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Experts Weigh What Future Of Broadband Could Look Like Under Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Experts at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event debated what “future-proofing” broadband would look like.

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April 8, 2021 – Experts in Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event debated what “future-proofing” broadband could look like and whether President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan can achieve it.

The White House’s new “American Jobs Plan” looks to fund $100 billion for broadband infrastructure in addition to other areas, and part of that plan “prioritizes building ‘future proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage,” said a White House statement.

Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association, said at Wednesday’s event that fiber is essential for all types of networks. “We do mobile wireless, we do fixed wireless, we use all sorts of spectrum in our toolkit, and all of these wireless networks are connected to fiber at some point, somewhere,” she said.

But Bennet also said there are exciting developments for wireless that is not specifically fiber. “There are a lot of exciting things going on in the wireless world right now that could future-proof networks,” she said. “That’s using software and virtualized networks so that you don’t have to change out hardware on antennas on towers anymore.”

Open radio access networks (Open RAN) are such systems, which use open protocol wireless technologies that prevent the industry from relying on proprietary supplies generated by few companies. Bennet said open RAN is showing promise.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, led a bipartisan effort Tuesday requesting $3 billion in Open RAN technology funding for the Biden administration’s annual budget request.

Doug Brake, director of broadband policy at the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said Wednesday he believes the policy needs to technology neutral.

Legislation should be flexible to allow the best solutions for an area that are needed, he said. When ‘future proofing’ comes up, he said he is worried that fiber and cable become the focus. While fiber is really important to getting many unserved areas connected, we shouldn’t lock ourselves into a single tool — we want the flexibility to solve the problem as its needed, he said.

Municipal versus private broadband

Brake also expressed concern that Biden’s plan would prioritize funds for local municipal and co-op broadband.

“We really need to leverage our private providers, particularly private providers that have large economies that scale,” he said. While municipalities and co-ops are great at filling needed gaps, “they don’t scale well outside the jurisdiction, they don’t invest in [research and development] to develop new access technologies; they don’t contribute to standards,” he said.

But Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, said Wednesday that, “We’ve seen first-hand the significant benefits and significant economic impact that fiber has when it’s deployed in communities,”. He referenced Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first city in America where gigabit-speed internet was offered in 2010. The city developed a municipally-owned fiber network that, according to a 2020 study by Bento Lobo at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, saw considerable return over the 10 years since its deployment.

“Fiber also delivers remote healthcare, online learning, public safety and provides a path for future services like 5G,” Bolton said.

On broadband affordability

Affordability is another piece of the broadband puzzle, and Biden’s proposal also seeks to address long-term cost issues. In a statement, the White House acknowledged the need for some short-term subsidies, but said that “continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers.”

Everyone needs to be able to afford broadband, Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at the advocacy organization Free Press, said Wednesday. “We want to talk about affordability and adoption, and we’ve done that in the mapping context, we’ve done it here, and I think that’s why this plan is so exciting to us,” he said.

Funding programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and the focus on affordability and adoption in Rep. Jim Clyburn’s bill and the LIFT America Act are key, he said. This is not one of those, “if you build it, they will come” situations, he said. Building “fabulous networks” in rural and urban areas that people can’t afford to use should not be the infrastructure goal, he said.

Bolton expressed support for Biden’s proposal to address long-term affordability issues, but he wants to see funding done well. “It pains me to see so much precious stimulus money going to subsidize ridiculously expensive, poor-performing broadband such as satellite in rural areas,” he said.

The details of the American Jobs Plan are still being developed, and the White House is discussing those details with a variety of members of the broadband industry, according to Bolton.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the April 7, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Billions and Billions: How to Spend Broadband Infrastructure”

On the heels of the Biden Administration’s unveiling of the American Jobs Plan, Broadband Breakfast will convene a special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event to take the pulse of the broadband industry on the core components of the administration plan:

  • Build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage. The administration’s plan prioritizes building “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage.
  • Promote transparency and competition. President Biden’s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge.
  • Reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption.

This measure is expected to allocate $100 billion for broadband infrastructure and adoption. This panel will consider and discuss the broadband parameters of the Biden plan.

Panelists:

  • Doug Brake, Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)
  • Gary Bolton, President and CEO, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA)
  • Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press
  • Carri Bennet, Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Doug Brake directs the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s work on broadband and spectrum policy. He writes extensively and speaks frequently to lawmakers, the news media, and other influential audiences on topics such as next-generation wireless, rural broadband infrastructure, and network neutrality. Brake is a recognized broadband policy expert, having testified numerous times before Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory commissions, as well as serving on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Group.

Gary Bolton serves as president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association — the largest trade association in the Americas dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. With more than three decades in the telecom industry, Bolton joined the Fiber Broadband Association as president and CEO in 2020 after serving on the association’s board as vice chairman, treasurer and vice chairs of public policy and marketing committees. Prior to taking the leadership role at the Fiber Broadband Association, he spent 11 years at ADTRAN serving as vice president of global marketing and government affairs.

Matt Wood currently serves as Vice President of Policy and General Counsel at Free Press, where he helps shape the policy team’s efforts to protect the open internet, prevent media concentration, promote affordable broadband deployment and safeguard press freedom. Before joining Free Press, he worked at the public interest law firm Media Access Project and in the communications practice groups of two private law firms in Washington, D.C. He has also served as an expert witness before Congress on multiple occasions.

Carri Bennet is an outspoken advocate for small rural carriers, having battled with regulators and large companies for more than 30 years to ensure that small rural businesses have a seat at the table and a strong voice in Washington, DC.  Bennet launched her own successful boutique communications and technology law firm prior to joining Womble Bond Dickinson in its Washington, DC office, and she also serves as outside counsel for the Rural Wireless Association and earlier as General Counsel and de facto chief operating officer of an international wireless carrier.  She represents her clients before the FCC, state regulatory agencies, the courts and Congress, and she regularly testifies before the FCC, Congress and the courts on rural wireless issues and speaks regularly at industry trade shows and legal seminars on cybersecurity, data privacy, spectrum policy, universal service funding reform, and business development and strategy issues for communications and technology companies.

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.

Fiber

New Public Broadband Association Criticizes NTIA Rules, Boasts Strong Start for New Group

While praising some aspects of NTIA rules, the group said that “we can’t take a victory lap quite yet.”

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Photo of (left to right) Scott Menhart of Traverse City, Bob Knight, Kim McKinley and Angela Imming at Broadband Communities Summit by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The America Association of Public Broadband on Tuesday praised many aspects of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules for spending the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but criticized some aspects of the regulations that will make it hard for cities to build broadband projects.

In a statement and press briefing at the Mountain Connect conference here, officials representing the association said that the $42.5 billion in spending under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program will “go a long way to address the high-speed broadband access and equity gaps plaguing American communities.”

The group is chaired by Angela Imming, who is responsible for a municipal broadband project in Highland, Illinois. The other four officers of the organization represent cities of Kitsap, Washington, Traverse City, Michigan, UTOPIA Fiber in Utah, and the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The statement and press conference were conducted by Kim McKinley, UTOPIA Fiber’s chief marketing officer and secretary of AAPB, and Bob Knight, a commissioner of economic and community development in Ridgefield and a member of the AAPB board.

But AAPB, a new lobbying group that aims to represent the interest of municipalities seeking to build high-capacity broadband, also highlighted many problems.

“But we can’t take a victory lap quite yet,” said McKinley and Knight on behalf of the group. In particular, “these challenges include a cumbersome application process with a letter-of-credit requirement which serve as steep barriers to entry for local government, nonprofits, and small ISPs.”

“Additionally, the multi-year rollout of BEAD funds leaves many high-speed broadband projects out in the cold, limiting the options for those deploying prior to 2024.”

Referring to comments that Alan Davidson, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said earlier on Tuesday, the group said, “We were pleased to hear Assistant Secretary Davidson say at Mountain Connect today that more refinement will be necessary and that the NTIA team is on the case. We look forward to working with NTIA to ensure that the interests of local, regional, and state entities are heard and acted upon.”

The association was first announced on May 4 at the Broadband Communities Summit, and the group provided updates on its progress on Tuesday.

In the three weeks since the association’s announcement, the organization said that $200,000 had been raised from the equipment vendor and non-profit community.

The group now has an advocacy and policy group that is working with federal and state leaders to advance the interests of municipal broadband, an education group, and a membership group.

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Open Access

UTOPIA’s Projects Proceeding in California and Montana, CEO Says

Both the GSCA and Yellowstone Fiber are using UTOPIA’s techniques to provide open access broadband over fiber.

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Barbara Hayes (left) and Roger Timmerman (right) speaking at Broadband Communities Summit 2022 on May 4

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 — UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model has found success in California, Montana, and Idaho as it continues to deploy across Utah, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

“Right now, we are working with [Golden State Connect Authority] to identify various pilot areas for the project and have started preliminary engineering work to determine the initial project area,” Roger Timmerman said at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022.

During the press conference, Timmerman also pointed to UTOPIA’s expansion into Santa Clara, Utah, and its completion of its original 11 Utah cities by the end of 2022.

Timmerman was joined by partners Barbara Hayes of the Golden State Authority and Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger as they delivered remarks on their joint ventures. The partnership will create the largest publicly owned fiber network in the US, and as it stands now, would span 38 of California’s 58 counties.

“California may be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but our state’s connectivity is decades behind,” Hayes said. “Investing in open access fiber will be transformative for California.”

Both Metzger and Hayes emphasized that their decision to partner with UTOPIA was largely informed by the company’s track record.

“We needed to have a partner who was successful and had done it before,” Metzger said. “For Montana, this is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Yellowstone Fiber, formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, is a not-for-profit that will replicate UTOPIA’s open access model to provide broadband to the greater Bozeman region; it will own and operate the fiber but will rely on UTOPIA for assistance on the backend.

UTOPIA’s model of open access has long been a point of interest in the telecom industry. While some claim it will be a solution to the digital divide, other assert that it has merely created a “race to the bottom” where internet service providers are constantly pushed to undercut their completion. Timmerman and others have pushed back against the “race to the bottom” assertion, claiming that providers can find ways other than price to distinguish themselves from their competition, such as superior customer service. Additionally, they point to their recent track record as evidence that critics’ concerns that they can maintain a positive cash flow are unfounded.

Though UTOPIA, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, now has positive revenue and has served as a model for open access projects around the country, critics still point toward its more than $300 million in outstanding debt it accrued in its early days, before Timmerman was at the helm.

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Fiber

Municipalities Generally Prefer Not to Own Broadband Builds, Conference Hears

Broadband leaders note cities prefer to partner than to own networks.

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Kenrick Gordon speaking remotely, with Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell in person at Broadband Communities Summit

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – During a panel discussion Monday, broadband implementation leaders said local governments are often much more willing to help a partner organization establish a broadband network than they are to oversee construction themselves.

Speaking at Broadband Communities Magazine’s 2022 summit in Houston, Kenrick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, said “most local governments don’t really want to own a broadband network” and prefer to partner up and support the build.

Gordon spoke alongside Deb Socia, the CEO of the Enterprise Center, a non-profit infrastructure partner based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is known as the “gig city” for its city-owned gigabit fiber network.

When asked about what makes a bad partner organization for local governments in infrastructure projects, Socia, who formerly led internet-expansion organization Next Century Cities, said those who are not trusted by members of the community will not make effective broadband providers.

Many organizations have the potential to overpromise to community members, for example giving earlier timelines for broadband builds than is required, Socia said. Gordon added it is common that the expectation among some community members is that broadband projects can be built faster than other infrastructure.

Screenshot of Kenrick Gordon, Catharine Rice, Will Aycock, Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell

Socia said trust can be garnered from the public by using a consistent script between all involved organizations, such as utilities and city government offices, so that questions can be answered in the same manner with accurate information.

She also outlined how Chattanooga was able to promote its broadband network on trusted and popular local radio stations, increasing familiarity with it in the community through on-air discussions.

Both Socia and Gordon, as well Catharine Rice, project director for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, stated the importance of maintaining relationships and partnerships, with Rice emphasizing the need to frequently speak to state broadband offices as they generally are quite interested in working to be helpful and improve how they do their job.

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