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Broadband's Impact

Portland to pursue building municipal high-speed broadband network – The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

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Like its neighbor to the south, Portland is seeking to build a municipal broadband network to offer affordable high-speed broadband to its residents and businesses.

The city last week issued a request for proposals to provide a fiber-optic connection from its buildings in downtown Portland to new municipal facilities off the peninsula on Canco Road. The city says the connection could serve as “phase one” for a municipal broadband network that would offer affordable high-speed broadband service to residents, similar to what South Portland, Sanford and Rockport announced within the last year.

Portland currently maintains a fiber optic network that connects municipal buildings, like fire stations and schools. It does not, however, provide service to any neighboring residential or commercial properties.

The expansion is necessary because the city is consolidating public works, fire, and recreation operations in two buildings off the peninsula on Canco Road not far from Cheverus High School. The consolidation will reduce the city’s presence in the Bayside neighborhood, which has been targeted for development.

“We’re very excited about the possibility that this project could bring with it an added bonus for a large portion of our residents and businesses,” Jon Jennings, Portland’s city manager, said in a statement. “Giving our citizens along this line a path to affordable high speed connectivity will spur economic development. There are several possible options for implementing this, and we look forward to exploring the costs and benefits of each.”

What Portland is proposing is similar to the plan South Portland announced last fall to build a 4-mile network of fiber, and a plan Sanford announced in September to help fund the building of a 32-mile municipal broadband network. Rockport has also built 1.6 miles of fiber.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of Biddeford-based Great Works Internet, or GWI, said Monday that his company is very interested in bidding for the Portland job. GWI won the bids in Rockport, South Portland and Sanford to build those municipal networks.

“I think it’s very innovative and creative for the city to do this,” Kittredge said. “They will potentially get a lot of bang for their buck.”

Two connection options

The city’s RFPs present two options. The first would simply connect the Canco Road facilities using the minimum amount of fiber, a less expensive project that would only serve the municipality’s immediate needs, the city’s purchasing manager Matthew Fitzgerald wrote in the RFP.

The more extensive second option is considered “phase one of an open access fiber network” for the city, Fitzgerald wrote. This option would connect the city’s downtown facilities with those on Canco Road, and build out enough fiber to offer high-speed service to residents and businesses along the route. Fitzgerald cites the broadband projects in South Portland and Rockport that have been able to offer Internet speeds of 1 gigabyte per second. It takes about 1 GB to upload or download 1,000 photos or watch four hours of streaming video.

Portland residents don’t have affordable access to higher- speed broadband, according to Jessica Grondin, a city spokeswoman. She said Monday that the city has discussed the possibility of supporting a municipal broadband network for some time and that this extension to Canco Road was an opportunity to start that process.

Grondin said the city prefers to pursue the second option.

“I think the reason there’s an option two is there’s a cost-benefit analysis that needs to be done,” said Grondin. “But if everything works out I think there’s a preference for option two.”

In option two, the city proposes a fiber route that departs the peninsula on Forest Avenue and extends all the way to Ocean Avenue, providing high-speed service to short lengths of streets like Fessenden and Woodford that stem off the route. The fiber would stretch down Ocean Avenue to Cheverus High School before turning northwest and running along a residential street like Gleckler or Read to connect to Canco Road. The city estimates this route would make high-speed service to approximately 838 residential properties and more than 350 commercial properties.

If those estimates are true, Portland would have the largest municipal broadband network in the state, according to Kittredge. He said it would be 10 times bigger than South Portland’s network and slightly larger than Sanford’s network, which GWI has recently finished the design work for.

“I think it’s an exciting project and I’m sure there will be a lot of bidders,” Kittredge said.

Unserved need for speed

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan addressed the need to increase broadband access during his State of the City address in January. At the time, Brennan said a broadband project in Portland would be challenging financially and logistically because the city is so developed, yet it is as important as building housing, roadways and bridges.

Brennan, who lost his re-election campaign in last week’s election, issued a statement Monday saying the broadband project proposed in the RFP is a “concrete step in the right direction.”

Maine has ranked close to the bottom on lists of broadband speeds by state, including a report based on Ookla NetMetrics data that said Maine ranks 49th out of the 50 states and a recent report from Akamai Technologies that puts Maine at 48th among U.S. states and far behind countries like Estonia and Macao.

Roughly 80 percent of Maine households are considered to be “unserved” by high-speed Internet service, according to the ConnectME Authority, which is responsible for expanding broadband access throughout Maine. Less than 15 percent of the state has access to upload and download speeds of 10 megabytes per second, according to the authority.

Phil Lindley, director of the ConnectME Authority, said “option two is very interesting” because of what it implies.

“Creating a fiber-based system is significant as it allows much higher, symmetrical bandwidth that is currently more important for businesses than residences,” Lindley said. “Symmetrical” service means upload speeds are the same as download speeds.

Lindley said this type of project requires a lot of forethought, and the small amount of information included in the RFP leaves many questions unanswered.

“The question is who will run the network, an ISP or telco as a contractor or the city? Many municipalities across the country are taking this step in response to a lack of competition, adequate service, high pricing. Portland needs to be sure of what their goals are and how this type of network works toward them,” Lindley said.

The bid deadline is Dec. 10. Money has not been appropriated yet for the project and any potential contract must meet with city council approval.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.pressherald.com

Portland begins the process of building fiber-optic Gigabit Networks, following other communities in greater Portland area.

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Digital Inclusion

Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide

There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Doug Lodder, president of TruConnect

From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.

We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.

What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens

Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.

When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.

The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.

What can be done to improve it

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.

More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.

The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.

Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.

So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?

Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.

Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.

While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.

Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. 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

Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House

Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.

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Photo of Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, during Tuesday's press conference

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.

Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.

The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.

Congressional supporters tout benefits

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”

The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.

Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”

He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.

Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.

“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”

He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\

“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”

Industry supporters say measure is necessary

The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.

“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.

Bide expected to sign measure

With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:

“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.  It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States.  It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.

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Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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