WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 – While interest in high-bandwidth internet is growing every year, many communities remain unserved because state laws inhibit local networks, according to local broadband activists. That’s why the Coalition for Local Internet Choice launched last month: to demonstrate the importance of giving local communities authority over their own networks.
“It’s hard to conceive of any community in this era having at its disposal the full range of educational tools, health care services, government services, and other essential aspects of modern American life without robust Internet access,” said CTC Technology & Energy President Joanne Hovis.
The internet is how people today build and promote their businesses, Hovis said. It’s how they work at home, participate in community life, and more importantly, engage in political and democratic discourse. Yet, many localities often have very few broadband options that offer good service at a reasonable price.
CLIC’s goal is to show that communities adopting their own strategy have greater access to educational resources, better economic development and productivity, lower prices, and more job opportunities, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Many localities are actually excluded, Mitchell added, from forming partnerships with private partners to build their own networks. Thus, they’re often left with either an inefficient incumbent provider, or none at all because commercial giants won’t invest.
Nevada, for example, has erected barriers effectively banning small community owned networks. Cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, on the other hand, have opened the door for an abundance of opportunities, Hovis said. That has led to next-generation internet access of robust fiber networks.
“According to the [national broadband] map, it may look like my wife’s parents have good service, but they don’t and are being asked to pay a large amount of money for poor access on slow [digital subscriber line service],” said Mitchell. “They would subscribe if they had a good choice available at a decent price.”
Given the coalition’s infancy, CLIC is in the preliminary stages of developing specific long-term goals. For now, Hovis said, CLIC is focused on following the FCC in its efforts to preempt bans on community-owned networks.
“We are confident that the demand for high-quality services is there,” Hovis said. “The country has never been more aware of the importance of this infrastructure for economic activity and democratic discourse. Demand without availability is a big problem, and we’re trying to address the availability side by saying that localities shouldn’t be restricted.
Mitchell said that CLIC doesn’t support any particular outcome. While more interest may be expressed over time in local networks, it doesn’t mean commercial networks won’t coexist with community-owned networks.
“I do think we will have a wide range of different kinds of network owners, network operators, and services,” Hovis said. “CLIC is not saying one way is better than any other. Every community should be able to choose how it operates. Perhaps [a community] feels it has no need to do anything in this space. That’s just fine. Ideally, we will enable all models and they will all flourish because that’s how we will make up for the broadband deficit.”
Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates
Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.
September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.
One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.
In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”
While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.
He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.
“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”
Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.
Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.
Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.
Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.
Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.
The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.
USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability
Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.
WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.
In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”
Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.
“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.
“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”
The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.
The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.
The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.
Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas
The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.
WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.
The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.
The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.
The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.
Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.
“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.
“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.
“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”
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