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Infrastructure

NTIA Webinar Focuses on Smart Region Initiatives Gaining Traction in Washington, and Nation-wide

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WASHINGTON, June 19, 2019 – Smart cities and smart regions need better broadband, but also “soft infrastructure,” or the policies and practices that make these initiatives successful, according to a Wednesday panel hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA program.

The session by the Commerce Department’s NTIA, “Building Smart Cities and Communities at the Regional Level,” discussed the challenges and progress of ongoing smart region initiatives.

Maci Morin, program coordinator for the National Association of Regional Councils, introduced the Global City Teams Challenge Smart Regions Collaborative. One of the group’s goals is to create a blueprint that empowers local, regional, and tribal leaders to build their own smart region strategies.

The GCTC was launched by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to “establish and demonstrate replicable, scalable, and sustainable models for incubation and deployment of interoperable, standard-based solutions using advanced technologies.”

The Smart Regions Collaborative will also present opportunities for peer-to-peer networking among these leaders and provide participants with access to information and technological assistance as well as connections to relevant industry professionals.

One of the initiatives discussed was the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s Smart Region Movement. The movement was announced in June of 2018 and backed by a partnership of over 300 companies and organizations, 24 local governments, Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and 17 colleges and universities.

The Smart Region Movement is also partnered with the Regional Transit Authority and various other regional organizations, nonprofits, startups, and financial institutions.

Program Lead Karl Darin cautioned that there are significant challenges to be overcome before Washington can become the nation’s leading digitally enabled region. The region is extremely fragmented between 24 diverse city and county jurisdictions, with “some of the most affluent and some of the most socioeconomically challenged communities adjacent to each other.”

In order to create a smart city solution that can be applied to the entire region, Darin emphasized what he called “soft infrastructure”—the legislative policies and regulations that need to be in place to make the program successful.

Although the smart region movement considers the community, the private sector, and the public sector to all be key stakeholders, Darin said that the community unequivocally comes first.

Rather than leaving industry alone to dictate the terms of this infrastructure, the program is looking for a “comprehensive societal answer,” said Darin, while also acknowledging the importance of having industry “come to the table.”

(Aerial photo of Washington, D.C.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Funding

Sen. Alex Padilla Emphasizes Billions in Broadband Funds for California

California also has 18 projects that are part of the state’s $6-billion broadband investment under its California Comeback Plan.

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Photo of Alex Padilla from June 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 3, 2021 – Sen. Alex Padilla, the U.S. senator from California appointed to fill the remainder of Vice President Kamala Harris’ term, on Tuesday celebrated a future in which all Californians are connected to broadband.

Padilla, a Democrat, pushed local governments and internet service providers to not only get their fair share of federal broadband funds, but to also “continue to build upon the efforts and experience of truly connecting California families not to just internet connection, but the opportunities and resources that come with it.”

Speaking at a Tuesday event hosted by California Forward and California Emerging Technology Fund, Padilla discussed federal infrastructure funds for California. As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, California is expected to receive around $1 billion in broadband funds for communities.

California’s Broadband Funding

In addition to the 18 statewide broadband deployment efforts announced by governor Gavin Newsom last month, Californians can take advantage of federal funds that will be made available by the National Telecommunications and Information Association.

NTIA Acting Administrator Evelyn Remaley detailed programs from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for which organizations should apply:

  • $42.5 billion Broadband Access and Deployment Program. This program, the largest of all the programs administered by the NTIA, is distributed among states, US territories, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico for projects supporting broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption.
  • $1 billion Enabling Broadband Middle Mile Infrastructure Program. This program will be targeted at lowering the cost of unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the broadband infrastructure.
  • $2 billion added to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Directs funding to tribal governments for deployment on tribal lands. The program also funds telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
  • $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act Programs. Promoting digital equity to ensure that all communities have the same opportunities to obtain the skills and technology necessary to participate in our digital economy.
  • The Digital Equity Act programs includes $16 million for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, $1.44 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and $1.25 for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

These investments build on the NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (which closed on December 1).

“At the NTIA we are so excited to begin this endeavor to connect every single American to high-speed, affordable broadband,” Remaley said. “Senator Padilla talked about the need, we know it is global, and we are committed to getting this done with all of our partners: our states and communities.”

The California Emerging Technology Fund is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Infrastructure

Pole Access Delays Cost Americans Millions a Month, Report Claims

Report recommends policymakers streamline access to poles as ‘most efficient’ means of broadband expansion.

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WASHINGTON, December 2, 2021 – Policymakers at the federal and state level must reform pole attachment policies to facilitate faster broadband deployment and unlock millions in economic benefits, according to a Connect the Future report released Thursday.

The report by Edward Lopez, a professor of economics at Western Carolina University, and pole attachment expert Patricia Kravtin concludes that allowing broadband providers to attach their equipment on utility poles “is the most efficient means to expand high-speed broadband access to currently unserved areas of the country.”

The report also estimates that delayed expansion due to hold ups at poles “costs Americans between $491 million and $1.86 billion” every month.

Service providers generally either bury telecommunications cables in the ground, which can be prohibitively expensive in remote areas of the country, or attach equipment over land on utility poles, which are often owned by electricity companies. While the latter is a standard practice, sometimes there are permit delays or disagreement on attaching fees that have created frictions.

Pole attachments will play a significant role for broadband expansion, as federal dollars pour in from sources including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last month, and as 5G networks require more attachments.

The report determined the economic value of such a policy on a willingness-to-pay metric. That measure calculates how much more households are willing to pay per month for improvements in broadband and multiplies it by the number of locations becoming connected. For example, if 5.22 million locations become connected as a result of the Federal Communications Commission’s $9-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, that would generate a monthly WTP of $579 million. The figure is then annualized in terms of net present value over 25 years at a 5 percent discount rate. The study includes case studies in North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The “new report makes clear that as our country continues to invest public and private dollars into expanding broadband access, policymakers must take immediate action to ensure that these investments are maximized for impact to bring connectivity to rural communities without delay – and this includes reforming outdated and ineffective pole attachment rules,” Zach Cikanek, executive director of Connect the Future, said in a press release.

“Policymakers can do this by guaranteeing a faster, fairer process for utility pole access, replacements, and dispute resolution to speed the construction of broadband infrastructure so we can more quickly achieve 100% connectivity across our country,” he added.

According to Thursday’s report, utility pole owners have exercised “significant market power over pole attachment rates, terms and conditions” and “frequently impose onerous timetables, unfeasible permitting fees, and various pre- and post-construction requirements, including full pole replacements ahead of scheduled replacement, as part of ‘make-ready’ procedures required prior to the actual attachment to the pole.”

There have been a number of lawsuits popping up in courts across the country that have involved large telecoms trying to gain cost efficient and timely access to those poles.  Last year, the Federal Communications Commission found Verizon paid “unjust” pole attachment fees to a utility company in Maryland, as it billed the maximum rate possible.

And earlier this year, the FCC alleviated some burdens by ruling that investor-owned utilities cannot charge new attachers for pole replacements if they are not the sole cause for the replacement. This stems from telecom companies having to front the cost for replacing a pole if an assessment shows that adding new equipment would warrant the change.

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Funding

Governors Discuss Infrastructure Bill Spending at Summit

Leaders addressed strategies and importance of private spending.

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From left to right: Jane Garvey, Tom Wolf, Lourdes Leon Guerrero, John Bel Edwards, Larry Hogan

ANNAPOLIS, December 2, 2021 – Governors from some states gathered in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss how they would use the billions in funding coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The three-day National Governor’s Association Infrastructure Summit, a large part of which was closed off to media, hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday. The panel included Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, Guam Democratic Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, and Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Edwards said that once Louisiana had received money from the infrastructure bill – signed into law in mid-November that would provide a minimum of $100 million to the states – the changes to broadband would be drastic. “We will be able to address [access and the digital divide] to a degree that was not be possible before.

“If there is a home or business [in Louisiana] without high-speed internet by 2029, it is because they do not want it,” Edwards said. He explained that because Louisiana identified the shortcomings in its broadband infrastructure and began laying the groundwork to improve it years ago, the state is more well equipped to take advantage of the funding that will come with the IIJA.

In early 2020, Edwards announced his “Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana” plan that outlined coverage priority areas, the guiding principles, and goals for the state’s approach to improved broadband connectivity. The state broadband office, Connect L.A., was formed to help put the plan into action.

As part of the state’s initiative to bridge the digital divide, Edwards’ administration created Louisiana’s Grant Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program, or GUMBO, to help underserved and unserved areas apply for federal funding for broadband projects.

Need for private investment

Wolf pointed to actions Pennsylvania is taking to ensure that funds are not squandered. “[The IIJA] is not an infinite amount of money and it is not nearly what our engineers say we need,” he said. To get the most out of the funding they receive, Wolf recommended that states create centralized infrastructure banks to only allocate money to approved projects and avoid both literal and figurative “bridges to nowhere.”

“Private investment is also critically important,” Hogan said. Indeed, all the governors sharing the stage encouraged states to explore public-private efforts. Edwards said he was hopeful that the IIJA would not tie states’ hands, preventing states from utilizing such models. “We need an approach that has the flexibility to work for us,” he said. “I hope the rules are not written in a way that requires us to do all of this ourselves [without private investment].”

The purpose of this gathering is to allow governors, their secretaries, and staff to meet, collaborate, and share their experiences to help states partner for regional infrastructure projects, prioritize projects, and learn to obtain the necessary resources from the federal government to complete said projects.

Hogan presented the opening keynote and participated in some of the first day’s events. Bipartisanship was one of the focal points of the summit, and Hogan hammered on it during his keynote.

“A lot of conventional wisdom was that a federal infrastructure bill could not be in a bipartisan way,” he said. Hogan said that the collaborative work governors did on a state and regional level proved this “wisdom” to be false, stating, “the nation’s governors will continue to lead the way.”

Waiting on the federal government

Hogan said that while the money in the IIJA will be “transformational,” there are still a considerable number of unknowns. “We are still waiting for guidance from the federal government,” he said. As it stands now, he said there is no precise timeline for when the funds will be dispensed or if certain monies will have rigid, unknown requirements that could hold up the process. “The devil is in the details,” said Hogan.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

“We will find a way to make use of every penny we receive,” he added, but said it was still unclear how much money the state would get or, where it could be used, and when the state would get it.

Hogan said Maryland’s efforts would be concentrated on repairing and modernizing infrastructure, while also devising new ways to streamline the deployment of future projects.

The NGA summit runs through December 2 and covers topics such as broadband, freight transportation, green infrastructure and supply chain issues.

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