The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday authorized more than $61.8 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to nearly 22,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in 14 states. This funding marks the sixth wave of support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction.
“This sixth round of funding continues to build on our efforts to provide rural Americans with the economic, educational, civic, and healthcare opportunities that high-speed Internet access makes possible,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.
The agency’s action brings total authorized funding to nearly $1.2 billion, which will expand connectivity to 409,661 homes and businesses nationwide. In another attempt to close the rural digital divide, the FCC proposed in August Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which would direct up to $20.4 billion to expand broadband in unserved rural areas.
NextLink, with CAF grant, expands coverage into more midwestern states
NextLink Internet of Hudson Oaks, Texas, announced last week its acquisition of Connecting Point, an internet service business based in Nebraska. NextLink plans to use the ConPoint network and workforce as its platform to expand in Nebraska.
“ConPoint is a great fit with Nextlink in terms of the breadth of its service territory, its dedication to customer service, and overall cultural fit between the organizations,” said NextLink CEO Bill Baker.
“We will begin work immediately to expand that service area and upgrade the existing networks so that customers can access more advanced applications such as video conferencing and streaming,” Baker said.
In 2018, Nextlink won a bid for $281 million in support over 10 years from the FCC’s CAF, which will help the company deploy broadband services to more than 100,000 homes and businesses across the six states. ConPoint President Dan Spray said that the two companies are excited about the benefits their customers will receive from the expansion of their networks.
“The combination of Nextlink’s expertise and federal dollars will be great for our state and our local communities,” he said.
Connected Nation aims to focus on addressing digital divide in Ohio
Connected Nation Ohio announced on Wednesday that it will be using community input to identify and assist areas that lack access to affordable, high-speed internet.
According to CN Ohio, nearly 2.4 million Ohio households do not have high-speed internet service or have only one choice of internet provider. Only 76 percent of Appalachian Ohioans have access to 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds and 300,000 rural Ohio households have no access to broadband.
Eric Frederick, vice president of Community Affairs at Connected Nation, said that they are laser-focused on identifying exactly where the digital divide sits in Ohio and how to close it.
“Ohio has not released maps that identify broadband availability and speeds since 2017,” he said. “That’s a huge gap in research, especially when you consider how quickly the technology is evolving. That’s why we invite all Ohioans to visit our website and join the conversation by providing both feedback and input on the state of broadband in your area.”
Reaching full broadband coverage in Ohio would generate an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion and up to $6.6 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years. Connected Nation’s surveys are part of the nonprofit’s new phase in its mapping, technical assistance, and analysis for the state.
Verizon, Amazon Partner on Broadband, Farmers Need Broadband, Social Work Important to Close Digital Divide
Verizon will use Project Kuiper, agriculture needs broadband for progress, social work advocacy key to close digital divide.
October 27, 2021–– Verizon and Amazon announced Tuesday they are partnering to expand rural broadband access across the United States.
The partnership will involve Verizon using Amazon’s satellite internet system, called Project Kuiper, to extend its terrestrial service.
Project Kuiper has a network of 3,236 satellites from which it plans to provide high-speed broadband around the world.
Amazon has not launched its satellites, but has said it plans to invest more than $10 billion in the project. The Federal Communications Commission authorized the project last year, finding that the Kuiper system would benefit the public by “increasing the availability of broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses”
Amazon plans to launch the thousands of satellites into low earth orbit, which is expected to provide faster connections and better communication times compared to satellites higher up in the sky. Amazon said it will deploy the satellites in five phases, with broadband service beginning after 578 satellites are in orbit.
Broadband an existential matter for U.S. agricultural sector
A new analysis by the Benton Institute found that the digital divide slows progress for American farmers.
The article, authored by Jordan Arnold, found that broadband access and market competition prevents greater adoption numbers and limits options for farmers. The study found that 78 percent of farmers do not have another viable option to change service providers. Among farmers that Arnold interviewed, a consensus was established that farmers need robust upload speeds, accurate network deployment data, and scalable technologies.
“Only 82 percent of farms have internet service in any form,” Arnold found. “On average, 70 percent of Hispanic-operated farms, 66 percent of American Indian–or Alaska Native-owned farms, and 62 percent of Black-owned farms have internet access.”
Broadband access is critical to agricultural sustainability because connected technologies allow farmers to measure their inputs and outputs, allowing for more efficient resource management Arnold argues that deploying broadband ubiquitously across the farming sector unlocks powerful benefits to minimizing farming’s environmental impact.
Social work advocacy should help address digital divide
A University of Kansas professor co-authored an article Tuesday arguing that the social work field should be included in the fight to close the digital divide.
Scanlon argues as such because social work serves and advocates for marginalized and underrepresented communities.
“The digital divide is not just a policy or infrastructure issue. It is a social justice matter in that lack of access disproportionately affects people of color, low-income individuals and families, and those who live in rural areas” wrote Edward Scanlon, associate professor of social welfare at University of Kansas.
Similar to the way the field advocates for underserved communities “in terms of child-care, health care access, mental health,” Scanlon said policy leaders should focus on the divide as a high priority social justice issue. “Social workers need to advocate like they do for mental health, issues of race, fighting poverty and those traditional causes.”
Scanlon said that the problem would be addressed with a consistent national strategy similar to the New Deal era push to introduce electricity adoption ubiquitously across the U.S.
“This really is a problem that’s national in nature and needs to be seen as part of infrastructure, just like bridges and roads” Scanlon said.
Rosenworcel and Sohn Expected On FCC, Electric Coops Praise USDA Program, Internet Speeds Up 40%
Report says Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel will be permanent and Gigi Sohn will break the party tie on the FCC.
October 26, 2021 – President Joe Biden is expected to select Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel as the permanent head of the Federal Communications Commission and will install former agency official Gigi Sohn as the tie-breaking commissioner, according to Politico, citing sources.
Observers have speculated that the lack of action on the selections have put the Democratic agenda for broadband policy at risk. It has even stirred speculation that Rosenworcel was on her way out.
But one consistent has been speculation that Sohn, a net neutrality advocate, could have gotten the nod as chair of the commission.
If selected, Democrat Sohn will break the party deadlock that has pitted two Democratic and two Republican commissioners.
Electric co-ops pleased with changes in USDA ReConnect broadband program
Electric cooperatives are praising changes made to the third round of applications for the $1.15 billion ReConnect loan and grant program for rural broadband, which include increasing the download speed for served areas.
That means for the latest round of applications, served areas will be defined by access to speeds of 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload, compared to 10/1. In addition, networks built with the funds will need to deliver symmetrical speeds of 100/100 Mbps; applications to areas that lack 25/3, the federal standard, will be prioritized; and areas lacking 100/20 Mbps service that have previously received federal money will be eligible.
“We greatly appreciate USDA’s work to help spur rural broadband deployment, and their appropriate recognition of the need to make sure the program continues to serve those communities most in need of broadband,” the National Rural Electric Cooperation Association, which represents nearly 900 local electric cooperatives, said in a press release Friday.
“Significant changes to this new round of the ReConnect program will allow electric cooperatives and other broadband providers to offer service to many more unserved and underserved rural communities.”
Report finds internet speeds increased 40% over pre-pandemic speeds
According to a report from comparison website WhistleOut this month, average internet speeds have increased 40 percent nationwide over pre-pandemic speeds, which the organization said could be due to customers upgrading their internet packages or providers increasing overall speeds.
The speeds bump on average moved from 84.5 to 118.4 Mbps, with Alaska seeing the largest bump at a 170 percent increase. Idaho followed with a 77 percent increase, then it was Kentucky at 70 percent, Iowa at 64 percent, Wyoming at 62.6 percent, Kansas at 60.3 percent, Maine at 59.7 percent, Montana at 57.7 percent, Oklahoma at 57.4 percent, and South Carolina rounding out the top 10 with 56.1 percent.
The only state that saw a decrease was West Virginia, which saw a decline of 17 percent over the period.
Whistleout measured nearly one million speed test results from December 1, 2019 to March 15, 2020 (pre-Covid) and from May 1, 2021 to August 17, 2021 (during Covid).
Space Cybersecurity Concerns, USTelecom’s New Board, Agriculture’s $1.15 Rural Broadband Grant
Cybersecurity experts are concerned about space hacking, USTelecom elects new board, USDA makes $1B for rural broadband.
October 25, 2021 — Cybersecurity experts raised concern Friday about the vulnerabilities of satellite technology to hacking at the FCBA’s cybersecurity lunch event.
“There’s a wide range of malicious activity that is disruptive to space activity,” said Jaisha Wray, associate administrator for international affairs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Wray is raising alarm about the potential losses from bad actors in space missions. Space agencies risk the loss of mission data or even completely losing control of their space systems, Wray said. Space systems are defined as a combination of a ground control network, a space vehicle, and a user or mission network that provides a space-based service.
The problem, she said, is space systems are difficult to physically access while in orbit. The solution, panelists said, is to design cybersecurity features into space systems prior to launching into orbit. Cybersecurity should be integrated into “the full life cycle” of the space system to ensure systems are protected from bad actors, the panelists agreed.
Wray said that the U.S. must identify risks and coordinate with stakeholders to manage cybersecurity risks to space systems. “Information sharing [between government and suppliers] is key” to protecting U.S. data in space, she said.
Wray said that Space Policy Directive 5, signed in September 2020 by then-President Donald Trump, emphasized the need to improve cyber protections when developing space systems. Wray worked on the development of Space Policy Directive 5 as director of international cyber policy on Trump’s National Security Council.
USTelecom elects new mostly women-led board, officers, and leadership
Telecom trade association US Telecom announced Friday a number of telecommunications executives to the board of directors and leadership, making US Telecom’s board mostly women-led for the first time in the association’s 124-year history.
The elected positions represent “the full spectrum of US Telecom’s diverse and innovative membership” said CEO Jonathan Spalter.
Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of the public policy and government affairs group at Verizon, was elected as the new chair of the USTelecom board of directors. Calling this moment “a pivotal time” for broadband expansion, Grillo emphasized broadband’s impact on our economy and her call to action.
“Broadband during the pandemic, broadband helped sustain our economy,” Grillo said. “But we can do better. We must close the digital divide and ensure all Americans have access to broadband and the benefits it brings. Expanding broadband’s reach will fuel our nation’s future growth,” Grillo said.
The board also elected Julie Kearney, vice president of communications regulatory affairs and policy at Twilio. Other elected members include Jason Williams, CEO of Montana-based Blackfoot Communications, and Takami Abe, general manager at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.
USDA to make $1.15 billion available for broadband, distance learning grants
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday that the agency would make up to $1.15 billion available to fund broadband expansion nationwide.
Beginning November 24, the USDA will begin accepting applications to distribute the funds in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas through the ReConnect program.
“For too long, the digital divide” has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace.”
To be eligible for funding through the ReConnect program, an applicant must service an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). An applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.
Vilsack also announced a $50 million investment in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. The awards will be funded by USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program.
The announcement follows President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda by mobilizing federal agencies to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.
- Sinema Policy Advisor Says Infrastructure Bill’s Broadband Promise Balances Partisan Interests
- Rosenworcel Hails FCC’s Efforts on Mapping, Said Country Needs More Wi-Fi Access
- FCC Orders China Telecom to Stop Providing Services in the U.S. Over National Security Concerns
- Verizon, Amazon Partner on Broadband, Farmers Need Broadband, Social Work Important to Close Digital Divide
- FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund
- Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head
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