March 2, 2021 – Federal block grants are an effective way of deploying broadband quickly, and the federal government needs to hear local stories to understand that, said the CEO of network builder Tilson.
Joshua Broder said at an Incompas event on February 9 that the historic debate about whether federal agencies or states should handle money from Washington should be clear: States understand their issues better and can deploy broadband quicker if given the block grants from the capital.
The CARES Act has provided a number of examples of that, Broder said. The program allows funding for states to quickly deploy broadband in response to the pandemic. The Tilson company, which was a recipient of a block grant, has worked with state governments receiving federal block grants and helped build networks for the grant recipients.
Broder said Tilson enjoyed expedited builds thanks to its partnership with cooperatives and believes everyone can advocate for better broadband wherever they live. One way to raise support, he said, is for beneficiaries to share their experiences.
Cities take advantage of block grants
Broder cited Tucson, Arizona, which is using $4 million in federal CARES Act grant money to fund the Community Wireless Program to help close the digital divide.
The Arizona Daily Star reported Census data showing that 10,798 households in the city do not have access to the internet. Through the broadband deployment program, 5,000 routers will be distributed to those who need it most and who have experienced hardship due to the pandemic. Thanks to this federal block grant, many families will be able to have the means to support their children’s online schooling, he said.
The State of Vermont has also benefitted from federal block grants, Broder noted. A press release from the Vermont Department of Public Service said, “The Department of Public Service issued $3.9 million in grant awards to Internet Service Providers to serve over 5,800 eligible locations with broadband connections in response to COVID-19.”
Conveying the importance of broadband to government leaders is a serious challenge that can be overcome, Broder added. “Tell stories about how broadband works and why it’s needed,” Broder said.
“We need to unleash creativity at the state level and let states map themselves where there are underserved areas. Federally funded but state implemented federal block grants are what we need.”
Broder added, however, that affordability is still an issue, which can be alleviated using more federal funds.
Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments
Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said telecoms should be right there alongside new road builds and improvements.
April 15, 2021 – Telecom and municipal partnerships should be forged when new roads are built so fiber can be laid as construction begins, Michigan’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, said Tuesday.
A good time to expand and improve broadband is when roads are being paved and improved, he said Tuesday at the Connected Nation Telehealth Summit. ISPs can play a larger role during this process and increase competition for consumer benefit as more options become available, he noted.
Beyond physical infrastructure needs, ISPs should work more and better with education and healthcare providers, the conference heard.
Schools, libraries, and all levels of government from local to national need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities to close the digital divide, Gilchrist said.
With no internet, telehealth would be in danger when critical response teams cannot be there in person to tend to a patient’s needs, he said, adding investing in the internet is the same as investing in education and health. No matter your zip code, or where you live, or how bad the pandemic has affected daily life, everyone should have the means to access affordable broadband that actually meets their needs.
“Different partnerships are needed,” said Sarah Tennant, sector development director and cyber initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Gilchrist said he recognized the impact generational racial disparity and inequality had on the lives of people of color in Michigan and across the country. Lack of broadband for people of color can be seen as another form of racial injustice.
In trying to tackle that, he said connecting the underconnected with broadband is a top priority of the state.
Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build
Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.
April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.
STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.
“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.
Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.
“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”
Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.
Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.
The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.
Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”
STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
John Curtis, R-Utah, Opens Up About Future of Fiber and Broadband Challenges
Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis speaks about broadband rollout, education and bills more than a year into the pandemic.
April 13, 2021 – Provo, Utah has made significant progress with its Google Fiber partnership, and representative John Curtis, R-Utah, hopes the federal government is paying attention.
Broadband Breakfast spoke with Curtis on Monday to discuss broadband and the lessons he’s taken from the pandemic. He said that the city of Provo is on track with its broadband efforts and that its programs are working. Having formerly served as city mayor for Provo from 2010 to 2017, Curtis oversaw the purchase by Google Fiber of iProvo, the city’s existing fiber internet network.
Announced in a press release on February 16, two of Curtis’ bills, the Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, and the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021, were introduced to facilitate broadband deployment on federal lands and close the digital divide in both rural and urban areas. The bills called to “streamline permitting presses,” as duplicative regulations and inefficient practices have been hampering broadband development thus far, he said.
Federal, municipal regulations a constraint on deployment
Curtis was asked where he thought unnecessary red tape needed to be removed to fulfill rural and urban broadband objectives. He said 90 percent of the rural land in his district is owned by the federal government, making regulation heavy and complicated. In some instances, public lands have taken up to nine years to allow permitting for broadband, and in broadband terms, that’s a lifetime. “We don’t have nine years to get down into these parts of the district,” he said.
To visualize this, if there is an existing asphalt road, broadband cannot run alongside it because it is treated as if there was trench dug underneath Delicate Arch, a historical rock formation, a regulated territory. If rural roads are approved to be built, rural broadband should be approved in a similar and appropriate manner, Curtis said. He added companies like Google, who have vast resources, are still slowed down by the government.
And it’s not the federal government that is always behind roadblocks, but the municipal government can sometimes get in the way. A struggle over telecoms putting up equipment on municipal-owned poles, which are required for broadband and wireless deployment, has been playing out across the country.
Education needs support structure at home
As the country is more than one year into the pandemic, the importance of having adequate and affordable broadband in Utah households is critical, especially for education, Curtis said. Curtis said that the more disadvantaged a household is, the less likely it is to have good internet connectivity. While there are tremendous uses for virtual resources, Utah children need a support structure at home, and not every home has that.
Having poor support at home to stay connected for school, work, and health needs is virtually as bad as not even having a device to connect to the internet in the first place. A benefit of having Google Fiber in Provo, Curtis said, is that households see their internet costs come down and speeds go up as competition is benefitting consumers. Cities are averse to risk, and sometimes lack the capital to invest in broadband, but technology changes so fast that it requires constant upkeep, he said.
Not just about the money
Asked about his thoughts on recent federal legislation, including the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Biden’s $100-billion infrastructure plan (Jobs Act) for broadband, Curtis said it is important to invest in these initiatives, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything.
He said he wished he could bring Biden to Provo to take a look at Provo’s broadband progress, adding that “creativity and hard work make up for a multitude of sins.”
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