AUSTIN, Texas, April 4, 2014 – Next week, at the Broadband Communities Summit here in Austin, the Rural Telecommunications Congress will take center stage with a series of sessions on “The Bandwidth of the States,” “Financing Future Bandwidth,” “Digital Learning in the Classroom,” “Rural Innovation,” and — as a kicker — “Cool Things Rural Communities Are Doing With Broadband.”
At this marque event next week, I’ve been asked to lead the Rural Telecommunications Congress morning session on “The Bandwidth of the States” together with Galen Updike, immediate past president of the RTC.
Those wishing to attend the entire Broadband Communities event may do so by registering as members of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. RTC members are able to attend the event at the rate of $200, for an $895 value.
To participate, register at https://www.regonline.com/
As members of the RTC Board, Galen and I have planned a series of morning events that will highlight progress in broadband over the past five years.
We are coming up on the fifth year anniversary of the State Broadband Initiative program. SBI, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s State Broadband Initiative program, has played a substantial role in enhancing broadband’s contribution to economic development. Anne Neville, the program director of SBI, has agreed to give our morning keynote on the subject.
After that, we’ll move directly into the “50 States in 50 Minutes” section, in which eight spokespeople from eight regions of the country will speak about the state of broadband in the states. This will be an opportunity for rapid-fire information about each of the states.
Several of the questions that will be address in this presentation include:
• What is the state of broadband now versus five years ago in the regions?
• What notable infrastructure projects have occurred over the past five years in the regions?
• What notable projects to spur broadband adoption have taken place in the regions?
• What are the future opportunity to public-private broadband efforts in the states within the regions? Are there any impediments to such progress in the states?
• What role will SBI entities have following December 31, 2014? Have any of the SBI entities made public their plans to continue, or to discontinue, operations?
• What role will the public safety network FirstNet play within the regions?
• Are there any notable private-sector Gigabit Networks under development in the regions?
Below is the formal program, also available online:
9:40 am – 11:00 am
The Bandwidth of the States: Where They Stand in 2014
Anne Neville – Director, State Broadband Initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information
The past five years have witnesses an explosion of broadband internet services, by providers and by the public sector. Stimulus projects including infrastructure investments, sustainable broadband programs, and state broadband initiatives have boosted awareness of the benefits of internet connectivity. Anne Neville, Director of the key federal broadband program working in collaboration with the states,will set the stage for our “50 States in 50 Minutes” presentation. She will be followed by spokesmen from eight regions to highlight the state of bandwidth in each of the 50 states.
50 States In 50 Minutes:
Where the states stand at the ending of BTOP and NTIA-SBDD. Metrics of past deployment of broadband. How the states are now poised for the future. All 50 states will be reviewed and commented on. A report will be available.
Speakers by Region:
Galen Updike – Former Chair, Rural Telecom Congress
Jason Whittet – Former Dep. Dir., Mass Broadband Institute
David Salway – Director, New York State Broadband Program Office
Jane Smith Patterson – Chair, RTC.
David Moore – Director, Louisiana Broadband Initiative
Mike Wilson – CostQuest Associates
Eric Mills – General Counsel, Connected Nation
Frank Odasz – President, Lone Eagle Consulting
11:10 am – 12:30 pm
Envisioning a Future for Broadband Deployment
Building on “50 States in 50 Minutes,” this session will look to the future for national broadband policy leadership. Informed by the State Broadband Initiative programs, as well as both a range of local, regional and national activities, this session will bring considerable depth and expertise to the next steps for broadband deployment. We’ll survey national developments, for-profit and non-profit Gigabit Network, legislative barriers to public broadband, and ongoing opportunities for public-private partnerships.
Drew Clark – Chairman and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast Club; Former Executive Director, Broadband Illinois
Rachelle Chong – Techwire.net; former California PUC
Lev Gonick – CEO of One Community, Cleveland
Christopher Mitchell – Institute for Local Self Reliance
Anne Neville – Director, State Broadband Initiative, NTIA, U.S. Dept of Commerce
David Shaw – Partner, Kirton McConkie; General Counsel, UTOPIA
Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.
April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.
The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.
Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.
“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”
He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.
For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.
Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.
Partnering with anchor institutions
Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.
“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.
“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”
Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.
High cost challenges
“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.
In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.
Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”
For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.
FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.
April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.
It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).
It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.
The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.
Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan.
Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.
April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.
Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.
The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.
“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.
Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.
Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.
Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.
Broadband central to digital activities
“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.
President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”
Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.
“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”
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