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.
Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities
The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.
WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.
A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.
“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.
“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.
“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”
Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”
Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.
The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.
By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.
FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Looking into Impact of Broadband, 5G on Environment
Starks sat down to discuss the promise of smart grid technology for the environment.
WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Former and current leaders within the Federal Communications Commission agreed Thursday that it is important to make sure the FCC’s broadband efforts support the nation’s goals for the environment.
On Thursday, during a Cooley law firm fireside chat event, Robert McDowell, a former FCC director, and current FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks discussed how broadband expansion and next-generation 5G mobile networks will affect the environment.
Starks said that the commission is currently focusing on answering that exact question and are evaluating the current attempts to protect the environment, as more money is expected from the federal government and as broadband infrastructure expands. That includes putting more fiber into the ground and erecting more cell towers, but also allowing for a broadband-enabled smart grid system that will make automated decisions on energy allocation.
Smart grid systems, for example, provide real-time monitoring of the energy used in the electrical system. These systems can help to reduce consumption and carbon emissions, Starks said, by rerouting excess power and addressing power outages instantaneously in the most efficient and environmentally friendly manner. The smart grid systems will monitor “broadband systems in the 900 MHz band,” said Starks.
Starks also noted the Senate’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative, which would set apart $500 million for cities across America so they can begin working on ways to lower carbon emissions.
FCC also focused on digital discrimination
Starks said the commission is also focusing on “making sure that there is no digital discrimination on income level, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin,” and that it all comes down to funding and who needs the money.
He stated that the first step is to finalize the maps and data that have been collected so funding can be targeted to the areas and people that need it the most. Many have remarked that the $65 billion allocated to broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be divvied out until adequate maps are put in place.
Starks noted that broadband subsidy program Lifeline, although fundamental to some people’s lives, is significantly underutilized. Starks stated that participation rates hover around 20 percent, which led the FCC to explore other options while attempting to make Lifeline more effective. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – which provides monthly broadband subsidies – has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program, a long-term and revised edition of the pandemic-era program.
Starks and McDowell also stated their support for the confirmation by the Senate of Alan Davidson as the permanent head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and expressed that Davidson will be a key player in these efforts.
CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say
Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.
LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.
Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.
Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.
“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.
Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.
Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.
“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.
Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.
“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”
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