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NTIA Puts Up $288 Million In Broadband Infrastructure Grants

The NTIA will prioritize projects that bring broadband to greatest number of homes.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

May 20, 2021 — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday the availability of $288 million in grant funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure, which was established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

The grants will be awarded to partnerships between a state, or political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service.

Applications will be prioritized for projects in the following order: those that are designed to provide broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible area; those that provide broadband service to rural areas; those most cost-effective in providing broadband service; and those that provide broadband service with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps.

“As a former governor, I know that state and local leaders have the best understanding of the gaps in their broadband infrastructure,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “This program will allow states and localities to partner with providers to target this funding toward the areas where it is most needed and can do the most good.”

The announcement comes alongside President Biden’s recent infrastructure plan, in which over $100 billion is proposed to help build broadband infrastructure over the next eight years.

“NTIA has built durable partnerships with the states through our State Broadband Leaders Network, and with local governments and their broadband initiatives through our technical assistance offerings and other efforts,” said Acting NTIA Administrator Evelyn Remaley. “We are eager to put these relationships to work to ensure a successful program that expands broadband infrastructure in communities that need it most.”

Reporter Tyler Perkins studied rhetoric and English literature, and also economics and mathematics, at the University of Utah. Although he grew up in and never left the West (both Oregon and Utah) until recently, he intends to study law and build a career on the East Coast. In his free time, he enjoys reading excellent literature and playing poor golf.

Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Infrastructure

Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: Last Mile Digital Infrastructure

Topic 2 at DII2021 will consider new ownership models of digital assets. What role will cities and operators play?

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Panelists for Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021

September 16, 2021 – In 11 days, Broadband Breakfast will kick off Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at the Broadband Communities Summit on Monday, September 27, 2021.

This pathbreaking event brings the broadband infrastructure and financial services communities together to focus on the digital infrastructure and investment asset profile, including fiber, small cells, towers and data center assets required to support a 21st Century information economy.

This second session at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 – Topic 2 — concerns the way that ownership models of broadband assets are evolving. Who will play the lead role in constructing? What entities, including cities, will own digital assets? Who will manage the networks? The conference will kick off at 1 p.m. ET / 12 Noon CT, and this second panel is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. CT. Unlike other aspects of the Broadband Communities Summit, Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will be available both IN PERSON and LIVE ONLINE.

The session will moderated by Joan Engebretson, Executive Editor, Telecompetitor. This session and the others will will set the stage for a broader discussion that includes investment fund manager, institutional investors, venture capitalists and senior broadband leaders speaking in Topics 3 and 4 later in the day. Infrastructure investment funds, public-private partnerships, and the future of shared infrastructure will be considered in other panels at the event.

Topic 2 includes, as panelists, Monica Webb, Head of Market Development & Strategic Partnerships, Ting Internet; John Burchett, Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations, Google Access and Google Fiber; Carter Old, Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer, Tachus LLC; Ramiro Gonzalez, Director of Government & Community Affairs, City of Brownsville; and Julie Wheeler, President Commissioner, York County, Pennsylvania.

Visit Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 to register, and for the most up-to-date information about the mini-conference.

Panelists for Topic 2:

  • Monica Webb, Senior Director, Market Development and Strategic Partnerships, Ting Internet
  • John Burchett, Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations, Google Access and Google Fiber
  • Carter Old, Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer, Tachus LLC
  • Ramiro Gonzalez, Director of Government and Community Affairs, City of Brownsville
  • Julie Wheeler, President Commissioner, York County, PA
  • Joan Engebretson (moderator), Executive Editor, Telecompetitor

Monica Webb serves as the senior director of market development & strategic partnerships and oversees the expansion into new internet markets for Ting; whether by building FTTP networks, acquiring businesses, or through partnerships with network infrastructure owners, both municipal and private. Additionally, she direct Ting’s government affairs strategy in local markets.

John Burchett is the Head of Public Policy, Government and Community Relations for Google Access and Google Fiber. Before moving to Access/Fiber in 2016, Mr. Burchett led the public policy for Google in the US States, Latin America and Canada since 2007.  Prior to joining Google, he was Chief of Staff to Governor Jennifer Granholm where he acted as the Chief Operating Officer for the State of Michigan.

Carter Old is Co-founder, President and Chief Growth Officer of Tachus LLC, one of the fastest-growing privately-held FTTH companies in Texas.  He has a background as a co-founder in tech-focused startups, namely OmniEarth Inc. which sold to EagleView in 2017, and as an investment banker at Fieldstone Partners, where he co-led the Space and Ground Infrastructure finance group.  Before joining the private sector, he also served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy.

Julie Wheeler was elected to her first term on the York County Board of Commissioners in 2019. Julie grew up in York County and graduated from Dallastown Area High School. She earned a degree in biology from Randolph–Macon Woman’s College. She brings extensive business acumen. She started her career at Adhesives Research, and then went on to work for General Electric, where she most recently served as the General Manager for a medical device business.

Joan Engebretson (moderator) Joan Engebretson has been writing about technology and telecommunications since 1992. She is currently executive editor for Telecompetitor, a news website focused on broadband. Joan has a BA in journalism and an MBA from the University of Michigan. She has won awards for her commentary from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and in min’s Editorial and Design awards.

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 will take place at the Broadband Communities Summit, and online, on Monday, September 27, 2021. 

Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for the LIVE ONLINE version of Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the Member’s Rate of $149. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.

REGISTER NOW

The Broadband Communities Summit is ​the ​leading ​conference ​on ​broadband ​technologies ​for ​communities. It will take place in Houston, Texas, from September 27 – September 30, 2021.

The Summit ​attracts ​broadband ​system ​operators, ​network ​builders ​and ​deployers ​of ​all ​kinds. ​Many ​of ​the ​country’s ​major ​property ​owners ​and ​real ​estate ​developers ​attend ​the ​Summit ​each ​year, ​along ​with ​independent ​telcos ​and ​cable ​companies, ​municipal ​and ​state ​officials, ​community ​leaders ​and ​economic ​development ​professionals. ​

For more information on the Summit, visit Broadband Communities, as well as 2021 Travel & Hotel Information.

Broadband Breakfast Club Members receive discount pricing on both the Broadband Communities Summit and Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021.

Join the Broadband Breakfast Club and Register for BOTH the Broadband Communities Summit and the IN-PERSON Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 for the  Member’s Rate of $349. First month of Broadband Breakfast Club Membership included.

REGISTER NOW

 

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 Sponsors:

Platinum Sponsor

Lit partners with municipal, county and other governmental entities, as well as a variety of private partners to deploy last-mile fiber optic network infrastructure. Residents and businesses connected to our networks will receive service from a local internet service provider that delivers a local brand and promise of great service and customer support.

Gold Sponsors

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers.

 

Render Networks provides an entirely new approach to fiber deployment. Utilizing innovative geographic information systems (GIS), mobile and automation technology, Render’s platform and data management enable network operators, engineers and builders to deliver quality networks without the need for manual, paper-based construction packs. Render uses real-time geospatial data to provide increased control and visibility, resulting in significant resource productivity across the delivery lifecycle.

Silver Sponsors

SiFi funds, builds and owns FiberCity™ networks for use by Internet Service Providers, 4G/5G carriers and other service providers wishing to deliver ubiquitous high-speed broadband services to business and residential properties as well as connectivity for city-wide Internet of Things applications.

 

Created by a group of Utah cities, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) is a community-owned fiber optic network that uses the Open Access model to promote competition by giving customers the freedom to choose which telecommunication services they want.

 

Positron Access specializes in carrier-grade telecommunications products that increase bandwidth delivered and the distance covered within both core access networks and residential buildings using existing wiring infrastructure. These include line powered digital subscriber line amplifiers/extenders that double the customer serving areas and increase the bandwidth, G.hn Gigabit Access Mulitplexors (GAM) that provide managed non-blocking symmetrical gigabit bandwidth to subscribers in multiple-dwelling units/multi-tenant units over copper pairs or coaxial cables; and bonded copper solutions for mobile backhaul, core transport, access and edge aggregation.

 

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) has been on a mission over the last decade to forge partnerships and foster public policy to close the Digital Divide. This work has been strategically-focused, results-oriented, and people-centered. CETF is a leading proponent of the Digital Equity Bill of Rights

 

See Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Archives for a complete list of prior DII events, including DII 2020

To inquire about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, contact drew@breakfast.media.

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2020 took place online on August 10, 2020, from 1 p.m. ET to 5:30 p.m. ET. It was broadcast at the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

See Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Archives for a complete list of prior DII events, including DII 2020

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Infrastructure

Pandemic Possible Inflection Point in States’ Move Away from Restrictions on Community Networks

The number of states restricting municipal broadband networks has dropped during the pandemic.

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Photo of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee from June 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

In years past, states have implemented preemptive laws that make it more difficult or impossible for communities to build their own Internet networks.

These state barriers were often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies to limit competition, and include everything from outright bans on municipal broadband networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements which create legal uncertainty for communities attempting to offer telecommunications and Internet services, including via partnerships.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, there were 19 states maintaining significant restrictions on municipal networks. Today, the number of states upholding these barriers has been reduced to 17. The pandemic served as a turning point in the fight for local authority, and in the past year, Arkansas and Washington adopted legislation significantly rolling back legislative barriers on publicly owned broadband networks.

In February of 2021, both chambers of the Republican-dominated Arkansas State Legislature voted unanimously to send Senate Bill 74 to State Governor Asa Hutchinson, who signed the bill into law. The legislation grants government entities the authority to provide broadband services and expands the financing options available to municipalities to fund municipal broadband projects.

In May of 2021, Washington State Governor and Democrat Jay Inslee signed two bills expanding municipal authority to provide retail internet services to end-users, House Bill 1336 and Senate Bill 5383. Both bills reduce barriers to municipal networks, but House Bill 1336, which completely removes all previously-held restrictions on public broadband in the state of Washington, is expected to take legal precedence.

The recent progress made by Arkansas and Washington is extremely timely as more federal, state, and local funding is available to improve broadband infrastructure than ever before. Momentum for municipal broadband is mounting, but there is still a long road to travel to overturn the legal barriers which remain in 17 states.

Advancing, stalling and nearly retreating

Every year, bills aiming to expand the authority of local governments and municipal electric cooperatives to construct broadband networks are introduced in state legislatures. And every year, these bills stall, are withdrawn, and die as a result of the immense lobbying power of the private monopolies. In 2021, state legislators in IdahoMontanaMissouriTennesseeNebraska, and North Carolina, all introduced legislation to lessen state-held barriers against municipal broadband. Many of these bills died in committee after action on the legislation was indefinitely postponed.

To give an example, legislation (H.B. 422) introduced early on in Montana’s 2021 Legislative Session – which would have allowed the state’s local governments to own and operate community broadband networks – underwent a dramatic twist of fate when dozens of legislators who previously supported the proposal suddenly turned against it, causing the bill to die in a final House vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Rep. Kelly Kortumtold the Daily Montanan that he attributes its failure to 11th-hour lobbying efforts of incumbent telecommunications companies in Montana, which he believes were caught off guard by the vast support the bill initially received.  “I expected it to fail on the House floor. It didn’t, and then the lobbying really began,” Kortum said.

Next door, in Idaho, it has been a cable monopoly and local telephone companies that have pushed hard against municipal open access approaches that would create robust competition. In largely rural states, some local telephone companies are deeply afraid of competing in an actual marketplace.

Many states preserved previously-established barriers throughout 2021, but one state, Ohio, nearly became the first state in a decade to erect new barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks.

In June, the Ohio Senate included an amendment that effectively banned the creation of municipal broadband networks in its two-year, $75-billion budget bill. Thankfully, after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against it, the anonymously-added amendment was removed from the budget. The governor and lieutenant governor, both Republicans, spoke out against these limits on municipal broadband.

While some state legislators are working tirelessly to reduce barriers to municipal broadband, the largest ISPs are able to use their outsized influence and cash reserves to block legislation that would undermine their control over the broadband marketplace. “In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections,” reports Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America, in a recent study, Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide.

A partisan issue on the federal level

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan centered on bolstering nonprofit, municipal, and cooperative models to develop high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide. Unfortunately, in the sausage-making, the focus on community broadband networks was dropped and outspoken federal support for municipal networks largely quieted as the monopoly lobbyists descended on Congress and the White House.

This is representative of a disconnect that exists between congressional Republicans and Republican officials on the local and state level. While expanding local internet choice is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue at the local level, it is a highly partisan issue in Congress.

For example, in the same month that the Republican-dominated Arkansas State Legislature removed restrictions on municipal broadband, Congressional Republicans introduced a bill package attempting to ban communities from constructing their own networks and engaging in public-private partnerships nationwide.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have pushed to preempt states from enacting or enforcing laws that restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband networks. In March, congressional Democrats introduced the Community Broadband Act, which would prohibit banning or limiting the ability of any state, regional, or local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. However, the Democrats were ultimately not united in pushing that language into the infrastructure bill.

A web of legal barriers

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a web of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 17 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Tennessee bars municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Local governments in Missouri and Texas are limited to offering Internet access and no other telecommunications services. Montana and Pennsylvania state laws permit municipal networks, but only in unserved communities, with vague definitions of what that means.

In states that don’t expressly forbid municipal networks, state legislatures can still establish legal roadblocks that deter investment in community broadband networks. One of the strongest examples of this is North Carolina, where an array of burdensome restrictions and requirements “collectively have the practical effect of impairing public communications initiatives,” according to the Coalition for Local Internet Choice [pdf].

Other states, including Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina, require that municipal networks impute private sector costs, pay additional taxes, set excessively high prices, and/or refrain from subsidizing affordable service, in the name of protecting private “competition.” In other states, legislators have established stringent procedural requirements, including a prescribed bidding process in Michigan and community referenda in Alabama and Minnesota.

To learn more

To learn more about the legislative bans states maintain, check out this resource [pdf], maintained by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), which summarizes state barriers to public broadband as of July 2021.

CLIC’s list is focused on a more legalistic look at state barriers and still includes Washington and Arkansas, while they see how the law settles. The Institute for Local Self Reliance focuses on the 17 states where state limits significantly restrain municipal broadband networks and partnerships, while agreeing with CLIC that additional states have barriers that can also discourage investment.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper, a reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally appearing at MuniNetworks.org on September 15, 2021, the piece is republished with permission.

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