September 24, 2020 — Many states have taken action to speed the deployment of broadband to unserved and underserved regions by developing statewide broadband programs that typically include funding commitments, legislative initiatives, and provide access to other inventive resources.
“States play a very important role in expanding broadband access,” said Anna Read, officer of broadband research initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts, during a webinar on regional and state broadband initiatives on Wednesday, which aired as part of Broadband Communities 2020 Virtual Summit.
“About half of states have broadband grant programs and have been funding infrastructure projects to unserved regions,” said Read, who recently completed a report that offers a detailed look at what constitutes an effective approach to state broadband programs.
Read’s report finds that successful state approaches tend to consist of stakeholder engagement, a clear policy framework, planning and capacity building, sufficient funding, and program evaluation and evolution.
See “How States Are Expanding Broadband Access,” Pew Trusts, February 27, 2020
Read detailed findings from the state broadband programs she found to have the most success, as she was completing a case study on nine states’ broadband initiatives, for the recently published report.
“One of the earliest states to establish a broadband program was Maine,” said Read, saying the state established ConnectME Authority as an independent state agency in 2006.
In 2015, Maine’s administration passed further legislature which provided financial support for planning grants, which help communities come together to develop solutions and aid in educating local leaders on the importance of broadband.
Maine’s broadband agency has been providing grants for over a decade and continues to adapt their approach to best cater to public need, according to Read.
“Minnesota has been a leader in the space for a number of years,” said Read, detailing another successful state initiative.
“The state not only has a broadband grant fund, but has state established broadband goals,” said Read. The state has an interim goal of providing 25 download / 3 upload Megabit per second, Mbps, speeds to all Minnesotans, and a secondary goal of providing 100/20 Mbps speeds to state residents by 2026.
“By setting state standards, the state’s Broadband Task Force has been able to focus on making progress towards the higher speed goals,” said Read. According to Read, Minnesota “has become a state that others look to” when establishing broadband initiatives.
The value of regionalism to bring better broadband
Jory Wolf, vice president of digital innovation at Magellan Advisors, spoke on the value of regionalism, and the merit of cities and counties coming together to form coalitions, to bring better broadband.
Wolf detailed a case where 15 cities banded together in South Bay, California to build a regional broadband network, in the hopes of boosting local economic development.
“Most of the cities involved had no fiber and no copper assets,” said Wolf, arguing that “each one of these cities would not have been able to do this on their own.”
The expert panel expressed their hopes for the future of regional and state broadband initiatives, in conclusion. Read said states need to “address barriers and take actions to foster projects.” She noted that while the pandemic has rendered a lot of attention to short term solutions, there is a lot more states could be doing to address long-term barriers in policy, planning and commitment.
Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.
April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.
The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.
Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.
“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”
He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.
For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.
Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.
Partnering with anchor institutions
Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.
“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.
“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”
Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.
High cost challenges
“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.
In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.
Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”
For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.
FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
The agency is expected to vote on policies for the new connectivity fund by mid-May, chairwoman says.
April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021.
It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).
It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.
The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.
Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the FCC will vote by mid-May on policies related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In actuality, the agency is voting on policies for the new Emergency Connectivity Fund from Biden’s new American Rescue Plan.
Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events
Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.
April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.
Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.
The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.
“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.
Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.
Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.
Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.
Broadband central to digital activities
“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.
President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”
Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.
“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”
- Huawei’s Success In China A Win For Washington, Expert Says
- Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
- Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids
- Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments
- Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build
- FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
Signup for Broadband Breakfast
Artificial Intelligence3 months ago
Artificial Intelligence Aims to Enhance Human Capabilities, But Only With Caution and Safeguards
Fiber4 months ago
Smaller Internet Providers Were Instrumental to Fiber Deployment in 2020, Says Fiber Broadband Association
Privacy1 month ago
New Laws Needed on Capturing Data Collection From Mixed Reality, Experts Say
Artificial Intelligence2 months ago
Staying Ahead On Artificial Intelligence Requires International Cooperation
#broadbandlive1 month ago
Broadband Breakfast Live Online Wednesday, March 24, 2021 – The State of Online Higher Education
Cybersecurity3 months ago
Internet of Things Connected Devices Are Inherently Insecure, Say Tech Experts
White House3 months ago
Building Better Broadband Underscores Joe Biden’s Top Policy Initiatives
Broadband Roundup3 months ago
Getting Older Adults Connected, Nextlink Internet Partnership, Tacoma Convention Center Gains 5G Connectivity