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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.

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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specific technologies in mind, but by the time the project is completed, the technology it hoped to leverage may be outdated.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.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

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Governors Discuss Infrastructure Bill Spending at Summit

Leaders addressed strategies and importance of private spending.

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From left to right: Jane Garvey, Tom Wolf, Lourdes Leon Guerrero, John Bel Edwards, Larry Hogan

ANNAPOLIS, December 2, 2021 – Governors from some states gathered in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss how they would use the billions in funding coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The three-day National Governor’s Association Infrastructure Summit, a large part of which was closed off to media, hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday. The panel included Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, Guam Democratic Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, and Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Edwards said that once Louisiana had received money from the infrastructure bill – signed into law in mid-November that would provide a minimum of $100 million to the states – the changes to broadband would be drastic. “We will be able to address [access and the digital divide] to a degree that was not be possible before.

“If there is a home or business [in Louisiana] without high-speed internet by 2029, it is because they do not want it,” Edwards said. He explained that because Louisiana identified the shortcomings in its broadband infrastructure and began laying the groundwork to improve it years ago, the state is more well equipped to take advantage of the funding that will come with the IIJA.

In early 2020, Edwards announced his “Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana” plan that outlined coverage priority areas, the guiding principles, and goals for the state’s approach to improved broadband connectivity. The state broadband office, Connect L.A., was formed to help put the plan into action.

As part of the state’s initiative to bridge the digital divide, Edwards’ administration created Louisiana’s Grant Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program, or GUMBO, to help underserved and unserved areas apply for federal funding for broadband projects.

Need for private investment

Wolf pointed to actions Pennsylvania is taking to ensure that funds are not squandered. “[The IIJA] is not an infinite amount of money and it is not nearly what our engineers say we need,” he said. To get the most out of the funding they receive, Wolf recommended that states create centralized infrastructure banks to only allocate money to approved projects and avoid both literal and figurative “bridges to nowhere.”

“Private investment is also critically important,” Hogan said. Indeed, all the governors sharing the stage encouraged states to explore public-private efforts. Edwards said he was hopeful that the IIJA would not tie states’ hands, preventing states from utilizing such models. “We need an approach that has the flexibility to work for us,” he said. “I hope the rules are not written in a way that requires us to do all of this ourselves [without private investment].”

The purpose of this gathering is to allow governors, their secretaries, and staff to meet, collaborate, and share their experiences to help states partner for regional infrastructure projects, prioritize projects, and learn to obtain the necessary resources from the federal government to complete said projects.

Hogan presented the opening keynote and participated in some of the first day’s events. Bipartisanship was one of the focal points of the summit, and Hogan hammered on it during his keynote.

“A lot of conventional wisdom was that a federal infrastructure bill could not be in a bipartisan way,” he said. Hogan said that the collaborative work governors did on a state and regional level proved this “wisdom” to be false, stating, “the nation’s governors will continue to lead the way.”

Waiting on the federal government

Hogan said that while the money in the IIJA will be “transformational,” there are still a considerable number of unknowns. “We are still waiting for guidance from the federal government,” he said. As it stands now, he said there is no precise timeline for when the funds will be dispensed or if certain monies will have rigid, unknown requirements that could hold up the process. “The devil is in the details,” said Hogan.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

“We will find a way to make use of every penny we receive,” he added, but said it was still unclear how much money the state would get or, where it could be used, and when the state would get it.

Hogan said Maryland’s efforts would be concentrated on repairing and modernizing infrastructure, while also devising new ways to streamline the deployment of future projects.

The NGA summit runs through December 2 and covers topics such as broadband, freight transportation, green infrastructure and supply chain issues.

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President Biden Signs Infrastructure Bill at White House, Touting Better Broadband

President Biden celebrated $65 billion for broadband deployment.

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President Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday.

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021 – President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, securing $65 billion for broadband deployment.

Biden declared that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would connect all Americans to the internet.

The legislation includes $65 billion in funding to “make high-speed Internet affordable and available everywhere, everywhere in America — urban suburban, rural — and create jobs laying down those broadband lines,” he said. “No parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant again just so their child can use the internet to do their homework,” Biden declared. “That’s over.”

Biden said the fundamental need for high-speed internet everywhere in America became clear over the past year. Comparing to internet access to utilities “as essential or water or electricity,” Biden said that remote learning during the pandemic highlighted the urgency for connecting all Americans.

“Is this not a great day to sign a bill?” said Denita Williams, an optical fiber maker in Wilmington, North Carolina who opened the event by highlighting that investments in infrastructure supports workers like her.

“One of the most exciting parts about this bill is the $65 billion upgrade to expand broadband in communities across the country,” she said. “Communities like mine, in rural north Carolina. This is a not just an investment in broadband. This bill will help everyone have access to the internet to teach their children, run their businesses, and help them run their farms.”

Biden also highlighted green energy technologies

The President also highlighted the law’s provisions that would increase the manufacturing and export of clean energy technologies. “It’s going to make it possible for Americans to get off the sidelines and into the game of manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries to store energy and power for electric vehicles, including electric school buses, which means millions of children will no longer inhale the dangerous diesel fumes at comes out of the buses.”

The cold and wind did not keep President Biden and his top advisors from gathering on the South Lawn of the White House. Governors and mayors from around the country attended. So did many equity advocates, such as Rev. Al Sharpton.

Additionally, more than a dozen Teamsters, journeymen, and other union workers attended the signing.

The crowd was electric. They cheered as Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivered their remarks.

They lauded the legislation as “historic” and described it as “once in a generation.” The Democrats at the event promised Americans that the infrastructure bill was only the first step to “build back better.”

“We will keep working with you, Mr. President, to build on today’s success by passing the rest of your ‘Build back Better’ agenda in the weeks ahead, so we can keep our promises to help families achieve the American Dream,” said Schumer, “This is a great day for America.”

“Our work is already underway, and we’re eager to engage with stakeholders in every state, territory, tribe, and community to ensure these programs succeed,” said Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and the National Telecommunications and Information administrator.”Under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary [Gina] Raimondo, we now have the resources we need to close the digital divide and make America more connected, more competitive, and more equitable than ever before.”

Ben Kahn, a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast, contributed to this report.

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Bigger Investment Needed for Next Generation 9-1-1 Services, Experts Say

Former head of NTIA said it could cost $12 billion.

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David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies and former head of NTIA

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021–– Experts at a Federal Communications Bar Association event earlier this month said the current funding allocation for next-generation 911 services is inadequate.

Currently, under the Joe Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, the new 911 services – which will allow people to share videos, images and texts with 911 call centers – is allocated $500 million.

“It’s not enough to fully fund 911,” David Redl, CEO of consulting group Salt Point Strategies, said on the FCBA’s “What Comes Next in 911” panel on November 4. Redl was formerly the head of the Commerce Department’s telecom agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Redl said the number could be “about 12 billion.” For Redl, the challenge is to address the funding gap for NG911 “when there’s skepticism in Washington and the [Federal Communications Commission and] when states have different ideas about the best way to allocate funding and best technology to use.”

Dan Henry, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, agreed.

While Henry said he’s excited about the national-level interoperability tools for call centers that will allow the ability to transfer emergency calls across states with the call’s incident file intact, the failure to get sufficient funding for NG911 puts health and safety at risk. “We’re not near what we need to get [NG911] across the finish line,” he said.

The technology to deploy NG911 is ready, added Chandy Ghosh, chief operating officer and general manager of emergency services at communications company Inteliquent. “It’s not a tech issue,” she said. Wireless clients have been testing NG911 with successful results.

Stakeholders need to communicate with government

Chris Moore, principal at consulting firm Brooks Bawden Moore, said a federal investment is required to deploy NG911. He suggested that industry stakeholders should convene to tell government what they need.

“For now we’ll get what we get, we’re going to continue to push for more funding, but it’s not going to be this round,” he said.

On October 26, the National Association of State 911 Administrators Association asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to assist with the implementation of NG911 by clarifying the agency’s authority to regulate the delivery of 911 services through internet protocol-based emergency networks and shift cost-bearing to service providers.

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