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Next Century Cities Highlights State Action for Broadband, Co-Sponsors Broadband Conference in Idaho

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Next Century Cities this week highlights broadband programs in five states, in advance of the “West Central Mountains High Speed Internet Conference” on May 17 in McCall, Idaho. The Friday event is being co-sponsored by the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council and Next Century Cities.

With 202 city members, the non-profit Next Century Cities helps municipalities leverage gigabit-level internet for economic development and enhancing civic participation. The organization also recently announced that Executive Director Deb Socia, who founded the organization in 2014, has been selected as the CEO of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, effective July 2019.

Socia started the non-profit Tech Goes Home in Boston a decade ago and will succeed Ken Hays, who is retiring, as the director of the center. The Enterprise Center capitalizes on Chattanooga’s role as a gigabit city in promoting the 140-acre Innovation district in downtown Chattanooga.

In a blog post this week, Next Century Cities highlighted three key things that states can do to promote broadband: Don’t interfere with cities, spend broadband funds, and help streamline One Touch Make Ready, which has also recent been dubbed “Climb Once” legislation to facilitate pole attachments by new telecommunications entrants.

Among the state programs highlighted included (as described by Next Century Cities):

  • Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program funds expansion to un- and under-served portions of the state. Eligible entities – notably, including municipal networks and cooperatives – are able to receive up to $5 million to cover up to 50 percent of a project’s infrastructure cost, including project planning, permits, labor, and more. Projects funded by the grant have ranged from connecting a dozen locations to connecting thousands.
  • Maine’s ConnectME program offers infrastructure grants up to $100,000 for projects that build out last mile service to communities currently unserved by 25/3 Mbps speeds. The program also offers planning grants to municipalities and local or regional community organizations in order to fund plans to identify and pursue local broadband needs.
  • Colorado’s Broadband Fund provides grants to private ISPs or to telephone or electric cooperatives for new infrastructure builds in areas not currently served by 25/3 Mbps. Colorado’s program is unique because it incorporates progressive right of first refusal language, in which an incumbent provider must match the speed and price of service that a new entrant is offering in order to exercise its right of first refusal.
  • New York’s Broadband Program uses a reverse auction method to allocate $500 million worth of grants to un- and underserved areas. Eligible projects must involve a partnership with a private entity, and funds can be used for up to 80 percent of capital expenditures for new investments or network upgrades.
  • West Virginia has funneled Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development into supporting broadband deployment throughout the state. Most recently, the state announced that a total of $2.4 million in CDBG funds in West Virginia would go toward broadband projects.

With regard to the West Central Mountains High Speed Internet Conference on Friday, May 17, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. MT, panelists at the event will include Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the council, and city officials Bruce Patterson from Ammon, Idaho; Mike Knittel from Emmett, Idaho; Jeremy Pietzold from Sandy, Oregon; Rich Sykes from Mountain Home, Idaho; Chris Curtin from McCall, Idaho.

Others participating in the program will be Robert Peterson from Entrypoint Solutions, Mark Erikcson of the Economic Development Authority of Winthrop, Minn., and Deb Socia, Chris Mitchell and Cat Blake from Next Century Cities.

(Photo of Deb Socia while at Tech Goes Home, from the Christian Science Monitor.)

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Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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