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Drew Clark: The Year of Community and Municipal Gigabit Broadband

December 18, 2014 – While net neutrality captured Washington policy headlines, the most significant communications development in 2014 was the emergence of new and more viable approaches to building community and municipal Gigabit Networks.

A confluence of factors in the worlds of broadband, energy, transportation, manufacturing and civic engagement have underscored the need for next-generation internet networks. Evidence of this gathering momentum behind global Gigabit Cities include the high-profile emergence of public-private financing models and a growing network of high-bandwidth computing applications.

This year’s fight over net neutrality is not unrelated to the push for Gigabit Networks. The Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet proceeding is a battle over scarcity: The prioritization of traffic on lower-capacity networks. From the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision striking down FCC rules in January to President Obama’s decision to directly intervene in the new FCC proceeding, it’s been an all-consuming public battle.

But viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role.




December 18, 2014 – While net neutrality captured Washington policy headlines, the most significant communications development in 2014 was the emergence of new and more viable approaches to building community and municipal Gigabit Networks.

A confluence of factors in the worlds of broadband, energy, transportation, manufacturing and civic engagement have underscored the need for next-generation internet networks. Evidence of this gathering momentum behind global Gigabit Cities include the high-profile emergence of public-private financing models and a growing network of high-bandwidth computing applications.

This year’s fight over net neutrality is not unrelated to the push for Gigabit Networks. The Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet proceeding is a battle over scarcity: The prioritization of traffic on lower-capacity networks. From the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision striking down FCC rules in January to President Obama’s decision to directly intervene in the new FCC proceeding, it’s been an all-consuming public battle.

But viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role.

Smart Cities Equals Gigabit Global Cities

Take, as a recent example, this New York Times story from last week: “Copenhagen Lighting the Way to Greener, More Efficient Cities.”

Not once did this article mention the words “broadband” or even “internet.” And yet the piece was all about the “software and services for critical infrastructure to utilities and cities and [how technology companies are] helping design and operate the traffic and street lighting project here in Copenhagen.”

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Eventually, the network will serve other functions, like alerting the sanitation department to empty the trash cans and informing bikers of the quietest or fastest route to their destinations. It’s all made possible through an array of sensors embedded in the light fixtures that collect and feed data into software.

The Copenhagen smart city one example of how cities have recognized that information communications technology is a necessary part of the “plumbing” of modern life. The common-sense capabilities being deployed in Copenhagen demonstrate how cities see that they must engage in the innards of fiber-optic wires and wireless transceivers if they want to remain good steward of their public rights-of-way.

Indeed, the thinking behind the concept of a “smart city” has grown well businesses like Cisco, IBM or Siemens. There is now a percolating effort to probe the cost-saving, public safety and competitive advantages for cities:

  • The Brookings Institution’s “Global Cities Initiative,” a $10 million, five-year project launched in March 2012 with JPMorgan Chase, is aimed at strengthening regional economies and their role in the global marketplace.
  • The Atlantic Magazine’s (rebranded in May from its original title of The Atlantic Cities), is a new an editorial hub squarely focused on urban solutions to the issues and ideas facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.
  • Susan Crawford’s and Stephen Goldsmith’s September book, “The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance.” They write: “A confluence of technology advancements now promises broad and constructive change in local government, altering everything from the way workers perform basic functions to the way citizens engage with government.”
  • The Global Cities Team Challenge, an effort championed by US Ignite in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, plus the Departments of Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation. After its September kickoff, the challenge has been called “Shark Tank meets smart cities” — its an effort to pair up the high-bandwidth applications cultivated by US Ignite with funding from NIST to achieve civic ends. About $10 million in funding will be available for 6-10 projects, and applications are due January 21, 2015.

New Models for Municipal Broadband

The aborning effort to stimulate Gigabit Global cities isn’t just about faster internet. Indeed, that’s precisely the point. High-bandwidth broadband is not a good to be sought on its own. It is fundamental infrastructure upon which next-generation city managers — and next-generation business and social entrepreneurs — are coming to rely.

The most direct crystallization of our municipal broadband moment is the new non-profit coalition dubbed Next Century Cities. Launched less than two months ago in Santa Monica, it now boasts membership from 50 cities, representing 25 states. From Los Angeles to communities along the Pacific Northwest, from Lafayette in Cajun country to Chattanooga, and from patrician Boston to a city that got its start as a cow town, Kansas City, each of these 50 cities have different motivations and approaches to Gigabit Networks. But they agree on these six core principles:

  1. High-speed internet is necessary infrastructure.
  2. The internet is non-partisan.
  3. Communities must enjoy self-determination in selecting public, nonprofit, corporate or public-private solutions.
  4. High-speed internet is a community-wide endeavor.
  5. Meaningful competition drives progress.
  6. Cities can learn from the experiences of others as they build Gigabit Networks.

I was present at the Santa Monica launch of Next Century Cities. I’m excited that, increasingly, city managers aren’t afraid to take responsibility for what is traveling over their rights-of-way. I also recently listened to the three-and-a-half hour webcast of its November 18 field hearing, “Envisioning a Gigabit Future,” in Chattanooga. (It was time well spent!)

What’s important about Next Century Cities is that it represents a “big tent” approach to community broadband. For cities that want to bring Gigabit Networks to their communities, there are effectively four major routes, all of which are represented within the coalition:

  • The corporate model. Google Fiber’s launch in Kansas City has shaken up the tight telecom word of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications. When a city has confidence in a private provider’s promises in accessing rights-of-way, the corporate model can be hassle-free.
  • Non-profits and cooperatives. In many cases, co-ops and non-profits have been among the first to deploy fiber. Cleveland’s OneCommunity is terrific example of a non-profit community resource spurring on next-generation networks for its anchor institution and business tenants in Northeast Ohio.
  • Public-private partnerships. Although less well-known in the telecom space, public-private partnerships are the default model, world-over, for the construction of highways, tollways, ports and airports. This year has seen great innovation in using public-private partnership to build Gigabit Networks.
  • Municipal retail broadband. According to Broadband Communities magazine, more than 143 cities in the U.S. have some form of fiber-optic networks, many of which retail broadband services to city residents.

With the exception of using a corporate providers like Google or AT&T, each of the other three models leave room for open-access opportunities.

As I wrote in another context:

A public-private partnership is a way of leveraging government resources without incurring the expense of going to the capital markets and incurring more debt. Public-private partnerships also give governments a means of ensuring “asset performance,” since payments to the private entity are based on fulfillment and performance. Such normal burdens as labor issues, debt and managing costs fall to the private partner.

Under the public-private partnership model, municipalities have oversight responsibility, but no direct day-to-day role in the build-out and operations of the network. A public-private partner becomes the network operator and wholesaler, overseen by a public entity composed of participating municipalities, to ensure that the contractually agreed performance standards are achieved. The network remains an open access network, with the public-private partner’s role being maximization of competition between providers on the network. The cities retain ownership of the network assets, and the public-private partner takes operational responsibility for the network over a 30-year period, effectively leasing the network from the cities.

Under the public-private partnership/”open access” model, the network operator becomes the provider of the “fiber highway” that an existing or new entrant can use to deliver data, voice, video and other services to customers. This highway is open to any provider that wishes to use it, including the incumbents.

The emergence of new opportunities for entrepreneurs’ open access to Gigabit Networks is one of the most promising developments of the focus on fiber-enhanced Smart Cities.

Applications and Networking (the Human Variety)

An equally important point about municipal Gigabit broadband is the human networking that takes place in the creation of a Gigabit community. Beyond the infrastructure, how are consumers making use of much-expanded broadband capabilities?

This is the essence of Next Century Cities’ point number six: Collaboration benefits all. We have seen extensive public dialogues in Kansas City (because of Google Fiber), in Chattanooga (owing to EPB, the public electric utility turned broadband provider) in Danville, Virginia (through nDanville, the open-access fiber network), and elsewhere. These kinds of public broadband discussions are different from what we used to experience in the provider-centric broadband model of a decade ago.

On a personal level, I’ve seen the benefits of “Better Broadband, Better Lives” first-hand in rural and urban Illinois, where I led the Partnership for a Connected Illinois from 2010 to 2013; and since then in Utah, where I’ve continued to be involved in ensuring the fastest possible internet services for everyone.

In addition to our public mapping activities, Broadband Illinois actively promoted the opportunities that high-speed internet offers for jobs, education, energy efficiency, healthcare, public safety, agriculture and government. As the State Broadband Initiative entity for the land of Lincoln, we collected and published telecom maps and information, collaborated with internet providers and economic development officials for deployment, and educated individuals and organizations on how to effectively use broadband.

Among those educational effort including launching the Illinois Broadband Innovation Fund, which awarded 14 grants to entities using broadband in unique and innovative ways, and working with the Federal Communications Commission on one of the agency’s first broadband lifeline grants to rural Western and Southern Illinois. We also worked closely with Gov. Pat Quinn on his Gigabit Challenge Initiative — one of the first in the nation — and which was announced on February 1, 2012.

When Broadband Illinois held its first conference in Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, in June 2011, the president of Southern Illinois University declared the city to be a “broadband desert.” Yet last week Carbondale officially became a Gigabit city (and recently a member of Next Century Cities), with the launch of a Gigabit Network by Frontier Communication.

I speak of these sorts of educational and entrepreneurial gains in Illinois because of my knowledge and work in the state. These sorts of stories have been replicated throughout the nation over the past five years through the efforts of the State Broadband Initiative program. Yet with the national program coming to end in March of 2015, the question becomes: Who will help convene the public broadband dialogue both on infrastructure and on applications?

US Ignite and Next Century Cities are two important groups stepping in to fill the breach. There will certainly be others, too: Such as the Rural Telecommunications Congress, that works to ensure rural areas aren’t left out of benefits available to “next century cities.”

But the direction toward Gigabit Networks – and the leadership role being played by states and by municipalities – is truly positive. In 2014, for the first time, Gigabit Networks have become an undeniable force that has reached a tipping point.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. You can find him on LinkedIN and Twitter. The articles and posts on  and affiliated social media are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors. Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, energy, transportation and eGovernment. 

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Digital Inclusion

Emma Gautier: Addressing Digital Discrimination Will Take More Than Policing ISPs

It is crucial to prioritize community solutions where service is offered in partnership with trusted community institutions.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Emma Gautier, Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

This is a walk and chew gum moment for broadband-for-all advocates. On the one hand, the Federal Communication Commission new digital discrimination rules have the potential to reign in egregious examples of digital discrimination. On the other hand, the new rules still fall short of putting forward the kinds of structural solutions necessary to address underinvestment in communities where federal infrastructure dollars may never reach.

Last week, the FCC published its final digital discrimination rules, giving the agency the authority to penalize Internet Service Providers whose policies have a “disparate impact” on historically marginalized communities. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by President Biden in 2021, included a mandate directing the FCC to develop “rules to facilitate equal access to broadband internet access service, taking into account the issues of technical and economic feasibility presented by that objective, including—preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.”

FCC logo

After hosting listening sessions and inviting public comment, the final ruling ultimately defined digital discrimination as “policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that (1) differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service […], or (2) are intended to have such differential impact.” Such an approach authorizes the FCC to penalize providers even if it can’t identify instances of intentional discrimination.

Initial Responses to the Ruling

As expected, the big monopoly incumbents all but exploded over the FCC’s decision to measure discrimination based on disparate impact, arguing that the new rules go beyond what the IIJA intended when it granted the agency authority to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate digital equity. A secondary argument they make is that the disparate impact approach micromanages business and will discourage providers from investing in certain areas for fear that they will be penalized for profit-seeking behavior.

Meanwhile, public interest groups and members of Congress have lauded the ruling for its focus on disparate impact, a standard advanced by the disability community. In comments filed with the FCC, the American Association of People with Disabilities emphasized how people who are discriminated against experience the effects of discrimination whether or not it was the result of conscious bias:

  • “For decades, the disability community has noted that discrimination occurs unintentionally and often results from seemingly neutral policies. Too often, disabled people experience discrimination not because of malicious intent or explicit exclusion within programs or policies but because the disabled people were simply not considered in the first place.”

How Much Practical Impact Will The Rules Have?

Despite industry pushback, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the rules have limitations that raise questions about the practical effect they will have. It is unclear, for example, what exactly the FCC will allow on the basis of “economic feasibility.” The rules don’t outline how the Commission will distinguish between “economic feasibility” versus profit-maximization or whether such a distinction will be used to adjudicate rulings. All we know is that the Commission will evaluate each instance of alleged discrimination on a case-by-case basis, relying on precedent set by other ISPs to determine what is technically and economically feasible and what is not.

A detail that has been largely overlooked is that to find an ISP responsible for digital discrimination, the rules say, disparate impact must be traced back to a “specific policy or practice that is causing the disparity.” Policies and practices adopted prior to when the rule became active are not subject to repercussion.

FCC entrance

Another reason to question the rules potential impact is that historically the FCC doesn’t have a strong track record holding big cable and telecom companies accountable. While large providers have been found to neglect infrastructure upgrades and charge higher prices for lower speeds in low-income neighborhoods, it would be uncharacteristic of the agency to crack down on these massive companies. There is very little information from the FCC about what enforcement will really look like; the ruling only notes that “possible violations will be investigated by Commission staff using our standard investigative toolkit, and all penalties and remedies will be available when we determine that our rules have been violated.”

Concerns have also been raised around the transparency of the complaint process the FCC will use to help it identify discrimination. As The Markup points out, “complaints [filed by the public] won’t necessarily begin a formal adjudication process against the ISP, but they can be used as a basis for the FCC to begin its own investigation into the provider’s conduct.” There are no transparency mechanisms laid out in the ruling, which will no doubt make it easier for the FCC to sweep complaints under the rug.

Another wildcard that could come into play is how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a case now before it that, while focused on the SEC, has implications for federal agencies ability to enforce administrative judgements.

A Surface-Level Response to a Deeply Structural Issue    

As other public interest groups argue, it is more important to advocate for the needs of communities than it is to try and untangle the intentions of ISPs. And truly centering communities begins with an honest recognition that digital discrimination is deeply structural – something the FCC and federal lawmakers have been reluctant to acknowledge.

Digital C install on rooftop

It’s a challenge that merits a ground-up solution that goes beyond giving the FCC theoretical authority to penalize providers. Instead, it would be more productive to focus on facilitating community investment that will meet the varying needs of households that aren’t yet connected.

The ruling implicitly assumes the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) will lead to investment in areas traditional providers have not found economically attractive, and that together, the digital discrimination ruling and BEAD work to make Internet access available for all.

Unfortunately, many of the communities that have been impacted by digital discrimination are urban areas that are unlikely to see BEAD dollars, as the infrastructure law was designed to funnel funds to mostly rural communities. Add to that the flawed FCC maps, which vastly overstate coverage, speeds, and competition, and it will be extremely difficult if not impossible for BEAD funding to reach most urban areas deemed “served” by monopoly providers.

The reality is that it can be profitable to discriminate, as the big monopoly ISPs are set up to first and foremost serve their shareholders, not the communities from which they derive their profits.

Digital Equity LA pricing discrimination

These companies are structured to offer service in areas where they will see a quick return on investment, which often means the parts of town that most need to be connected are left unserved or grossly underserved.

Imposing penalties on discriminatory ISPs could potentially scare some into upgrading parts of networks or eliminate glaring price disparities in historically marginalized neighborhoods. But without actual policies in place that encourage competition and universal access to high-quality Internet, the impact of the new digital discrimination rules will likely be limited.

It should also be noted that monopoly ISPs wield tremendous power over markets in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is their well-documented assault on competition. These companies fight tooth and nail to block new ISPs from entering the market, leveraging their considerable influence to convince lawmakers that there is no urban broadband problem that merits public funding. This has worked to persuade Congress that new infrastructure funding should target rural communities and leave the larger urban markets to the big incumbents, even if the service they offer is expensive and of poor quality. Their influence can also be seen in the federal government’s failure to take competition into account, which is indisputably linked to the quality of broadband service and price offered in a particular area.

Real Solutions Will Be Community-Rooted

After such major outcry among major ISPs responding to the digital discrimination ruling and its “disparate impact” approach, it’s difficult to imagine these companies bringing quality, affordable broadband service – as well as digital equity support – to communities that need it. It’s not just cynicism to point that out, as these very same companies argue that the ruling will “chill” investment, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence that they intend to invest in communities most in need of service.

Pulse Fiber construction

There are approaches, however, that do aim to connect the unconnected in ways that are not squarely focused on a quick return on investment. Municipal broadband, partnerships with small community-minded ISPs and other forms of publicly-owned, locally-controlled networks have demonstrated a way to provide universal, affordable service across an entire community, as well as the programs to address other barriers to broadband adoption such as providing devices and digital skills training.

In a letter to the FCC regarding the digital discrimination proposed rulemaking, a group of digital equity initiatives and public interest organizations including ILSR elevated an approach to closing the digital divide that focuses on “building trusted relationships, allowing communities to own infrastructure, build capacity, and experiment with solutions, and allowing for community-driven decision-making and knowledge-building.”

It is crucial to prioritize community solutions where service is offered by trusted entities or providers operating in partnership with trusted community institutions. The public comment goes on to emphasize that “challenging digital discrimination cannot be solely concerned with giving more Black, Brown, tribal, and people in rural areas broadband run by large corporations just to increase their upload and download speeds. In fact, this approach simply exposes our people to more data surveillance and dependency.”

Continuing to Push for Community Control

U.S. Capitol Building

Biden’s original broadband vision did call for “support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”

The Biden administration also intended to promote “competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers.”

Such an approach recognized that where community broadband providers have been established, subscribers get fast, reliable service at competitive rates. While this approach offered some hope that Biden’s broadband plan would invest in boosting competition among providers, the plan was substantially watered down before it passed in Congress.

Digital C kids outside at picnic table

As a result, few municipal broadband projects outside of rural America are likely to receive funding under BEAD, IIJA’s largest bucket of broadband infrastructure money. The failure of Congress to prioritize community broadband is evidence of the political tradeoff made by Democrats to get the law passed. And while it’s better to penalize providers for egregious discrimination than to continue allowing them to exploit communities in an unfettered pursuit of quick profits, it’s important to keep pushing for more structural solutions.

Now that federal law and policy-makers have set the parameters, it seems wise to direct our attention towards the local level.

The digital discrimination ruling could, for example, give cities leverage in combating digital discrimination at the local level, or at least provide an opportunity to offer up better data that illustrates where and in what contexts discrimination is occurring.

We hope to see cities, public interest groups, and broadband-for-all advocates use the new FCC rules to highlight why certain communities face chronic underinvestment while making the case that community-minded ISPs and non-traditional providers can offer high-quality, affordable broadband to the communities who most need it.

Emma Gautier is a Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. She supports data collection and analysis within the broadband initiative. Emma recently received a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies from Carleton College, and since graduation has been working in research, advocacy, and political organizing for social and environmental justice. She is interested in the synthesis of research and on-the-ground action in communities. This piece was originally published on on November 30, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Digital Infrastructure Investment In Person and Live Online on Dec. 5

Registration to attend in person is $245; you may also sign up for the webcast for $35.



WASHINGTON, December 4, 2023 – Envisioning the first Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit four years ago, we came with this vantage point: The business models surrounding future broadband networks were changing.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. It demonstrated just how dependent we are, as a world, upon high-quality broadband.

The vision for the annual Digital Infrastructure Investment event has been about uniting infrastructure investment fund managers, institutional investors, private equity and venture capitalists with senior broadband leaders in order to bring clarity to the next business model for advanced digital infrastructure. The in person event will take place at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 707 7th Street NW in Washington. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.

Registration for the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit is $245. Registration for the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit webcast is $35.

At the in person and live online program on Tuesday, December 5, Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit will begin with panel on “Investment In and Beyond BEAD,” the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program. The discussion will feature Kenrick (Rick) Gordon, Director, Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, Thomas Tyler, Deputy Director, Connect Louisiana, Brian Vo, Chief Investment Officer at Connect Humanity, and be moderated by Maria Curi, Reporter, Axios.

The session aims to capture how the broadband infrastructure expansion hinges on the availability of sufficient funding, be it from federal, state, local, or private channels. Beyond the hundreds of millions (and frequently billions) of dollars earmarked for each state under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, internet service providers must also obtain at least 25% of the project’s cost in matching funds. Where will this funding come from? What implications does this requirement hold for smaller and municipal providers? And, for those ISPs not interested in BEAD, what financing opportunities are available now that weren’t there previously?

Panel 2, which I’ll have the privilege of moderating, addresses “Shared Infrastructure and the Future of Vertical Real Estate.” This session will feature Jonathan Adelstein, Managing Director and Head of Global Policy and Public Investment at DigitalBridge Investment Management, David E. Bronston, Special Counsel, Phillips Lytle LLP, and Greg McLaughlin, CEO, AEX Automation Exchange.

The program springboards off the notion that urbanization and smart city deployments are among the trends driving the transformation of shared infrastructure. The post-pandemic surge in remote work and the nationwide push for universal and affordable high-speed internet access, generally through fiber, raises an important question: What’s next for “vertical infrastructure”? How is wireless infrastructure being capitalized? How is wireless infrastructure connected to fiber builds? Are small-cell deployments proceeding vigorously? And what role will “managed services” within multiple dwelling units, commercial and enterprise environments play in driving smart and hybrid networks?

Just before lunch, we’ll hear keynote remarks from Mikael Philipsson, CEO of COS Systems, a BSS/OSS software provider for broadband operators to enable zero touch automation and Open Access. He will address “The Past and Future of Open Access.”

And, following lunch, we’ll here a session, moderated by Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Program, on “Developments in Open Access: Is Change in the Offing?”

The United States is still early in its experimentation with open access networks. But countries including Sweden have seen widespread success in implementing this model. Open access networks aim to deliver affordable and high-speed internet even to remote, low-return areas. But various policy and operational challenges are often needed before this model can see the fullest adoption. With an array of new market developments in the United States from both incumbents, scrappy equity-based investors and municipalities, does the future for open access on these shores look brighter?

Featured panelists on this panel include Scott Bradshaw, President, SiFi Networks, Robert Bridgham, Executive Director, Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority, and Jeff Reiman, President, The Broadband Group.

Our concluding Panel 4 bring a vital new mix to this discussion: The role of data centers and Internet Exchange Points. Substantial investments are directed by the BEAD program toward last-mile fiber infrastructure. Middle mile, backhaul access and data centers almost seem left out of the current conversation. Despite this lower profile, ISPs seeking to deploy better broadband understand all too well the significance of internet exchange points that facilitate the exchange of data between various networks.

They are vital to reducing latency and lowering costs. Notably, 14 U.S. states and 3 territories currently lack IXPs. What obstacles do IXPs face? How will more IXPs facilitate the data center and cloud computing revolutions? What’s next for IXPs and data centers?

Moderated by Peter Cohen, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft, featured panelists on this session include Scott K. Brown, President, The Pixel Factory, Tom Cox, Vice President of State Government Affairs, Connected Nation, Ron da Silva, Network Technologies Global, Saras Partner, and Ben Hedges, Vice President Network Strategy, Cyxtera.

Registration for the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit is $245.

Registration for the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit webcast is $35.

With either option, you’ll have access to the high-quality video recordings of the day’s events.

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Broadband's Impact

House GOP Uses Oversight Hearing to Criticize FCC Actions

Partisan disputes return to FCC policies after years of a 2-2 split on the commission.



Screenshot of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers at the hearing Thursday.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – GOP lawmakers took the opportunity to slam recent Federal Communications Commission efforts at a House oversight hearing on Thursday.

That did not come as a surprise, with the communications and technology subcommittee branding the hearing as overseeing “President Biden’s broadband takeover.” Partisan disputes have resumed around FCC policies since the appointment of commissioner Anna Gomez, who gave Democrats a 3-2 majority on the commission.

The hearing also touched on spectrum policy and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is still set to dry up in April 2024 despite months of calls for its renewal.

Digital discrimination

The FCC voted along party lines on November 15 to instate rules addressing gaps in broadband access along racial and class lines. Those rules are taking an approach industry groups opposed and allow the commission to take enforcement action against companies for practices that do not intentionally withhold broadband from protected groups.

Technology and Communications Subcommittee members and Republican commissioner Brendan Carr echoed talking points from an industry lobbying push that characterized the rules as a “micromanagement” effort to scrutinize routine business practices. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said “burdensome requirements like these will discourage deployment and harm our efforts to close the digital divide.”

Rodgers sparred with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on the issue, interrupting her answers to questions to reclaim time.

Rosenworcel, for her part, stuck to her argument that the rules are in line with the Infrastructure Act, which mandates the commission take action “preventing discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.” 

“The language in this statute is exceptionally broad,” she said.

The act also directs the commission to take into account technical and economic feasibility of deploying networks in poor and rural areas, but Rosenworcel’s assurances that the FCC will do so have not convinced industry or Republicans.

Net neutrality

The commission also moved forward on plans to reinstate net neutrality rules in October. The rules would classify broadband internet as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, opening the industry up to more expansive regulatory oversight from the FCC. 

Similar rules were in place for two years before being repealed by the Trump FCC in 2017.

Republican committee members grilled the commission on Democratic warnings that the repeal would result in widespread traffic throttling, which did not materialize at scale in Title II’s absence.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, asked Rosenworcel “when the so-called net neutrality rules were repealed, did it end the internet as we know it today, yes or no?”

The commission chairwoman answered a string of similar questions by saying the anticlimactic end to Title II broadband rules was “a result of more than about a dozen states stepping in and developing their own net neutrality laws.”

Commissioner Carr also argued with Rosenworcel on Title II’s impact on national security, talking over each other at points. Carr said there had been “one briefing” in his six year tenure in which he was told about a security issue the government could not address without Title II oversight over broadband. 

Rosenworcel said she has told national security authorities “over and over again” that without Title II authority, she cannot take requested actions to stop bad actors from hijacking traffic.

The commission is taking public comments on the proposed net neutrality rules until January 2024.

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