August 31, 2021–The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the existing digital divide that exists across the country.
Both on the state and federal levels, lawmakers have come together in acts of bipartisanship to pass legislation with historic levels of funding and resources to improve digital literacy, narrow the “homework gap”, and build affordable broadband infrastructure in locations often overlooked in the past.
In fact, some states have passed legislation during the pandemic to approve a broadband office, bringing all 50 states to have created either a task force, commission, or authority to coordinate broadband expansion.
As the country awaits the House’s return in September, on which it will decide what it will do with the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill, Broadband Breakfast looks back at what five states have done to bridge the digital divide.
In June, the House proposed a $190 million budget granted toward expanding residential broadband across the state of Ohio.
In the spring, the state took steps to connect the more hard-to-reach homes by providing $20 million for the new Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program, known as H.B. 2. The allocated money funded projects that providers consider unjustifiable from a business perspective.
This summers’ House version of the budget included another $190 million, but Senate Republicans excluded that funding in their proposal. The final budget agreement “axed a proposal to limit local governments from offering broadband services,” the Columbus Dispatch wrote.
In June, during deliberations over the budget, the Ohio Senate approved a version with language that would have forced existing municipal broadband services to shut down and prevented the formation of new public networks.
Under that language, many of the municipal broadband programs in cities such as Fairlawn, Hudson, Medina, and Wadsworth would not be allowed to operate if a private-sector company operate in the area. This could have been damaging to municipalities from being able to accept federal funding for the purpose of starting a broadband program.
Under H.B. 110, the state budget bill was signed into law by Governor Mike Dewine on June 30, and took effect on July 1. The final version of the bill determined that the residential broadband expansion grant program will receive a total of $250 million: $210 million in fiscal 2022 and $30 million in fiscal 2023. The final language in the budget bill also stripped out the Senate’s proposed limits on existing and future municipal networks.
In mid-May, the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously approved a $750 million broadband expansion fund known as House Bill 947, just days after Governor Roy Cooper announced $1.2 billion in federal relief dedicated to closing the state’s digital divide.
The governor has said broadband access is a priority for his administration and announced in July the creation of a new office of Digital Equity and Literacy, a first for North Carolina and the first in the nation. This program is part of the newly created Division of Broadband and Digital Equity within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), to spearhead Cooper’s plan in American Rescue Plan funds to close the digital divide in the state by 2025.
HB 947, also known as the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology — or G.R.E.A.T. Broadband Expansion Act — appropriates $350 million from the state’s fiscal recovery fund to the existing G.R.E.A.T. program, which was established in 2018 to fund broadband infrastructure construction. The bill also clarifies that $400 million will be set aside from federal stimulus funding in a future bill to create another grant program, called the Completing Access to Broadband Grant program.
Governor Greg Abbott said broadband access is one of his priority items for the Texas’ legislative session this year.
On July 13th, the Governor signed House Bill 5, which aims to provide and an expansion of broadband services to certain areas. A large portion of the Texas Broadband Bill includes the creation of a broadband development office. This was one of the few pieces of legislation that passed with strong bipartisan support in the highly partisan legislature. The bill received unanimous legislative committee support from the beginning.
Co-author of the bill and Republican Representative Hugh Shine said in an announcement in March: “I don’t think the ‘work-from-home’ mentality is going away as the pandemic comes to an end. Businesses no longer have to relocate to a major city, and employees don’t have to work in an office for many businesses. It is important for our economy across Texas that we have access.”
The new broadband development office plans to provide a comprehensive solution to broadband access for the lack of connectivity among millions of Texans. The program has announced a mission to providing long-term solutions to complex challenges including educating rural communities in digital literacy, keeping services affordable, and implementing the new 5G standard.
Governor Ralph Northam announced in July he wants to spend $700 million of Virginia’s federal relief funding on expanding broadband access to all of Virginia.
The general assembly and Northam have agreed to provide $50 million in 2020 and an additional $50 million in 2021 to the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, a public-private partnership to extend broadband service to areas currently without internet providers.
This month, the Virginia General Assembly convened in Richmond for a special session to allocate the federal funding, which was expected to last around two weeks with broadband being a key priority for state senators.
In July, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 156 to advance the state’s commitment to bridging the digital divide by increasing equitable, affordable access to high-speed internet service across California.
The $6 billion investment is a part of the comprehensive California Comeback Plan, a plan of recovery following the pandemic, and intends to expand broadband infrastructure and enhance internet access. The funding is divided to conquer the digital divide by giving $3.25 billion to build, operate and maintain an open access and state-owned middle mile network – high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at higher speeds over longer distances between local networks.
Two billion dollars will be allocated to set up last-mile broadband connections that will connect homes and businesses with local networks. The legislation expedites project deployment and enables Tribes and local governments to access this funding. Lastly, $750 million is allocated toward the state’s new “Loan Loss Reserve” program to bolster the ability of county governments and municipalities to issue broadband bonds to finance their own fiber.
This bill is unlike any other legislation that California has previously passed in its effort to close the divide because it does not include the involvement of private companies such as AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, and Charter.
“This is an essential first step towards reaching near-universal fiber access because it was never ever going to happen through the large private ISPs who are tethered to fast profits and short term investor expectations that prevent them from pursuing universal fiber access. What the state needed was to empower local partners in the communities themselves who will take on the long-term infrastructure challenge,” said Ernesto Falcon, a senior legislative council at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“This broadband package is historic. It transcends politics, and it will be a legacy project that will benefit generations of rural and urban residents alike,” said Newsom in a press release last month. “This legislation will yield vital, broadened access for California families by prioritizing the unserved and underserved areas, facilities, households, and businesses that remain disconnected in the digital era.”
Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts
Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity
September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.
Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.
Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.
Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.
This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.
Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress
Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.
Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.
Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”
In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.
However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.
The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.
“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”
It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”
The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.
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.
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.
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.
Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 — A ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband
BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the September 15, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 12 Noon ET — BroadbandNow Presents a ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband
As part of its efforts to provide the latest research on the social, economic and political issues contributing to the digital impact and the impact of broadband on everyday life, BroadbandNow is launching a new survey among broadband leaders enthusiasts. Think of this as a “consumer confidence” survey for broadband.
Recently, there have been many changes regarding broadband at the federal, state, local and industry levels. BroadbandNow and Broadband Breakfast aim to launch the survey at a presentation during Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, a mini-conference at the Broadband Community Summit in Houston, Texas, from September 27-30, 2021.
Join us on September 15, 2021, for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online preview of the survey with John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow, and Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.
Panelists for the event:
- John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow
- John B. Horrigan, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute on Broadband & Society
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast
- “Access and Impacts: Exploring how internet access and home and online training shape people’s online behavior and perspectives about their lives,” by John Horrigan
- For BroadbandNow’s open data set on availability, affordability and speed: https://github.com/broadbandnow
- To contribute or to ask questions about the BroadbandNow survey, please reach out to email@example.com.
- John Busby is the Managing Director of BroadbandNow.com, where millions of consumers find and compare local internet options and independent research is published about the digital divide. Prior to BroadbandNow, John held senior leadership positions at Amazon and Marchex. John holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University.
- John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, with a focus on technology adoption and digital inclusion. Horrigan has served as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
- Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. As a journalist, Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband, and – building off his work with Broadband Census – was appointed Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
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. BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search for consumers.
- Broadband Breakfast Interview with Tyler Cooper and Jenna Tanberk about Open Data Set from Broadband Now, November 20, 2020
- Broadband Breakfast Interview with BroadbandNow about Gigabit Coverage and Unreliable FCC Data, December 27, 2020
- Broadband Breakfast Interview with BroadbandNow about Lower Costs and Lower Latency, February 25, 2021
- Broadband Breakfast Interview with John Busby of BroadbandNow About FCC Data Errors, July 1, 2021
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
- Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?
- Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates
- Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
- Washington’s Antitrust Push Could Create ‘Chilling Effect’ on Startups, Observers Say
- Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership
- Topic 4 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: The Future of Shared Infrastructure
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