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Broadband Infrastructure Case Studies Released – How Broadband Changes the Game

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Editor’s Note: The final report from the NTIA, released today, April 13, 2015, on the broadband infrastructure game, and the benefit that broadband has on economic development.

Over the past five years through our national broadband grant program, NTIA has seen first-hand the economic and societal impact that broadband has on communities across the country. At the Broadband Communities conference in Austin, Texas this week, NTIA’s BroadbandUSA team will share our plans to leverage that expertise by providing communities with technical assistance and field-tested ideas.  I will be speaking along with my NTIA colleagues Doug Kinkoph and Anne Neville.

An important component of our on-going work with communities is to build on the lessons learned from an independent evaluation of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to make sound decisions going forward.  In 2010 NTIA hired ASR Analytics, LLC to conduct a comprehensive study on the societal and economic impacts of the program.  In advance of the Broadband Communities conference, NTIA is today releasing the final case studies from the evaluation.  The principal author of the study, Dr. Stephen Rhody, will present and discuss the findings.

The reports released today are the final ASR case studies focusing on 12 of the 109 Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI) projects NTIA funded through BTOP to build middle-mile networks in 45 states and U.S. territories. These grantees deployed more than 113,000 miles of fiber across the country. In the process, they connected or upgraded 25,300 community anchor institutions and signed more than 860 interconnection agreements with local service providers.

Earlier, NTIA released ASR’s overall impact study, which found that on average, in only two years, BTOP grant communities experienced an estimated two percent greater growth in broadband availability than non-grant communities. That growth is estimated to generate increased annual economic activity of between $5.17 billion and $21 billion. The additional broadband infrastructure could also be expected to create more than 22,000 long-term jobs and generate more than $1 billion in additional household income each year.  And community anchor institutions, like schools and libraries, served by BTOP infrastructure grantees in the sample experienced significantly increased speeds and lower costs.

While these numbers are impressive, the value of the projects is yet to be fully realized. Their impact will be seen in how education, health care and economic development are changing on the ground in the communities served by the grants.  Students have faster, lower cost connections to broadband for online learning.  Businesses are expanding their operations and markets.  Medical specialists treat more people in less time, remotely.

The case studies reflect a representative sample of CCI projects, taking into account the wide diversity of grantee types, technologies, partnerships, project sizes, geography, and target customers.  Project selection also considered construction schedules, so that projects could demonstrate results within the study’s time frame. To prepare the cases, ASR conducted more than a hundred interviews with grantees, partners, and network users, logging thousands of miles to visit the connected communities.

Here are just a few of the highlights.

Clearwave Communications: The Southern Illinois Online Nursing Initiative (SIONI), a part-time online nursing program that addresses the shortage of nurses in southern Illinois, can now provide more online classes through community colleges connected by Clearwave’s fiber, keeping more nurses in the region.
SDN Communications: Students at Arlington High School in South Dakota no longer encounter network congestion when using the Digital Dakota Network (DDN), which lets schools share courses. Arlington students can take foreign language classes, otherwise unavailable, during school hours rather than after school or at home. The SDN Network also offers schools speeds up to 1 Gbps, far greater than the state’s current goal of 50 Mbps per school and the 3 Mbps that Arlington had before BTOP.
Merit Network: North Country Community Mental Health (NCCMH), which serves the mental health needs of Michigan’s rural residents across the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, can now expand its telepsychiatry program, allowing psychiatrists to consult directly with primary health care providers and eliminating long drives to remote areas.
Zayo Group:  Sitco, one of the largest fixed wireless Internet providers in Indiana, has leveraged Zayo’s open access network to upgrade its facilities and offer its residential and business customers significantly higher speeds without increasing prices. It also offers value-added fiber services to enterprise customers and has hired additional staff.
Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation (MTC): This state-funded agency of Massachusetts implemented an innovative public-private partnership model for its network, which connects 123 towns and over 1,200 community anchor institutions in rural western Massachusetts. MTC offers wholesale access to Internet service providers, who in turn offer retail Internet services. A commercial entity operates the network and negotiates with the retail service providers. This neutral party model has resulted in 19 signed interconnection agreements, with dozens more anticipated.
In sum, these cases reflect a myriad of individual stories to illustrate how affordable, high-speed, open access networks can foster economic development, expand education and health services, promote choice and competition, and generate tremendous cost savings.

Source: www.ntia.doc.gov

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Digital Inclusion

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.

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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.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

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.

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Broadband's Impact

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.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

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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