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.”
Ookla Fourth Quarter Report Puts T-Mobile as Fastest, Most Consistent Wireless Provider
T-Mobile ranks fastest mobile provider, improving on third quarter performance.
WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 — Metrics company Ookla reported Tuesday that speed test data from the fourth quarter of last year show that T-Mobile was the fastest and most consistent mobile operator, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top device in terms of popularity and download speeds, and Google is the top manufacturer when it comes to download and upload speeds.
The latest report, for the months of October, November and December, showed T-Mobile’s median download speed was 90.65 Megabits per second, while runner-up AT&T had a median download speed of 49.25 Mbps and Verizon came in at 44.67 Mbps. The District of Columbia had the fastest median mobile download speeds in the United States with 100.38 Mbps, with T-Mobile being the fastest mobile provider in 42 states.
T-Mobile also had a significant jump in terms of 5G performance, said the Tuesday report. In the third quarter, T-Mobile’s median 5G download speed was 135.27 Mbps, while Tuesday’s report shows their median 5G download speed was 187.12. Verizon came second with a median speed of 78.2 Mbps and AT&T was third with a median speed of 68.82 Mbps.
In the United States, the fastest popular device manufacturer was Google. Google’s median download speed was 60.82 Mbps, Samsung’s was 52.80, and Apple’s was 52.76.
However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was the most popular and fastest device overall, with a median download speed of 90.58 Mbps and the iPhone 13 Pro following closely behind at 89.61 Mbps.
In the report, only Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were mentioned as internet providers, and Apple, Google, and Samsung were the only device manufacturers included.
Each month, Ookla collects data from Speedtest users to report the internet speed at their location, and the data from those tests are used to generate their quarterly reports.
NTIA National Broadband Availability Map Expands to New States and Territories
Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico will join.
WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday it will expand its National Broadband Availability Map to include Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.
The NBAM, which now includes 38 states and two U.S. territories, is a geographic information system platform that allows for visualization and analysis of federal, state and commercially available data on broadband availability.
It is designed to better inform administrators’ broadband projects and funding decisions in their states.
Additionally, it includes five federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
In June, the NTIA also released to the public a digital map that includes key indicators of broadband needs across the U.S. This “Indicators of Broadband Need” tool “is the first interactive, public map designed to bring multiple third-party data sources together to help” public understanding of the digital divide and broadband affordability issues, the NTIA said.
The map shows overall great need for broadband access in the rural western U.S. compared to areas of the country such as the northeast and many parts of the Midwest.
Broadband Experts Agree on Multiple Datasets, Disagree on Level of Granularity for Maps
Two broadband experts on a Broadband Breakfast live event discussed data collection and specificity of mapping.
WASHINGTON, December 27, 2021 – Some experts are concerned that there is an overemphasis on the granularity of maps needed to rollout broadband in the country.
“I do not believe that trying to map every structure in the U.S. is the way to go,” said Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, during a Broadband Live Online event on December 22.
“Broadband maps cannot actually be fixed once and for all,” Wallsten said. “The information is always changing and the sorts of things we want to know are also changing.”
Several federal departments and agencies have broadband mapping tools, with the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration working on improving the accuracy and the specificity of their maps.
Wallsten recommended that data commissioners make very clear what questions are being asked and draw data from several datasets.
Wallsten argued that if the only question at hand is an attempt to determine the general trends of broadband adoption, existing FCC maps are likely already sufficient. “You can learn a lot more from data that is already available than most people realize.”
If the question relates to which specific regions and areas need investment, then more data is needed.
“We learn more by combining data in different ways,” he said. “I do not think we are doing enough of that.” Wallsten said that to get a fuller picture and understand trends and needs, stakeholders need to draw from many different sources.
“Do not expect any dataset – or any combination of data sets – to have all the answers,” Wallsten said. “We do not want to create a situation where we tell governments there is one master dataset.”
President of CostQuest Associates Jim Stegeman echo Wallsten’s statements on using multiple different datasets “to really zero in on the issues.”
But he dissented slightly from Wallsten on granularity. Stegeman stated that CostQuest had a proof of concept demonstrating address level service reporting to provide data on a location basis rather than the broader census block basis and the “one served, all served” mentality that the FCC maps have historically been dependent on.
According to CostQuest’s proof of concept, Stegeman said that future maps could have access to the “location of every broadband serviceable point in the country – the latitude and longitude of the building – to where we believe broadband service needs to be delivered.”
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the December 22, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, December 22, 2021, 12 Noon ET — When Will the Broadband Maps Get Fixed?
Now that the Infrastructure Investment Act of 2021 has been passed, states can expect to see the $65 billion for broadband infrastructure dripped out over the coming years. But to effectively allocate their resources, states must understand the full picture and be able to discern underserved communities from served communities and identify those communities that are completely unserved. During this event, we will discuss the current state of broadband mapping across the country and what needs to be done to improve it and ensure that this opportunity for historic infrastructure funding is not squandered.
Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:
- Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
- James Stegeman, President/CEO, CostQuest Associates
- Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
- Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them, by Drew Clark for Broadband Communities
- Rural Broadband Today: Broadband Mapping for Rural America with Bill Price, on Apple Podcasts
- LightBox Announces the Completion and Availability of Its Enhanced Nationwide Smart Location Fabric, from LightBox
- The Economics of Subsidies to Rural Networks, by Steve Parsons and James Stegeman for the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal
- State Broadband Expansion Programs – A Primer, from CostQuest Associates and Quadra Partners
- TPI Broadband Map, from Technology Policy Institute
- Broadband Maps for the States, from Technology Policy Institute
- TPI’s Broadband Connectivity Index, by Scott Wallsten
- Location Intelligence, from LightBox
- Unserved and Underserved in Maine, from CostQuest Associates
Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and also a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He is an economist with expertise in industrial organization and public policy, and his research focuses on competition, regulation, telecommunications, the economics of digitization, and technology policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.
James Stegeman, as President/CEO of CostQuest Associates, has been a major force behind the development of the latest generation economic cost models used by cable, telco, tower and wireless companies and state and government agencies in support of broadband deployment analysis. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Broadband Analysis Model (“BAM”) that was used by the FCC to develop and support the economic findings in the National Broadband Plan. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Connect America Cost Model (“CAM”, “CACM”, “A-CAM”) that is being used by the FCC to disburse more than $3 billion annually to fund broadband deployment and to set the reserve price in the RDOF and CAF II auctions. And most recently, he is leading the internal development of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, which was awarded to CostQuest by the FCC. This national fabric will provide the underlying locational dataset for the upcoming FCC Broadband Data Collection effort and resulting national broadband map.
Bill Price, Vice President of Government Solutions, is responsible for LightBox broadband data and mapping solutions for government. Bill has more than 40 years in telecommunications and technology services development and operations. His track record includes delivering the Georgia statewide location level broadband map, the first fiber metropolitan area network in the U.S., and launching BellSouth’s internet service. LightBox combines proven, leading GIS and big data technology to transform how decisions are made in broadband infrastructure planning and investment.
Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
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