of data that can demonstrate an affordability or other problem that justifies broadband investment is where schools have sent mobile wireless hotspots home with students. This is a data set that nearly every school district should already have.
How to Prove an Area Qualifies
Even though local governments do not have to get approval for their determination that an area qualifies for this SLFRF expenditure, Treasury provides guidance for what evidence municipalities should consider in making the determination (page 303):
- Consistent with further guidance issued by Treasury, in determining areas for investment, recipients may choose to consider any available data, including but not limited to documentation of existing broadband internet service performance, federal and/or state collected broadband data, user speed test results, interviews with community members and business owners, reports from community organizations, and any other information they deem relevant.
And if that was not sufficiently clear, Treasury goes above and beyond to be very clear that cities should not be bullied by the occasional intimidating ISP or some other opponent of more broadband investment (page 303 still):
- In addition, recipients may consider the actual experience of current broadband customers when making their determinations; whether there is a provider serving the area that advertises or otherwise claims to offer broadband at a given speed is not dispositive.
This is a tremendously flexible framework. The federal government is giving local governments millions of dollars and trusting them to make wise investments that focus on the most vulnerable residents that are being left out of the opportunities the Internet offers. Some 17 states still limit local Internet choice by interfering with community authority to build a network or partner with an ISP. But everywhere else, communities have no one else to blame if they do not seize this historic opportunity.
Low-Cost Requirements and Encouraged Practices
Treasury adopted stronger requirements to ensure that the public dollars spent on these networks results in networks that are more accessible by all, including those living in poverty (page 308):
- In response to many commenters that highlighted the importance of affordability in providing meaningful access to necessary broadband infrastructure, the final rule provides additional requirements to address the affordability needs of low-income consumers in accessing broadband networks funded by SLFRF. Recipients must require the service provider for a completed broadband infrastructure investment project that provides service to households to:
- Participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP); or
- Otherwise provide access to a broad-based affordability program to low-income consumers in the proposed service area of the broadband infrastructure that provides benefits to households commensurate with those provided under the ACP.
Though it isn’t required, Treasury recognizes the importance of a low-cost, high-quality tier of service, and spells out key parts of it (page 309, emphasis added):
- Additionally, recipients are encouraged to require that services provided by a broadband infrastructure project include at least one low-cost option offered without data usage caps at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users to simultaneously telework and engage in remote learning. Treasury will require recipients to report speed, pricing, and any data allowance information as part of their mandatory reporting to Treasury.
Other Bits of Interest
The Treasury Department uses OECD data as supporting evidence that the United States has a problem with affordable broadband Internet access on page 87:
- However, even in areas where broadband infrastructure exists, broadband access may be out of reach for millions of Americans because it is unaffordable, as the United States has some of the highest broadband prices in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Treasury urges these expenditures use fiber optic technology (pages 306-7):
- Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize investments in fiber-optic infrastructure wherever feasible, as such advanced technology enables the next generation of application solutions for all communities and is capable of delivering superior, reliable performance and is generally most efficiently scalable to meet future needs.
As with every previous iteration of these rules, Treasury encourages prioritizing community networks – cooperatives, nonprofits, and local governments (page 298):
- Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives.
Recipients of SLFRF funds have to report how they are using the funds. For broadband infrastructure expenditures, that reporting will include speed tiers, pricing, and data caps (page 309). Larger recipients report on a quarterly basis, smaller ones annually. More information on reporting guidelines here.
Final note – I might be the only person who calls this the SLurF-uRF program but I encourage you to consider using that too because doing this work shouldn’t rob us of a juvenile sense of humor. Thanks for reading this far!
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on January 13, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
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