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Broadband's Impact

Reactions to Broadband Provisions Being Included in the COVID-19 Relief Bill

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Photo of Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., from January 2017 by Brian Washburn used with permission

December 22, 2020 – Late Monday night, Congress approved a $900 billion coronavirus relief package sending desperately needed aid to Americans reeling from the global pandemic.

The bill, which sets aside $7 billion for broadband initiatives and includes legislation introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-California, Marc Veasey, D-Texas, and Paul Tonko, D-New York, and many more, has been applauded by many as a broadband and connectivity win, and a crucial step towards equity.

The bill provides $3.2 billion in broadband subsidies to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program at the FCC, to assist low-income Americans and those affected by the pandemic.

Under the program, eligible households may receive a discount of up to $50, or up to $75 on Tribal lands, off the cost of internet service and a subsidy of up to $100 for low-cost devices, such as computers and tablets.

The package establishes two grant programs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The first, funded at $1 billion, is directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. The second is a $300 million broadband deployment program to support rural broadband infrastructure deployment.

It further establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the NTIA to focus on broadband access and adoption at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and other Minority-serving institutions. It also appropriates $285 million for a Pilot Program to award grants to these institutions, including to help students of these institutions afford broadband service.

In a statement, Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, along with Representatives Doris Matsui, D-California, G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and many more, applauded the inclusion of $285 million in federal relief funding for historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions.

“I am proud to join Representative Eshoo in leading this legislation to ensure that schools and students have the technological resources necessary to address these obstacles both during the COVID-19 health crisis and beyond it,” said Butterfield. “The virus’s outbreak has particularly severe implications for HBCU’s and other minority serving institutions, which were already facing the unique challenges that come with delivering high quality education to the nation’s most underrepresented communities.”

Countless others have spoken out in support of the broadband provisions included in the package, such as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania.

In a joint statement, the pair said they have long recognized how important it was for Congress to prioritize greater broadband access, resiliency, and adoption, and that they are pleased legislators have achieved exactly that with this omnibus. “We must continue to ensure our communication networks are within reach for all Americans,” they wrote.

Broadband industry representatives have also largely supported the legislation’s measures to improve the affordability of broadband internet service. The bill has received cheers from the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the Internet and Television Association, Free Press Action, Public Knowledge, INCOMPAS, and more.

“Passing this legislation marks a major victory in efforts to bridge the digital divide, with a flexible and robust benefit structured along the lines of what Free Press Action has called for since March and the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns,” said Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at Free Press Action.  “It shows how Congress has shifted its attention to the affordability crisis, which predates the pandemic but has become even more dire over the past 10 months.”

“This focus on affordability is thanks to the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Representative Clyburn, Chairman Pallone, Representative Veasey and other House Democrats who sponsored and passed affordability measures like this one earlier this year, as well as Minority Leader Schumer, Chairwoman Cantwell and Senator Wyden, who sponsored companion measures and led Senate negotiations,” said Wood.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Broadband's Impact

Craig Settles Talks Telehealth, FCC Mapping Issues on States, Broadband’s Impact on Critical Infrastructure

Craig Settles talks about the need for telehealth and ubiquitous broadband in a recent interview.

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Craig Settles, author of broadband deployment guide Building the Gigabit City

November 29, 2021 – Craig Settles, market researcher and author of broadband deployment guide Building the Gigabit City, spoke with Broadband Breakfast Deputy Editor Sarah Stirland in a Sunday profile that emphasized the need for communities to prioritize telehealth in broadband planning.

The profile in Broadband.Money, a broadband grant funding service that allows ISPs and community networks to discover, apply, and win broadband grants, discusses how the pandemic has changed stakeholder interest in broadband’s role in telehealth. Before COVID-19, “[n]o one would talk about medical reminders, or remote sensors to help children keep track of their elderly parents,” he said in the Sunday profile. The new national focus on telemedicine offers a new opportunity to save lives by improving connectivity speed and delivering critical information to health professionals.

Now, Settles works with stakeholders to provide broadband strategies that match local communities’ lifestyle and business needs. Settles’ work combines community-empowerment and broadband deployment strategies to deliver telehealth services to places in need.

“Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do,” Settles said. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Settles will answer questions about broadband needs analysis and future broadband deployment in an Ask-Me-Anything session with Broadband.Money on Friday, December 3rd, at 7.30 p.m. Settles’ work and analyses of when telehealth services makes sense can be found at his web site.

FCC mapping issues threaten broadband deployment

States and cities are unsure of where to put government broadband money because the maps are inaccurate, according to a Politico report Monday.

The lack of accurate nationwide maps that the Federal Communications Commission is working on improving is also threatening the efficient use of the $42 billion in broadband money going to states as a result of new infrastructure legislation signed into law two weeks ago.

Although the government won’t start distributing funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act for at least another year, Politico reports, citing BroadbandNow data, that states and cities are already allocating $10 billion in federal relief without confidence in their ability to identify their communities’ dead zones.

The FCC’s maps, compiled from telecommunications providers, have drawn longstanding criticism from industry stakeholders, members of Congress, and the FCC itself because of its overreliance on the Form 477 method, which took data from internet service providers. Now, the problem has reached a new inflection point as states try to find coverage gaps — and even as the agency seeks other methods, including crowdfunded data, for better mapping.

Congress required that better maps should be used before the infrastructure money is spent, which could help states accurately fund the neediest areas when the $65 billion broadband package is made available.

In the meantime, towns and counties that need broadband funding most urgently will have to wait while states with more accurate data can better target funding. In Ohio’s Athens County, a speed test data from measurement company Ookla showed that at least 340,000 households in eastern Ohio had no home broadband, while the FCC estimated that, at most, 328,000 households in the entire state have connections too slow to fit its definition of broadband.

Cisco says broadband deployment will improve hard infrastructure

Cisco says that by adding broadband to the nation’s “critical infrastructure,” the United States will modernize our hard infrastructure.

More reliable connectivity will support our nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways, the company wrote to MarketScreener on Monday.

Cisco says digital networks, while using broadband connections, can “expand beyond broadband to support other forms of critical infrastructure.” Dubbed Operational Technology networks, or OT networks, digital systems will be able to monitor the nation’s hard infrastructure, like monitoring a switch to trigger a shutdown if a certain value in a water system is exceeded. Community safety commissions could also start monitoring bridges for unusual stresses, speeding awareness, and more efficient responding to maintenance needs. Further, public safety services could remotely change red-yellow-green light switches and alter traffic signals for emergency vehicles.

The company recommended that technology companies should leverage funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to secure and use OT networks. “Doing so can help drive greater efficiencies, faster response times and potential costs savings. It can also create more efficient opportunities as future technologies come online,” Cisco said. “By expanding beyond broadband to deliver OT networks with automation, machine learning and other innovative services (like those that support autonomous vehicles), we can build a more inclusive infrastructure that benefits everyone.”

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Broadband's Impact

Sunne McPeak: Achieving True Digital Equity Requires Strong Leadership and Sincere Collaboration

Collaboration between community leaders will be essential in ensuring success of the Biden infrastructure bill in California.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Sunne Wright McPeak

This week, President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding broadband deployment and access for all Americans.

The national plan is described as the most significant infrastructure upgrade in the three decades since the Cold War. “This is an opportunity to create an Eisenhower national highway system for the information age,” says a former White House National Security Council senior director.

For California – the nation’s largest state – it means a minimum $100 million for broadband infrastructure that is designed to expand high-speed internet access for at least 545,000 residents, particularly in unserved and underserved communities, according to the White House. The federal funding will support California’s $6 billion broadband infrastructure plan.

Closing the digital divide and achieving true digital equity requires strong leadership and sincere collaboration among public agencies, internet service providers and civic leaders to seize this unique opportunity to achieve strategic priorities in education, telehealth, transportation and economic development. The 2021 USC-CETF Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption highlighted that a significant number of Californians will be left behind because they are unable to access the internet and other digital functionality needed for vital activities.

Now, the question is how to ensure the public’s funds will be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. California must implement a thoughtful, aggressive strategy that will maximize immediate impact and optimize return on investment. Separately, for several years, CETF has been calling for broadband deployment as a green strategy for sustainability; that urgency only grows in the wake of the COP26 climate meetings. As leaders begin to make historic investments, they should embrace these key principles for action:

  • Prioritize and drive infrastructure construction to the hardest-to-reach residents — rural unserved areas, tribal lands, and poor urban neighborhoods — and then connect all locations, especially anchor institutions (schools, libraries and health care facilities), along the path of deployment.
  • Require open-access fiber middle-mile infrastructure with end-user internet speeds sufficient to support distance learning and telehealth.
  • Strive to achieve ubiquitous deployment in each region to avoid cherry picking for more lucrative areas.
  • Encourage coordination among local governments and regional agencies to streamline permitting and achieve economies of scale.
  • Develop an open competitive process to achieve the most cost-effective investment of new dollars by optimizing use of existing infrastructure that ratepayers and taxpayers already have built.

To learn more, please contact Sunne Wright McPeak at sunne.mcpeak@cetfund.org

Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit foundation with 15 years of experience addressing broadband issues to close the Digital Divide in California. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC. 

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Funding

Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say

Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.

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David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies and former head of NTIA

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021–– Experts at a Federal Communications Bar Association event earlier this month said the current funding allocation for next-generation 911 services is inadequate.

Currently, under the Joe Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, the new 911 services – which will allow people to share videos, images and texts with 911 call centers – is allocated $500 million.

“It’s not enough to fully fund 911,” David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies, said on the FCBA’s “What Comes Next in 911” panel on November 4. Redl was formerly the head of the Commerce Department’s telecom agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Redl said the number could be “about 12 billion.” For Redl, the challenge is to address the funding gap for NG911 “when there’s skepticism in Washington and the [Federal Communications Commission and] when states have different ideas about the best way to allocate funding and best technology to use.”

Dan Henry, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, agreed.

While Henry said he’s excited about the national-level interoperability tools for call centers that will allow the ability to transfer emergency calls across states with the call’s incident file intact, the failure to get sufficient funding for NG911 puts health and safety at risk. “We’re not near what we need to get [NG911] across the finish line,” he said.

The technology to deploy NG911 is ready, added Chandy Ghosh, chief operating officer and general manager of emergency services at communications company Inteliquent. “It’s not a tech issue,” she said. Wireless clients have been testing NG911 with successful results.

Stakeholders need to communicate with government

Chris Moore, principal at consulting firm Brooks Bawden Moore, said a federal investment is required to deploy NG911. He suggested that industry stakeholders should convene to tell government what they need.

“For now we’ll get what we get, we’re going to continue to push for more funding, but it’s not going to be this round,” he said.

On October 26, the National Association of State 911 Administrators Association asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to assist with the implementation of NG911 by clarifying the agency’s authority to regulate the delivery of 911 services through internet protocol-based emergency networks and shift cost-bearing to service providers.

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