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Leaked Copy of Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Plan Shows Few Provisions for Broadband

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, January 22, 2018 – A leaked document purporting to be an outline of the Trump Administration’s forthcoming infrastructure plan makes few provisions for broadband or other digital infrastructure outside of rural areas.

The six-page outline, which was first reported by Axios, bears the title of “Funding Principles,” and sets out four programs which will receive different percentages of the total appropriation, the amount of which has not yet been revealed.

When asked for comment on the document’s apparent lack of attention to 21st Century infrastructure programs, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told BroadbandBreakfast.com: “We’re not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document, but we look forward to presenting our plan.”

Half of the total funds will go to an ‘Infrastructure Incentives Initiative’

One half of the total appropriated funds will go to the White House’s “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” which will “[encourage] state, local and private investment in core infrastructure by providing incentives in the form of grants.” Such grants will be conditioned on achieving milestones set out in grant proposals within an identified time frame.

Proposals for infrastructure grants will be solicited every six months by the federal agencies in charge of such programs, and eligible entities will be limited to states (or groups of states), Puerto Rico and other United States territories, local governments (or groups of local governments), and metropolitan planning organizations.

Eligible projects, however, will be limited to transportation infrastructure projects, including surface transportation (roads) and passenger rail, maritime and inland waterway ports, and water infrastructure projects, including flood control, water supply, hydroelectric power, and water resources projects, such as drinking water and storm water facilities. Environmental projects at Brownfield and Superfund sites will be eligible as well.

Many eligible entities would not be permitted to apply for grants for broadband projects

Not only are broadband or other digital infrastructure projects not included in the program criteria, but many of the eligible entities would not be permitted to apply for grants for broadband projects because numerous states have laws explicitly forbidding such projects.

Telecommunications projects will be eligible for ten percent of any funds appropriated under the plan through what is referred to as the “Transformative Projects Program,” which makes available federal funding and technical assistance for “innovative and transformative infrastructure projects” which are too unique for the private sector to fund.

Projects receiving funding under the TPP would have to be “exploratory and ground-breaking,” and involve both more risk and a greater reward than standard infrastructure projects.

One areas explicitly includes broadband: The ‘Rural Infrastructure Program’

The only aspect of the plan that explicitly includes broadband and telecommunications projects is the “Rural Infrastructure Program,” which would account for one quarter of any appropriated funds for projects which are “designed to encourage investment to enable rural economies.”

States participating in the RIP program would be encouraged to establish public-private partnerships, with 80 percent of any RIP funding to be made available through the governors of participating states.

The other 20 percent would be earmarked for “rural performance grants” to be made on condition of the state publishing a “comprehensive rural infrastructure improvement plan” within 180 days of receipt of any funds.

Rural grants to be distributed as block grants without significant federal requirements

RIP funds would be distributed as block grants without Federal requirements other than a mandate to use any such funds for projects in rural areas with populations under 50,000 persons.

The plan’s lack of attention to broadband and other telecommunications infrastructure is noteworthy when contrasted with the Obama Administration’s broadband programs, which were mostly implemented with funds made available under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Under the ARRA, the Obama Administration distributed a combined $7.2 billion in loans and grants through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Incentives Program.

(Photo of President Donald Trump signing a rural broadband initiative by the White House.)

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Europe

Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.

Tim White

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Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges

Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis speaks about broadband rollout, education and bills more than a year into the pandemic.

Derek Shumway

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Photo of John Curtis from his website

April 13, 2021 – Provo, Utah has made significant progress with its Google Fiber partnership, and representative John Curtis, R-Utah, hopes the federal government is paying attention.

Broadband Breakfast spoke with Curtis on Monday to discuss broadband and the lessons he’s taken from the pandemic. He said that the city of Provo is on track with its broadband efforts and that its programs are working. Having formerly served as city mayor for Provo from 2010 to 2017, Curtis oversaw the purchase by Google Fiber of iProvo, the city’s existing fiber internet network.

Announced in a press release on February 16, two of Curtis’ bills, the Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, and the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021, were introduced to facilitate broadband deployment on federal lands and close the digital divide in both rural and urban areas. The bills called to “streamline permitting presses,” as duplicative regulations and inefficient practices have been hampering broadband development thus far, he said.

Federal, municipal regulations a constraint on deployment

Curtis was asked where he thought unnecessary red tape needed to be removed to fulfill rural and urban broadband objectives. He said 90 percent of the rural land in his district is owned by the federal government, making regulation heavy and complicated. In some instances, public lands have taken up to nine years to allow permitting for broadband, and in broadband terms, that’s a lifetime. “We don’t have nine years to get down into these parts of the district,” he said.

To visualize this, if there is an existing asphalt road, broadband cannot run alongside it because it is treated as if there was trench dug underneath Delicate Arch, a historical rock formation, a regulated territory.  If rural roads are approved to be built, rural broadband should be approved in a similar and appropriate manner, Curtis said. He added companies like Google, who have vast resources, are still slowed down by the government.

And it’s not the federal government that is always behind roadblocks, but the municipal government can sometimes get in the way. A struggle over telecoms putting up equipment on municipal-owned poles, which are required for broadband and wireless deployment, has been playing out across the country.

Education needs support structure at home

As the country is more than one year into the pandemic, the importance of having adequate and affordable broadband in Utah households is critical, especially for education, Curtis said. Curtis said that the more disadvantaged a household is, the less likely it is to have good internet connectivity. While there are tremendous uses for virtual resources, Utah children need a support structure at home, and not every home has that.

Having poor support at home to stay connected for school, work, and health needs is virtually as bad as not even having a device to connect to the internet in the first place. A benefit of having Google Fiber in Provo, Curtis said, is that households see their internet costs come down and speeds go up as competition is benefitting consumers. Cities are averse to risk, and sometimes lack the capital to invest in broadband, but technology changes so fast that it requires constant upkeep, he said.

Not just about the money

Asked about his thoughts on recent federal legislation, including the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Biden’s $100-billion infrastructure plan (Jobs Act) for broadband, Curtis said it is important to invest in these initiatives, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything.

He said he wished he could bring Biden to Provo to take a look at Provo’s broadband progress, adding that “creativity and hard work make up for a multitude of sins.”

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Experts Weigh What Future Of Broadband Could Look Like Under Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Tim White

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Screenshot taken from Broadband Live Online event

April 8, 2021 – Experts in Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event debated what “future-proofing” broadband could look like and whether President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan can achieve it.

The White House’s new “American Jobs Plan” looks to fund $100 billion for broadband infrastructure in addition to other areas, and part of that plan “prioritizes building ‘future proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage,” said a White House statement.

Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association, said at Wednesday’s event that fiber is essential for all types of networks. “We do mobile wireless, we do fixed wireless, we use all sorts of spectrum in our toolkit, and all of these wireless networks are connected to fiber at some point, somewhere,” she said.

But Bennet also said there are exciting developments for wireless that is not specifically fiber. “There are a lot of exciting things going on in the wireless world right now that could future-proof networks,” she said. “That’s using software and virtualized networks so that you don’t have to change out hardware on antennas on towers anymore.”

Open radio access networks (Open RAN) are such systems, which use open protocol wireless technologies that prevent the industry from relying on proprietary supplies generated by few companies. Bennet said open RAN is showing promise.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, led a bipartisan effort Tuesday requesting $3 billion in Open RAN technology funding for the Biden administration’s annual budget request.

Doug Brake, director of broadband policy at the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said Wednesday he believes the policy needs to technology neutral.

Legislation should be flexible to allow the best solutions for an area that are needed, he said. When ‘future proofing’ comes up, he said he is worried that fiber and cable become the focus. While fiber is really important to getting many unserved areas connected, we shouldn’t lock ourselves into a single tool — we want the flexibility to solve the problem as its needed, he said.

Municipal versus private broadband

Brake also expressed concern that Biden’s plan would prioritize funds for local municipal and co-op broadband.

“We really need to leverage our private providers, particularly private providers that have large economies that scale,” he said. While municipalities and co-ops are great at filling needed gaps, “they don’t scale well outside the jurisdiction, they don’t invest in [research and development] to develop new access technologies; they don’t contribute to standards,” he said.

But Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, said Wednesday that, “We’ve seen first-hand the significant benefits and significant economic impact that fiber has when it’s deployed in communities,”. He referenced Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first city in America where gigabit-speed internet was offered in 2010. The city developed a municipally-owned fiber network that, according to a 2020 study by Bento Lobo at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, saw considerable return over the 10 years since its deployment.

“Fiber also delivers remote healthcare, online learning, public safety and provides a path for future services like 5G,” Bolton said.

On broadband affordability

Affordability is another piece of the broadband puzzle, and Biden’s proposal also seeks to address long-term cost issues. In a statement, the White House acknowledged the need for some short-term subsidies, but said that “continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers.”

Everyone needs to be able to afford broadband, Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at the advocacy organization Free Press, said Wednesday. “We want to talk about affordability and adoption, and we’ve done that in the mapping context, we’ve done it here, and I think that’s why this plan is so exciting to us,” he said.

Funding programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and the focus on affordability and adoption in Rep. Jim Clyburn’s bill and the LIFT America Act are key, he said. This is not one of those, “if you build it, they will come” situations, he said. Building “fabulous networks” in rural and urban areas that people can’t afford to use should not be the infrastructure goal, he said.

Bolton expressed support for Biden’s proposal to address long-term affordability issues, but he wants to see funding done well. “It pains me to see so much precious stimulus money going to subsidize ridiculously expensive, poor-performing broadband such as satellite in rural areas,” he said.

The details of the American Jobs Plan are still being developed, and the White House is discussing those details with a variety of members of the broadband industry, according to Bolton.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the April 7, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Billions and Billions: How to Spend Broadband Infrastructure”

On the heels of the Biden Administration’s unveiling of the American Jobs Plan, Broadband Breakfast will convene a special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event to take the pulse of the broadband industry on the core components of the administration plan:

  • Build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage. The administration’s plan prioritizes building “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage.
  • Promote transparency and competition. President Biden’s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge.
  • Reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption.

This measure is expected to allocate $100 billion for broadband infrastructure and adoption. This panel will consider and discuss the broadband parameters of the Biden plan.

Panelists:

  • Doug Brake, Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)
  • Gary Bolton, President and CEO, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA)
  • Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press
  • Carri Bennet, Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Doug Brake directs the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s work on broadband and spectrum policy. He writes extensively and speaks frequently to lawmakers, the news media, and other influential audiences on topics such as next-generation wireless, rural broadband infrastructure, and network neutrality. Brake is a recognized broadband policy expert, having testified numerous times before Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory commissions, as well as serving on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Group.

Gary Bolton serves as president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association — the largest trade association in the Americas dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. With more than three decades in the telecom industry, Bolton joined the Fiber Broadband Association as president and CEO in 2020 after serving on the association’s board as vice chairman, treasurer and vice chairs of public policy and marketing committees. Prior to taking the leadership role at the Fiber Broadband Association, he spent 11 years at ADTRAN serving as vice president of global marketing and government affairs.

Matt Wood currently serves as Vice President of Policy and General Counsel at Free Press, where he helps shape the policy team’s efforts to protect the open internet, prevent media concentration, promote affordable broadband deployment and safeguard press freedom. Before joining Free Press, he worked at the public interest law firm Media Access Project and in the communications practice groups of two private law firms in Washington, D.C. He has also served as an expert witness before Congress on multiple occasions.

Carri Bennet is an outspoken advocate for small rural carriers, having battled with regulators and large companies for more than 30 years to ensure that small rural businesses have a seat at the table and a strong voice in Washington, DC.  Bennet launched her own successful boutique communications and technology law firm prior to joining Womble Bond Dickinson in its Washington, DC office, and she also serves as outside counsel for the Rural Wireless Association and earlier as General Counsel and de facto chief operating officer of an international wireless carrier.  She represents her clients before the FCC, state regulatory agencies, the courts and Congress, and she regularly testifies before the FCC, Congress and the courts on rural wireless issues and speaks regularly at industry trade shows and legal seminars on cybersecurity, data privacy, spectrum policy, universal service funding reform, and business development and strategy issues for communications and technology companies.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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