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Broadband Communities Summit 2021 Talks Future of Connectivity, Broadband Speeds

Conference, which hosted the Digital Infrastructure Investment show, digs into pressing connectivity issues.



NTIA's Scott Woods and Broadband Communities CEO Barbara DeGarmo.

HOUSTON, September 29, 2021 – As Broadband Breakfast held the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference, the Broadband Communities Summit that hosted the event brought together leading advocates to discuss the state of connectivity in the country and what is expected for internet speeds and technology going forward.

Scott Woods – senior broadband program specialist with the federal agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration and who led the conference with his keynote, “Envisioning our Digital Destiny” – lauded the progress that has been made since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he noted that progress has not been significant for everyone in society.

“Technology got most of us through the pandemic, but not all of us,” Woods stated. “Disparities became even more stark due to Covid-19.” He stated that even though many people were able to benefit from improved connectivity, elder, low-income, and non-white Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by inadequate broadband connectivity.

According to Woods, however, the NTIA is not content to sit on its hands. To rectify these inequities, the NTIA began three programs to address impacted communities. The NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity program, the Broadband Infrastructure program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot program represent more than $5 billion in funding that is being administered by the NTIA.

Broadband infrastructure must be scalable

Following Woods’ presentation, president of the Broadband Group Jeff Reiman presented on the value of “Tech-Enabled Communities.” He described technology and connectivity as “the third rail of real estate development” and “the importance of broadband has never been more clear,” he said.

Reiman stated that a recurring challenge faced by real estate developers was keeping up with technology. He explained that often an area is planned with specific technologies in mind, but by the time the project is completed, the technology it hoped to leverage may be outdated. Rather than designing projects around specific technology, Reiman advised developers to focus on building infrastructure that will enable the bandwidth demands of tomorrows’ technologies.

Additionally, Reiman addressed the ongoing discussion between aesthetics and high connectivity. Even though clients may want high density coverage for a community, Reiman explained that they may be disappointed with the aesthetics of the high number of antennas and other street furniture that will be necessary to support community-wide Wi-Fi.

Rather than compromise the aesthetics of a community or the quality of a network, Reiman suggested developers opt for high quality, targeted Wi-Fi that covers high traffic areas. Not only would this solution be cheaper, Reiman said, but it would also combine the best of both options for an overall superior and more visually pleasing service.

Technology and data for critical infrastructure

In her presentation later in the morning, Trilogy Networks chief operating officer Nancy Shemwell presented a more existential threat than real estate development: world hunger. According to Shemwell’s data, by 2050 there will be an additional 2.5 billion people on the planet—2.5 billion more mouths to feed.

Shemwell did not mince words; as it stands now, our technology infrastructure designed to facilitate enhanced agricultural yields is simply insufficient. In terms of the automated tools that are currently in use, she stated that although some of them are capable of simple tasks such as logging data and navigating around obstacles, they are not all that sophisticated, “[They have] got the capability to not run over the dog,” she joked.

To truly unlock the value of these automated technologies, Shemwell argues that farmers need access to faster networks than they currently have, and technologies like satellite will not be enough on their own. She said that to have drones capable of increasingly complex tasks, they will need up to and beyond a terabyte per hour for their level of data computation.

Shemwell predicts that to meet future demands in the agricultural sector, the U.S. must invest in technologies that will enable a minimum of 1.5 Gbps symmetrical service within the next decade.

Satellite capabilities overblown?

Rounding out the morning presentations, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association Gary Bolton came out of his corner swinging at Elon Musk, arguing that the satellite coverage offered by Starlink may actually be worse for communities than lacking coverage entirely.

Bolton explained his position, stating that as it stands now, unserved regions stand a good chance at qualifying for grants and other financial aid—whether that aid comes from a private, state, or federal sources. However, if these formerly unserved regions receive coverage from Starlink—coverage that some have deemed to be grossly insufficient—they may miss out on better opportunities to secure more reliable coverage, such as fiber optic.

Bolton stayed on brand, asserting that only fiber has the potential to serve any technologies that may be coming down.

“We do not even know what the applications are that will be coming out [in the future],” he said. Bolton has long maintained this position, in the past pointing out how nobody anticipated how a global pandemic could force the global economy inside and online.

Broadband speed standards

Bolton said two gigabits per second, symmetrical services will need to become the standard to continue to drive growth and facilitate the advent of new an ambitious services and technologies.

Despite this emphasis on speed, Bolton insisted that it is only one metric—one that is often used because it is digestible for lay consumers. He made it clear, however, that as speed continues to improve, so to must latency.

“[Speed] is only one parameter,” he said. “We need to be able to drive down latency to these [sub three millisecond] speeds.” Latency is the time it takes a device to communicate with the network.

“If it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband,” Bolton continued. “At the end of the day we really need a sustainable definition—fiber is the goals standard for everyone.”

The Broadband Communities Summit 2021 will continue, in-person and “masked-up,” from September 28 through September 30.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

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House Democrat Introduces Bill to Add Local Parks to E-Rate Program

The Technology in the Parks Act would also put parks in line for used computers and equipment from federal agencies.



Screenshot of Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois, at a House hearing on November 15.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – A House Democrat announced on Friday a bill that would fund broadband internet and devices for public parks.

The Technology in the Parks Act would expand the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program to include local parks. That program currently provides approximately $4 billion in yearly broadband subsidies for schools and libraries through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. Adding public parks would allow them to request government money toward the cost of internet each month.

The move is “crucial to bringing broadband access to these community spaces,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois, in a statement.

In an effort to provide devices on the subsidized connection, the bill would also put parks in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Computers for Learning program. That would give parks access to computer equipment no longer being used by federal agencies. 

The bill would also tap the Department of Labor to implement a grant program for “technology training programs” in local parks.

Similar programs aimed at helping people navigate and participate in online spaces are drawing funds from other federal agencies. The Commerce Department’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program makes room for states to fund digital literacy trainings, and its $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act programs are targeted at such efforts.

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North Carolina Releases Final Guidance on $100 Million Pole Replacement Program

Providers may receive up to $10,000 for each utility pole they replace in unserved areas.



Photo of Nate Denny, deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2023 – North Carolina’s broadband office released on Monday final guidance for its $100 million pole replacement program.

The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, will reimburse broadband providers for utility pole replacement costs. Expanding networks can involve attaching equipment to those utility poles. When a pole needs to be replaced to accommodate more equipment, pole owners typically pass the cost on to attachers.

Telecommunications companies have cited this extra cost as a barrier to quick broadband deployments, something utility companies dispute. The two industries have been in conflict on the issue for years, with both continuing to push the FCC to weigh in on a cost sharing regime.

North Carolina’s plan is an effort to smooth over the issue for future broadband expansion efforts, Nate Denny, the state department of information technology’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said in a statement. 

“It addresses a significant barrier to closing the digital divide in remote parts of our state,” he said.

Under the program, broadband providers can apply for 50 percent of the replacement cost for each pole replaced, up to $10,000 per pole. Pole replacement costs in unserved areas after June 1, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement. 

The program will kick off in February 2024 and accept applications from qualified providers.

The FCC has authority in 26 states over the terms of agreements between investor-owned utilities and telecom companies, which does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. The agency is set to vote on updated pole attachment rules at its December meeting.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: National Security and Global Success Depend Upon Prioritizing Telecom Funding

The Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program are both central funding needs for the industry.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

With the government now funded into the new year, it’s time for Congress to take another look at its broader priorities, especially when it comes to the race with China for dominance in next-generation technologies. Whether it’s AI or cloud computing or virtual reality, if the United States is to remain competitive, we need to make secure and effective communications a priority. This means finally connecting all Americans to high-speed broadband and ensuring that our connectivity cannot be undermined by foreign adversaries.

Two popular programs are central to this goal: the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program. Both of these programs have tremendous bipartisan, bicameral support; but both have been underfunded and now risk dying on the vine. Congress has the opportunity to fully fund these programs if it has the will to do so.

Let’s break it down.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides low-income American families and veterans with discounts on Internet service and connectivity equipment, including higher discounts for those living on Tribal lands. With affordable broadband, more Americans can get online and be a part of the digital economy.

The ACP has been wildly successful, connecting over 21 million households to essential broadband they could otherwise not afford. And it continues to garner widespread support, with the vast majority of voters (78%) calling for its extension, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 95% of Democrats.

Congress provided the ACP with $14.2 billion in 2021—but funding is now running low and is projected to be fully exhausted by spring 2024. Governors, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, public interest groups, and Internet service providers are all raising the alarm about its imminent depletion. That’s why the Biden Administration in October called on Congress to replenish the program’s coffers with an additional $6 billion.

A good start, but not the whole story. Our foreign adversaries are well known for their espionage, and while a spy balloon might get the attention, a far more insidious problem lurks in our communications networks: equipment designed and produced by Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE. A bipartisan Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Networks Act to eradicate national security threats such as these, but sufficient funding for the Rip and Replace program has never materialized.

Again, the Biden Administration has stepped up and identified a need for $3.1 billion to fully fund the program as a “key national security priority” in its emergency supplemental funding request. It’s a narrative we can all get on-board with: that broadband falls under the umbrella of national security as a whole. American consumers and institutions both benefit from American-built networks and increased protection at home. But communications providers can’t live up to these needs on their own.

As it stands, the responsibility to get affordable, secure connectivity programs across the finish line rests with Congress. Even with a consensus of support for these two programs, the devil is in the details of how to make the price tags palatable to enough policymakers on Capitol Hill. The key is ensuring that any changes preserve the widespread efficacy of the program that has made it popular so far.

For example, Congress could cut the cost of the ACP by limiting the additional Tribal funding to rural Tribal lands. Any such change should be grounded in an evaluation of existing need in urban areas, but could be an opportunity to ensure funds are being directed to areas of greatest need. And Congress should consider indexing the ACP to inflation. The high inflation of recent years has wreaked havoc on the budgets of consumers—and inflation-proofing the program would ensure that broadband remains affordable for all Americans even should inflation come back.

As for Rip-and-Replace, those of us urging for more funds could concede putting safeguards in place to ensure the money is being used for its intended purpose – the kind of compromise needed to get such policies across the finish line

These are just some ideas as we head into the final funding fight. Not everyone is going to be on the same page on what is and isn’t working best, but shared success starts by recognizing that we all have the same endgame. Congress must ensure that adequate funding for the ACP and Rip and Replace program are included in any year-end spending package. We have an all-too-rare opportunity to win the race for high-tech dominance—we just need to provide the resources.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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