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Cities Need to be Involved in Municipal Broadband Because Their Future Depends Upon Such Networks, Says Panel

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WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 – Four believers in municipal internet access expressed their dismay at the New America Foundation at an increasingly consolidated broadband marketplace – and promoted local government ownership as a remedy.

Speaking on a panel of experts on Wednesday at the think tank, they blasted giants AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable for failing to dispense proper service for localities.

“The incumbents are not building and what we’re hearing from our local communities is that these networks and no longer modern,” said Catharine Rice of the Southeast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). “This [market] has failed because there are not competitive choices and that’s why communities have stepped in. It’s an infrastructure that they know they need for their community to be competitive in what is now a world market.”

In many cases, giant companies won’t invest in small localities at all because they don’t yield enough profit, said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“If you go into some of the larger towns that have DSL, the best they can do now is seven Megabits per second (Mbps), or 12 Mbps depending on the town,” Mitchell said. “This is more than 10 years after [some] areas were told, ‘don’t do anything yourself because we’re going to come invest in you.'”

Outside of metropolitan areas, Mitchell said it’s even more clear that investment will not occur.

“Unless you win the Google lottery or there’s some interesting local provider, you’re not going to have anyone who’s going to challenge the big dominant cable companies and that’s going to be more true as [the cable companies] get bigger,” he said.

When large providers do invest, Mitchell said that service is often sub-par, but not because providers are malicious. Comcast, the panel said, was overwhelmed by demand for its services.

“[Comcast is] an amalgamation of maybe tens, probably hundreds of cable companies on diverse systems that don’t talk well to each other,” Mitchell said. “When you’re serving over 20 million subscribers, you cannot do a good job.”

Joanne Hovis of CTC Technology and Energy explained that local governments can mitigate this problem by building fiber to homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions either by themselves or in partnerships with private providers.

Local governments, she said, are closest to people and their day-to-day issues, making them more responsive to the needs of the community.

“Local elected officials and staff [run] into people in the grocery store every day saying, ‘we have a problem, I can’t get broadband to my business the way I need to.’ We’re hearing this message,” Hovis said.

Hovis added that local governments were some of the “original innovators in broadband.” They were among the first to offer Gigabit Network services for school districts and libraries. They were the first entities to start building fiber optics in cost-effective ways that took advantage of existing construction projects, she said.

“Local governments have a really impressive and unique track record,” Hovis said. “There’s 15 years of projects both on the infrastructure and the adoption side.”

The most important ingredient in partnerships between private providers and municipalities, Hovis said, is to have a “real partner on the other side.”

“No matter what you do, no matter how many assets you put on the table, [or] how much you subsidize, if there’s not a partner on the other side who is really interested in your community and making substantial investments themselves, a lot of this is whistling in the wind.”

One example of a successful publicly-owned network started in Wilson, North Carolina, said Greenlight General Manager Will Aycock. The community included 7,000 external customers and attracted numerous young people drawn to the newly established Gigabit Network.

“One of the things we see [in Wilson] is the migration of folks into the community,” Aycock said. “Upload [speeds are] really important for creative class folks.”

This network connected much of the community’s schools, hospitals and libraries, Aycock said. More than 5,000 devices have been connected to the network.

“We live in the same community. We know what the needs are. We’re easily accessible [and] we’re very responsive,” Aycock said.

Challenges arise as large providers like Comcast conduct lobbying campaigns aimed at prohibiting local networks, Rice said.

“I think the big issue is consolidation and massive power that Comcast has,” Mitchell said. “Comcast is coming into D.C. now and hiring every last major lobbying and law firm to work on their side to make sure that nobody can be hired to work against it. This is a threat to our democracy…. Local governments can build networks that chip away at the monopoly power Comcast has.”

Mitchell concluded by stressing that laws permitting “one size fits all” regulation are troublesome because what’s true for one city may not true for a rural community.

“Each community has different assets, different entrepreneurs that have different goals,” he said. “Decisions should be made by that community because they have to live with the consequences of its action or inaction.”

Hovis and Rice both expressed the need to educate local statesmen on the workings of broadband and how faster networks can further advance the standard of life in the community.

“How can local governments stay out of the infrastructure that is the foundation of our economy, our democracy, and our education system, and our health care system?” Rice questioned. “It is the province of local government if it so chooses.”

Education

Federal Communications Commission Says $5 Billion Requested for Emergency Connectivity Fund — in Just Round One!

The program is designed to help schools, libraries and students.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 25, 2021—Two months after launching the first round of applications, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the Emergency Connectivity Fund has received more than $5 billion in funding requests.

The requests, which came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, are for 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The $7-billion program, whose first round closed August 13, provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity is expected to help students stay connected at school and off school premises, addressing the “homework gap” made paramount during the pandemic.

The money is to be used for said services and devices purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The program will open a second round for applications due to a spike in new coronavirus cases, which will run from September 28 to October 13.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and this robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Wednesday press release.

“This funding is an important down payment in closing the Homework Gap so that all children, regardless of their circumstances or where they live, have access to the tools they need to succeed,” she added.

Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The FCC has previously noted that the Emergency Broadband Benefit had proved out that there is demand for such a program and that the ECF would help fill the gap.

Breakdown by state

The FCC included a breakdown of the first-round requests by state. California was the top requester at roughly $812 million, followed by New York with $559 million, Texas with $496 million, Florida with $264 million, New Jersey with $225 million, Arizona with $200 million, Illinois at $197 million, Georgia $183 million, North Carolina with $149 million, Michigan with $108 million, Ohio with $103 million, and Puerto Rico with $102 million, and Washington rounding out the 9-digit requesters with $101 million.

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Education

NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

The $285-million program will help connect minority educational institutions.

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Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

August 4, 2021–The agency managing telecommunications policy for the commerce department has released details Tuesday on eligibility for its $285-million grant program for broadband access for minority educational institutions.

The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program, announced in June, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity and equity at historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a notice of funding opportunity for the program, established via the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which will grant funds to eligible recipients to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel, operate a minority business enterprise or a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and facilitate educational instruction, including remote instruction.

Eligible institutions include 501 Hispanic-serving institutions, 336 Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, 104 predominantly Black institutions, 102 historically Black colleges and universities, 66 Alaska native-serving institutions and native Hawaiian-serving institutions, 37 Tribal colleges and universities, and 32 native American-serving non-Tribal institutions.

The deadline to submit applications is December 1, 2021.

“Communities of color have faced systemic barriers to affordable broadband access since the beginning of the digital age,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

“The investments we make as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will help communities that are struggling with access, adoption and connectivity, and will inform our path forward as we seek to finally close the digital divide across the country,” she added.

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Education

Broadband Breakfast CEO Drew Clark and BroadbandNow’s John Busby Speak on Libraries and Broadband

Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark of Broadband Breakfast and John Busby of BroadbandNow.

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July 16, 2021—Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, joined by John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow. The event will take place on July 16, 2021, at 11 a.m. ET.

Registration for the event is available on Eventbrite. The session will also be available on Zoom.

Beginning in March of 2020, the Gigabit Libraries Network has hosted a series of conversations called the “Libraries in Recovery.”

The series is ambitious in its scope, and poses the question “What is a library if the building is closed?” Over the course of its more than 50 episodes, the the series has tackled myriad topics, ranging from equity, access, and inclusion to smart cities, social infrastructure, and the future of libraries.

The series recorded its first episode on March 26, 2020—only 15 days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The episode discussed the importance of internet access during a time when many questions about the pandemic were still swirling, and many of the ramifications had yet to be felt—only a week prior had the first states begun issuing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Broadband Breakfast also launched its webcast series, Broadband Breakfast Live Online, around the same time. The first session of the Broadband Breakfast series was on “Coronavirus and Education – Getting Ready for Online Education.”

Broadband Breakfast Live Online Archives provides links to all events in the Broadband Breakfast series.

Many of the Gigabit Libraries conversations and initiatives surrounding digital inclusion and the digital divide have only drifted into mainstream conversation in the wake of the pandemic.

During a time when many Americans had no idea how long they would have to remain indoors, “Libraries in Recovery” was discussing methods of boosting Wi-Fi signals to make internet available in library parking lots and the importance of remote access in anticipation of a surge in demand.

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