Editor’s Note: This column, “Once ‘Athens of the West,’ a Kentucky city seeks revival and improvements,” was originally published in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah. Here is a complete list of Drew Clark’s weekly columns for the paper.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — This city now best-known for horse racing and bourbon was, 200 years ago, once described as the “Athens of the West.”
And while east-central Kentucky has since gone through its economic ups and downs, last month the state’s civic leaders announced an ambitious fiber-optic development project that boosters say will once again put Kentucky in the national spotlight.
Lexington enjoyed its early heyday from its founding in 1787 until the early decades of the 19th century. Its most notable resident was Henry Clay, the lawyer who became one of the three most influential national legislators (with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun) of the antebellum era.
Clay, the founder of the Whig Party, was a vigorous advocate of the “American System” of internal improvements. Today we would describe these as infrastructure investments.
It was the internal improvement sought by Clay that made transportation possible across the Western frontier. They began creating a truly national marketplace.
Lexington bequeathed us another figure sympathetic to the Whig cause: Mary Todd Lincoln. Visiting the museum here that was her home, I learned that her father — a member of the Kentucky Legislature — frequently invited his politically minded young daughter to sit in on meetings with constituents.
Mary Todd left Lexington, or course. More than 400 miles west, in Springfield, Illinois, she met and fell in love with a more hardscrabble Kentuckian. Abraham Lincoln also was a strong proponent of “internal improvements.”
Indeed, Lincoln’s first political brochure as a young man running for the state Legislature included this statement: “Time and experience have verified to a demonstration, the public utility of internal improvements. That the poorest and most thinly populated countries would be greatly benefitted by the opening of good roads, and in the clearing of navigable streams within their limits, is what no person will deny.”
Today, America knows and reveres President Lincoln for his belief in equal opportunity. But what is it about this core value that connects him to the principle that brought him into public life?
“Lincoln knew firsthand the deprivations, the marginal livelihood of the subsistence farmer unable to bring produce to market without dependable roads,” writes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Primitive roads, clogged waterways, lack of rail connections, inadequate schools — such were not merely issues to Lincoln, but hurdles he had worked all his life to overcome in order to earn an ampler share of freedom.”
And so it is today that modern-day Kentuckians are returning, in a bipartisan fashion, to the political creed of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln.
The project has the blessing of Democratic Gov. Steve Bashear and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican from eastern Kentucky. The object of their “internal improvements” is a statewide public-private broadband network called Kentucky Wired.
Unveiled at the Broadband Communities conference here by Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, this 3,400-mile gigabit network will be an open access network available to everyone. Financed and built primarily by Macquarie Capital, an Australian infrastructure company, Kentucky Wired is controlled and ultimately owned by the state government.
The project is indeed best analogized to a state highway.
In our interconnected digital world, bits of light travel from San Francisco to Chicago to Washington over plentiful and inexpensive “backhaul” networks. These are like interstate highways.
Viewed in the other direction, from the vantage point of a home, a consumer uploading video files onto YouTube sends out data traveling over “last mile” connections, be they copper or co-axial or fiber. These are like neighborhood roads.
In the middle lies the “middle mile.” These are the fiber network that connect central cities to nodes, or access points, within each of the 140 county seats in Kentucky.
While some states, including Utah, have invested smartly in the middle mile, others like Kentucky have lagged far behind. Creating such an open access middle-mile network will allow any company to bring better and more competitive telecommunications to neighborhoods. Just as anyone could float their boat on a navigable river, these statewide highways of information commerce facilitate a now-global marketplace.
“Broadband is like electricity, water and sewer” service, said Luallen, adding that good-quality fiber-optic networks are as necessary for improving government services as for economic development. And yet in state rankings for Internet service, she said, “Kentucky ranked dead last.”
This new project is an effort to shift those fortunes. In the deal the state brokered with Macquarie, the Australian company finances and builds the $324 million network over three years. It also operates it for 30 years, and is paid when the state moves $29 million of annual telecommunications business onto the high-capacity Kentucky Wired.
For its modest initial investment, the state gets full ownership after 30 years. And more significantly, Kentucky citizens and businesses get reliable access to the infrastructure they need today.
Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Best Best & Krieger LLP, with offices in California and Washington, DC. He works with cities, special districts and private companies on planning, financing and coordinating efforts of the many partners necessary to construct broadband infrastructure and deploy “Smart City” applications. You can find him on LinkedIN, Google+ and Twitter. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com 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.
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.”
New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues
A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.
WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.
According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”
Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.
“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”
According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.
“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.
John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”
Mattey report uniform with current recommendations
Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.
The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.
These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.
Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel
FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.
WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.
“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”
The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.
She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.
“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.
EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion
Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.
“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.
She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.
“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”
- TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China
- Repealing Section 230 Would be Harmful to the Internet As We Know It, Experts Agree
- Amy Klobuchar Reiterates Need for Funding Agencies to Handle Big Tech
- Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas
- AT&T’s Opens Learning Center in Dallas, Parallel Wireless Expands, AT&T 5G Experiment for National Defense
- Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: Last Mile Digital Infrastructure
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