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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.

Tribal Broadband

Alaska Predicted to Receive a Majority of Tribal Broadband Funds

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held Wednesday hearing exploring broadband investments in Tribal communities.

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Photo of Chairman Manuel Heart courtesy Matt Nager and KSJD Community Radio

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2022 — Alaska’s remoteness might lead the state to receive a majority of federal government funds allotted to broadband for Tribal communities.

“Alaska is going to be one of the highest areas of need,” said Hallie Bissett, executive director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, speaking at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

As many as 233 of Alaska’s native communities do not have access to broadband at 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) downline x 3 Mbps upload service, she said. “That’s unserved, everybody. Unserved. Not underserved.”

The committee’s Wednesday hearing on “Closing the Digital Divide in Native Communities Through Infrastructure Investment” aimed to collect feedback on distribution of Tribal broadband funds.

More money needs to be spent on better broadband access for education in Tribal communities. Manuel Hart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Towaoc, Colorado, said, “We’ve had to put in hotspots where parents can bring their students to the parking lot just to access the internet.”

Screenshot of Manuel Hart during the hearing.

Hart said his communities have no access to fiber and need fiber to every home in his community.

Panelists also discussed access to telehealth as the pandemic continues.

William Smith, a veteran and a spokesperson from the National Indian Health Board, said that if the government fiscally bolsters telehealth programs within Tribal communities, residents will be able to save money and access the healthcare they might not otherwise receive.

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FCC

FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion

The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.

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Photo illustration from the Pelican Institute

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.

The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.

The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.

The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.

“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules.  With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”

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Rural

USDA Announces $120 Million in Broadband Infrastructure Loans and Grants

Money comes from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Community Connect programs.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Agriculture Department announced Thursday the recipients of $119.7 million in broadband grants and loans.

The money comes from two rural development programs under the department, with the telecom loans program disbursing $71.1 million to four recipients and $48.6 million to 23 recipients from the Community Connect grants program.

Under the Community Connect program, eligible areas are those that do not have access to speeds of at least 10 Megabits per second download and 1 Mbps upload. Eligible criteria under the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Loan Guarantees program include rural towns with a population of 5,000 or less without telecommunications networks.

In the press release, the department used the example of how Interior Telephone Company in Alaska will use a $2.6-million grant: to build a 19-mile fiber-to-the-premises network.

The states represented are California, New Mexico, Indiana, Alaska, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.

The grantees are Ponderosa Telephone, Sierra Telephone Company, Mescalero Apache Telecom, Geetingsville Tele Co., Interior Telephone Company, Byte Networking, Sharon Telephone, Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Wabash Telephone Coop., Jo-Carroll Energy, West Kentucky Rural Telephone Coop Corp., Star Telephone Company, Easton Utilities Commission, Consolidated Telephone Company, Bay Springs Telephone Company Inc., Atlantic Telephone Membership Corp., Star Telephone Membership Corp., NTUA Wireless, Pine Telephone Company, Pine Cellular Phones, Pioneer Telephone Coop., Ben Lomand Communications LLC, iGo Technology Inc., Pembroke Telephone Cooperative, Scott County Telephone Coop., Whidbey Telephone Company, and Public Utility District 1 Lewis County.

“The investments we are announcing today will drive the creation of good-paying union jobs and grow the economy sustainably and equitably so that everyone gets ahead for decades to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The chunk of money is part of a larger pie worth $5.2 billion, the rest of which goes to other infrastructure programs including electric, water and environment.

In August, the department announced $167 million to improve broadband infrastructure in 12 states from its ReConnect Program.

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