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National Telecommunications and Information Webinar Focuses on Broadband Boost to Local Economies

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Photo of Lauren Mathena courtesy Invest Southern Virginia

November 19, 2020 – While the business case for rural broadband has been debated, panelists at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s monthly webinar on Wednesday concluded that rural broadband enhances local economies.

Mid-Atlantic Broadband was able to establish an open access network that has supported the flourishing of many other industries, explained Lauren Mathena, director of economic development for Mid-Atlantic Broadband.

Because of this network, Microsoft was able to build a data center in southern Virginia that has invested substantially in the community, including the establishment of a data center academy that the software company has used as a model for countless others across the world.

Hard Eye, a British top content provider, was also able to connect their headquarters in the UK to their Virginia plant remotely through Mid-Atlantic’s network.

Screenshot from the webinar

The network has supported business parks and health companies, as well as encouraged partnerships with local electric coops and Commonwealth Connect, Virginia’s broadband coalition.

Indraneel Kumar, principal regional planner at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, found that rural broadband firms created and supported more than 77,000 jobs across different industries in 2017. In a study called “Job Creation from Rural Broadband Companies,” he and his colleagues concluded that rural broadband companies were significant economic drivers in their communities. For every job created in broadband led to almost two additional jobs were created in the economy.

All important aspects of community life are supported by broadband

Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy for rural broadband association NTCA, said that all the important aspects of a community—jobs, education, and access to good healthcare— could all be supported by broadband.

Jobs that had a telework component during the pandemic lost just half a percent of employees, versus 2.7 percent for non-telework jobs.

A school in Kansas was able to help students take a virtual fieldtrip to Yellowstone National Park using the school’s gigabit connection provided by Golden Belt Telephone association.

An NTCA’s paper on “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth,” published as part of the association’s smart rural community program, found rural telehealth could save an average of $30,000 per year. That’s from lost wages for travel expenses that would otherwise have been incurred when rural residents had to travel to the facilities.

He also said that rural telehealth has increased the local laboratory and pharmacy revenues, ranging from $12,000 to $45,000 annually.

He concluded with the example of a medical center in South Carolina that through telepsychiatry has been able to reduce the average stay of patients from 36 hours to 4 hours. “Imagine the cost savings,” he said.

Funding

Agriculture Department Announces Fourth Round of ReConnect Funding

The announcement is the second round of ReConnect funding in fiscal year 2022.

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Photo of RUS Acting Administrator Christopher McLean by Drew Clark from June 2022

ASHINGTON, August 1, 2022 – The Rural Utilities Service of the United States Department of Agriculture announced the fourth round of funding for the ReConnect Program, with publication of the funding opportunity announcement scheduled for the federal register on August 4.

The announcement is the second round of ReConnect funding in fiscal year 2022.

The RUS has seen great interest in the third round of funding and is considering drawing on other federal infrastructure funds to satisfy demands, said the Acting Administrator Christopher McLean said in June. The latest round of funding received 305 applications requesting a total of $4.8 billion, but the program only allocated $1.15 billion.

USDA Considering Drawing on Infrastructure Bill Money as ReConnect Demand Increases

 

The ReConnect Program uses funds provided under the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act which sets aside $42.5 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to disburse among states for broadband infrastructure. It provides loans and grants to broadband deployment projects in rural areas.

The application will open 30 days after the announcement of funding opportunity is released. Applications will be submitted through the RUS online application portal on the ReConnect webpage. The application process will be open for 60 days.

Applicants should consider projects that will assist rural communities recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, ensure all rural residents have equitable access to rural development programs, and reduce climate pollution while increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Proposed service areas are eligible for funding if at least 50 percent of the households in the area lack sufficient access to broadband as defined in the funding opportunity announcement.

As part of the application process, applicants are expected to undergo an evaluation process and will be scored based on the rurality of the proposed service area, level of existing service, economic need of the community, affordability of service offerings, net neutrality principles, cybersecurity, and labor standards. Applications submitted by local governments, non-profits and tribal governments will be awarded higher scores.

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Rural

Appalachian Regional Commission Prepares Communities for Federal Broadband Money

The commission said it is helping communities prepare to apply for some of the $42.5B NTIA BEAD program.

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Screenshot of Curtis Hansen of Appalachian Regional Commission

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2022 – Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal state partnership agency in the Appalachian Mountain range, is working to improve broadband access ahead of billions in federal funding, according to its broadband program manager.

Curtis Hansen said during a Fiber for Breakfast event Wednesday that the commission is working with local leaders to help develop capacity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding that is coming from the National Telecommunication and Information Administration. The only way to make sure the money makes an impact, said Hansen, is to ensure that communities are prepared to use it.

Hansen said ARC will soon deploy an outreach program at the request of the Federal Communications Commission to help people in the region sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps alleviate broadband cost burden for low-income families.

Counties under the care of ARC are disproportionately poor compared to the national average, with lower connectivity to the internet. According to an Appalachian Regional Commission report, only 78 percent of households in the region have a broadband internet subscription, compared to 83 percent nationwide.

The agency was established in 1965 by an act of Congress and includes 13 states and 423 counties, which cover over 25 million people. They currently invest approximately $30 million per year for broadband grants in the area to improve broadband connection for residents.

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Broadband Breakfast on July 27, 2022 – Bringing Broadband to Rural America: A Case Study in Morgan, Utah

Following up on UTOPIA Fiber’s buildout to Morgan City, we’ll look at benefits of broadband for this rural community

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See “Morgan City Fiber Swap Model Catching On,” Broadband Breakfast, July 28, 2022.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Bringing Broadband to Rural America: A Case Study in Morgan, Utah

Bringing broadband to a rural community like Morgan City, Utah, is never an easy task. But in 2019, Morgan, a community on the least-populated side of the Wasatch Mountains without even a stoplight, found itself on the wrong side of the digital divide. Into the mix stepped UTOPIA Fiber, an open access network in Utah primarily serving the more populous communities on the west side of the Wasatch front. Following up on a Broadband Communities 2019 article telling the story of UTOPIA Fiber’s buildout to Morgan City, this Broadband Breakfast Live session will examine the impact of bringing broadband to this rural community. Join us at 12 Noon ET.

Panelists:

  • Steve Gale, Mayor, Morgan City, Utah
  • Lynne Yocom, Fiber Optics Manager, Utah Department of Transportation
  • Roger Timmerman, Executive Director, UTOPIA Fiber
  • Warren Woodward, Director of Broadband Service, XMission Internet
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • From UTOPIA Fiber: A Model Open Access Network, Broadband Communities, November-December 2019
    • The rural community of Morgan, Utah, is where UTOPIA Fiber’s vision for gradual community-by-community network expansion is most fully realized.A rural community without even a stoplight, Morgan is on the least-populated side of the Wasatch Mountains. It was left in the lurch when Comcast left town and stopped providing service. (CenturyLink’s DSL was unreliable.) But with a municipal power system, Morgan felt comfortable managing lines and poles. The community began exploring options to bring a new broadband provider to town.“The more we researched it, the more comfortable we felt about it,” says Ty Bailey, Morgan city manager. “More than economic development, this is just basic service” that the city needs to offer if no one else will. UTOPIA Fiber’s willingness to bring the open-access model to Morgan became “a really good solution for us.”
    • As with any fiber-to-the-home network, UTOPIA Fiber’s costs are a mixture of one-time infrastructure costs and ongoing costs for backhaul transport, network operation and internet services. People associated with the UTOPIA Fiber network speak of the 30 percent penetration rate as an important threshold for profitability, even in rural communities such as Morgan….
    • “We are thrilled to bring UTOPIA Fiber to our growing community,” said Morgan City’s mayor. “Our residents and businesses have been in dire need of better, faster and more reliable options for internet, and UTOPIA Fiber will be providing the best possible solution for our city.”

Steve Gale began his position as Mayor of Morgan City in January 2022. He attended high school in Morgan and married his high school sweetheart.  He is thrilled that his family has also made their homes in Morgan and are close by. He is very patriotic and loves the “Red, White and Blue.”

As the fiber optics manager for the Utah Department of Transportation, Lynne Yocom manages the he communications to traffic devices such as traffic signals, cameras, variable message signs and anything else that needs connectivity to the system. The system is a closed network of just under a thousand miles of fiber optic cable. She work with telecommunication companies to expand the UDOT network through fiber-optic trades.

Roger Timmerman has been serving as UTOPIA Fiber’s Executive Director since 2016 and has been a technology management professional in telecommunications and information technology for over 15 years. Roger has been designing and building networks throughout his career in various roles including Vice President of Engineering for Vivint Wireless, CTO for UTOPIA Fiber, Network Engineer for iProvo, and Network Product Manager for Brigham Young University. Roger earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Information Technology from Brigham Young University.

Warren Woodward is the Director of Broadband Service at XMission LC, the first Salt Lake City based Internet Service Provider and established in 1993. XMission is recognized as being the largest service provider on the UTOPIA Fiber network, a continually expanding municipal fiber project that spans 19 cities in Utah across the western United States.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

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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