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Drew Clark: What Henry Clay’s and Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Internal Improvements’ Means for Gigabit Infrastructure Today

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.

1606265Lexington 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.”

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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.

1606265Lexington 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 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.

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.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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