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Digital Inclusion

Bringing Fiber-Optics to Maryland’s Eastern Shore Requires Champions and Partners, Say Panelists

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WASHINGTON, June 7, 2017 – Champions, partnerships and flexibility are necessary to bring fiber-optic networks to less-populated communities, said participants involved in launching such a network in Kent County, Maryland.

Speaking at a Friday panel was hosted at the Schools Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Annual Conference here, the executive director of the State Education Technology Directors Association outlined four recommendations that she called the “Broadband Imperative II”:

“Recommendation 1: Increase infrastructure to support student centered rationale.

“Recommendation 2: Design infrastructure to meet capacity targets.

“Recommendation 3: Ensure equity of access for all students outside of school.

“Recommendation 4: Leverage state resources to increase broadband access.”

The recommendations came from Executive Director Tracy Weeks, who said that its goal was to help give schools of any size decent broadband.

Others on the panel shared their experiences in developing an internationally-capable fiber presence in Kent County, on Maryland’s eastern shore.

Kent County originally had areas with only dial-up, said members of the panel moderated by Larry Irving, president and CEO of The Irving Group, and including Scott Boone, director of information technology for Kent County, Brett Hill, CEO of FTS Fiber, and Mark Wagner, CEO of ThinkBig Networks.

Boone put the responsibility of increasing the quality of broadband to government officials.

“You need champions in the government,” he said. “It’s an all-consuming position once you get into it.”

He said he knew from experience that government officials are always busy with their jobs as he often thinks about work in his daily life.

Hill said partnerships, such as the one FTS Fiber has with ThinkBig Networks, help make a complete package. He said FTS Fiber partnered with Kent County a year ago, and now they have almost 100 miles of cable in the ground in the county.

Hill said FTS Fiber’s initial goal was to complete the plan in two years, but it looks like the plan will be finished in Kent County in only 14 months.

Wagner complemented FTS Fiber and said Hill approached him with the Kent County idea. He said that Internet is becoming a utility because so many things in everyone’s daily life require it just to operate.

Wagner mentioned that cable even stopped growing in 2015 because people are cutting the cord and moving to online subscription services, such as Netflix and HBO GO.

“They don’t want 184 stations when they only watch two,” Wagner said. “They want to pick their products, and they can.”

The broadband Kent County will have will not have data caps, and it will only cost $400 to install, he said, adding that ThinkBig Networks already has 700 customers in the county.

Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

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.”

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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Digital Inclusion

As Senate Passes Infrastructure Measure, Non-Profit Groups Push for Digital Equity Bill of Rights

Join Sunne Wright McPeak at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday for a discussion about the push for digital equity.

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Photo of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a sponsor of the Digital Equity Act

August 10, 2021—A petition calling for a Digital Equity Bill of Rights to inspire policymakers to craft sustainable, affordable solutions to bridging the digital divide has garnered more than 100 groups and 2,000 individuals signing on to the proposal. The petition, led by the California Emerging Technology Fund, was released prior to a bipartisan vote on infrastructure legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.

Portions of the Digital Equity Act of 2021, S. 2018 sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, originally introduced in 2019 and reintroduced in June, are likely to be included in the final infrastructure bill.

“The future of our next generation and America’s ability to compete globally is at stake,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of CETF, which has been focused for 15 years now on bridging the digital divide.

Join Sunne Wright McPeak and Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark for Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 12 Noon ET, on “A Call for a Digital Equity Bill of Rights.”

Much like the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights that most Americans are familiar with, the Digital Equity Bill of Rights also had 10 amendments designed to provide future legislation with a framework of rights.

The first enumerated right states that “all residents have the right to broadband that is sufficient and reliable.” It explains that speed standards should not be pigeonholed to a specific rate—rather, they must be sufficient for all people to support distance learning, telehealth, and remote work “by a majority of households online simultaneously with an increasing need for symmetrical network speeds.”

Other amendments include ones that state that broadband should be affordable, improve quality of life, attract investment, and enables participation in democracy. Though the conversation surrounding such a bill of rights is nothing new, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident in the bill’s wording. McPeak and CETF have argued that digital access is a “21st Century Civil Right” for more than a decade.

“To close the digital divide there has to be digital inclusion and everything that we do, because the outcome is getting to digital equity,” McPeak explained to Broadband Breakfast; digital equity is the result of making sure that everyone has access to affordable Internet and computing devices, and gets the training needed to compete in the 21st Century global economy.

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