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Dutch Pension Fund Manager Buys 16.7% Stake in SiFi, Invests $500M in Open-Access Fiber Networks

SiFi is getting an injection of funds to deliver open fiber to cities.

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SiFi Networks CEO Ben Bawtree-Jobson

WASHINGTON, September 7, 2021 – Dutch pension fund manager APG Group NV announced that it is buying a 16.7 percent stake in fiber network builder SiFi Networks and creating a joint-venture to rollout open-access fiber-to-the-home infrastructure in the United States.

APG’s $500-million investment in the joint venture will “contribute to bridging the digital divide in the US where over one-third of households do not have access to high-speed internet by offering fiber connections to those underserved communities,” a Tuesday press release said.

SiFi said it’s currently building FTTH networks in multiple cities and has construction agreements with “many more.” It said that it intends to spend billions of dollars over the coming years on these networks.

“SiFi’s networks enable future-proof connectivity and provide smart city solutions aimed at improving the quality of life and generating revenues and savings for cities,” the release said.

“APG is excited to announce an additional investment with SiFi that will position the Company to provide vital infrastructure to underserved markets and customers well into the future,” Patrick Kanters, APG’s managing director of global real assets, said in a press release. “This partnership also contributes to APG’s ambition to support digitalization and the energy transition, as fiber is more energy efficient than copper or cable.”

Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks, said in the release that, “Cities, Consumers and ISPs can all benefit from our citywide fiber optic networks. From enabling Smart City applications, driving economic development and closing the digital divide the advantages of becoming a FiberCity are staggering and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what is possible.”

Open-access networks provide third-party providers the ability to share the same fiber, which in theory increases the number of providers, enhances competition, and lowers prices.

SiFi has been trusted with millions of dollars over the years to build these networks. In September 2020, it launched its first fiber city on the east coast, in Salem, Massachusetts. At that point, the city of Fullerton, California turned on the first section of a citywide open access network built by SiFi, funded by the Smart City Infrastructure Fund.

The agreement comes as the industry advocates for more fiber buildout to sustain the future of connectivity, coming off – and still in the midst of — a national health crisis that has forced home the workforce and schools.

Broadband Breakfast hosted a panel on Wednesday that echoed a call for future-proofed networks through fiber and praised the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for broadband, for allowing the flexibility to scale up connectivity across the country.

Assistant Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet

Infrastructure

With State Plan and Federal Funds, California in Good Position to Close Digital Divide

Ernesto Falcon of the EFF says the state’s current plans, assisted by the IIJA, will connect everyone in the state.

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Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2022 – California’s current expansion plans plus federal infrastructure funding puts the state’s efforts to close the digital divide in a good position, counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Wednesday.

Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at fiber-access nonprofit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said on a Fiber for Breakfast event hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association that new money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help it focus its efforts on providing access to unserved individuals and work more to improve broadband speeds for those who have access to less than 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload – considered underserved.

Falcon remarked that California is making sure to place fiber infrastructure in urban markets rather than just focusing on rural markets – a common mistake made, he said, due to the perception that rural areas are in need of much less connectivity improvement than urban ones.

At the present, urban Los Angeles County is “contemplating how to deliver universal fiber,” he said. And at the same time, certain organizations are working to ensure rural areas do continue to receive sufficient focus, such as joint powers authority Golden State Connect Authority.

Much of California’s broadband policy is guided by its state broadband infrastructure law. Key pillars of the law to the state’s connectivity mission include authorizing the California Public Utilities Commission to help communities develop grants and feasibility studies, and to deploy both rural and urban exchange points through a middle mile fiber network.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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Funding

Infrastructure Bill Brings New Focus on Decision Making at Community Level

Funneling of infrastructure funds through states differs from Obama-era broadband programs.

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WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – Community broadband advocates say the ability for local governments to decide what can be done with broadband money from the recently-enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the best way to manage federal funds for broadband expansion efforts.

During a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday, leaders at community broadband advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance said this sets up a local community-based approach to connectivity, bypassing some of the issues with the Federal Communications Commission’s limited broadband maps.

Sean Gonsalves, a senior reporter, editor and researcher at the ILSR, said that local communities are the best source of information on where within their boundaries there are connectivity issues – far surpassing the knowledge of the FCC’s maps.

The infrastructure legislation, which became law in November, will provide a minimum of $100 million to each of the states to use toward broadband expansion. The states that have applied for American Rescue Plan money now have heaps of cash to work with fully connected their boundaries with high-speed internet.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the ILSR, said Wednesday that for many states the law “may solve almost all their rural broadband problems.”

Local approaches may also make it easier to hold accountable officials who do not effectively spend IIJA funds, Mitchell said, adding that was one component of the law that was missing from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark stated that the law’s structure of funneling money through states is noteworthy, as the notion of responsibility for individual states to enforce policy has long been a “conservative talking point.”

The panel noted that like RDOF, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program from Barack Obama’s presidency also differed from the IIJA in that it did not rely on individual states to dispense funds.

Mitchell attributes these differences in the IIJA in part to general trends toward decentralization in policy.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the January 19, 2022, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 12 Noon ET — The Community Broadband Network Approach to Infrastructure Funding

Community broadband networks will play a crucial role in the implementation of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, particularly the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, and the Digital Equity Act. This vital session of Broadband Breakfast Live Online will bring our friends from MuniNetworks.org, the Community Broadband Networks Initiative of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, to discuss the issues, trends and concerns they are following. What open questions remain about the IIJA rules? How do the Treasury Department’s rules on the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program interact with the IIJA program? What concerns should community networks have about the next stages of federal funding in their states?

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • DeAnne Cuellar, Community Broadband Outreach Team Lead, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Sean Gonsalves, Senior Reporter, Editor and Researcher, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Senior Researcher, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Christopher Mitchell, Director, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Please note: Our event on “State Broadband Officials and the Broadband Infrastructure Surge” has been moved to February 16, 2022.

Panelist resources:

DeAnne Cuellar is a tech equity advocate and communications strategist from San Antonio, Texas. She served as Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the City of San Antonio’s Innovation & Technology Committee, resulting in several policy and funding priorities to close the digital divide. As a social impact entrepreneur, she co-founded several cross-sector nonprofit initiatives, advocating for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion for historically underrepresented communities.

Sean Gonsalves is a longtime former reporter, columnist, and news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He is also a former nationally syndicated columnist in 22 newspapers, including the Oakland Tribune, Kansas City Star and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune. Sean joined the Institute for Local Self Reliance staff in October 2020 as a senior reporter, editor and researcher for ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken is Senior Researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. He is interested in the democratizing power of technology, systems engineering, and the history of science, technology, and medicine. Previously, Ry worked as an Adjunct Professor of American History in Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. Ry holds a Ph.D. in American History from Oklahoma State University.

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis. Mitchell, a leading national expert on community networks, Internet access, and local broadband policies, built MuniNetworks.org, the comprehensive online clearinghouse of information about local government policies to improve Internet access. Its interactive community broadband network map tracks more than 600 such networks. He also hosts audio and video shows online, including Community Broadband Bits and Connect This!, and Public Knowledge presented Christopher with its Internet Protocol award in 2021, which honors those who have made significant contributions to Internet policy.

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.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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