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Sen. Bennet Says Coloradans’ Complaints About Poor Broadband Drove Passage of Infrastructure Act

Expanding access to broadband has been at the top of many of Colorado’s local, state and federal legislators’ agendas.

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Photo of Michael Bennet from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for Coloradans to get better broadband, and the reactions that people felt as a result of their poor experiences with broadband motivated Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to craft legislation that ultimately led the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Speaking at the Mountain Connect conference here, Bennet traced the history of how grass-roots reactions to the problems of poor broadband translated into legislation.

”Wherever I went in the state, whether it was rural, suburban, or urban, broadband kept coming up again and again,” Bennet recounted. “People constantly told me that broadband was too slow or too expensive to be of much use to their family, their farm, or their small business.”

A few months into the pandemic, he introduced the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act, a piece of legislation that would have allocated $40 billion in federal funds to states, Tribal Governments, and U.S. Territories.

Although the BRIDGE Act did not pass the 117th Congress, the language of the bill had a major influence on federal broadband policy that followed it, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed the Senate in August and the House in November. The measure was signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021. It led to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program, the details of which were released on May 13.

BRIDGE Act a precursor to IIJA

The BRIDGE Act served as a precursor to the BEAD program in two regards. First, it put states in the driver’s seat to disperse federal funds in the place of federal agencies, under the theory that states have the best understanding of their surrounding communities’ needs.

Second, the BRIDGE measure significantly raised broadband speed standards, more than quadrupling the FCC’s long-held 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload standard by requiring that projects funded under the Act deliver no less than 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband connections.

IIJA upped the dollars spent on broadband by the federal government, but it dropped the speed requirements to 100 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up.

Other Colorado-focused broadband measures

Colorado state legislators are also active in other broadband measures, as outlined by Brandy Reitter, the executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office, and others speaking at the conference.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis issued a state executive order directing the Colorado Broadband Office to develop a strategic plan to connect 99% of Colorado households to high-speed Internet access by 2027.

Colorado’s most recent legislative session saw increased activity in the broadband space, with much of the legislation passed aimed at expanding broadband initiatives across the state in order to achieve the governor’s goals.

One key piece of legislation was House Bill 21-1289, which invested $75 million dollars of the state’s American Rescue Plan funds toward digital inclusion programs. Of that allocation, $35 million dollars went toward digital inclusion projects, including $20 million allocated to the Southern Ute Mountain Tribes; $15 million was invested in telehealth and telemedicine; and $35 million was allocated to a broadband stimulus grant program, to which ISPs and other providers can apply to access funding.

The final $5 million of the funding was allocated to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the Digital Connectivity Program, which communities interested in building middle-mile broadband can access.

Senate Bill 21-60 allocated an additional $5 million to digital inclusion grant programs, managed by the Office of eHealth Innovation, and specifically set aside funding to offer discounts of up to 50% to Coloradans with telemedicine bills.

House Bill 22-83 set the framework for the Colorado Department of Transportation to put systems in place for permitting and use of rights-of-way.

Finally, House Bill 22-1306 shortened the time frame the Colorado Broadband Office reviews grants in from a 60-day timeframe to a 45-day time frame. This bill helps mitigate supply chain issues, as the price of supplies can often escalate by 10 to 20% within an additional 15 days.

Reitter said that these measures help state of Colorado to participate actively in every federal funding program possible,.

The state plans to take advantage of the NTIA’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program, and hopes to receive up to $700 million in funding from the program, based on data from the Colorado Broadband Office.

“We think this is a real opportunity to keep continuing the investment in broadband,” Reiter said of the BEAD program.

Spectrum

Agency Leaders Urge Improvements to Spectrum Management

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel advocated for bills that would make better use of spectrum.

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Photo of Matthew Pearl of the FCC, Derek Khlopin of the NTIA, Anna Gomez of Wiley Rein LLP (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2023 – Agency leaders at speaking at a Public Knowledge conference Thursday said more needs to be done to bring spectrum management up to speed, as a issues outlined by a decades-old task force report are still pertinent today.

Receiver standards continue to prohibit innovation, barriers remain for a national spectrum strategy, and spectrum frequencies are becoming more crowded and valuable, said panelists at the event, pointing to challenges outlined by the 2002 Spectrum Policy Task Force.

“[The task force recommendations] were spot on but they also identified a lot of persistent challenges that remain today,” said Derek Khlopin of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “I don’t think that it means we haven’t made progress.”

Technology, use cases, and standards will constantly evolve, added Matthew Pearl of the FCC. “We need to constantly assess them and be very nimble while at the same time honoring the principles like flexibility to all users.”

Suggested steps for improvement

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, speaking at the event, suggested three areas of improvement for spectrum innovation.

First, she advocated for the Spectrum Innovation Act, a bill introduced to the House in September and awaiting committee approval that would make available new airwaves for commercial wireless broadband.

Second, Rosenworcel suggested that the FCC update the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, which encourages federal users to clear spectrum by establishing a spectrum relocation fund to reimburse agencies operating on airways that are allocated for commercial use.

She also suggested that federal relocators can be given a broader range of options to update their capabilities when they relocate. These changes could “help avoid spectrum disputes and smooth the way for reallocation of airways.”

Third, “we should explore receiver performance.” The efficient use of our airways is a two-way effort and low quality receivers will make it difficult to introduce new services in the same frequencies. The FCC recently launched a new inquiry on receiver performance.

These suggestions come a week after a House subcommittee on communications and technology advanced two bills for floor votes that would provide the NTIA with resources to develop “innovative spectrum management technologies.”

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Funding

Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’

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Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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Fiber

Google Fiber Says it Welcomes Overbuilding, Competition for Lower Prices and Better Services

Comments were made at the Fiber Connect conference last week.

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Photo of [left to right] David Wade of EPB, Tarryl Clark of NACO Telecommunications and Technology, Jay Winn of Lumos/NorthState, Robert Conger of ADTRAN, and Linda Hardesty of Fierce Telecom, by Drew Clark

NASHVILLE, June 21, 2022 – A representative from Google Fiber said Wednesday at the Fiber Connect conference that the company is encouraged by competition in the fiber space because it leads to partnerships, lower costs for consumers and greater coverage.

Jessica George said that more partners and more people working in the broadband space will encourage more competition, which will drop prices and increase speeds.

She added that Google has been a long-time proponent for overbuilding, where providers build their infrastructure in areas already covered. More competition in the fiber space promotes overbuilding, which ensures greater coverage and connectivity for consumers in that area, she said.

Jay Winn, chief customer officer at fiber provider Lumos Networks, added that Lumos’s strategy is to be “first with fiber” by connecting all homes and businesses in its territory to fiber – at the cost of occasional overbuilding.

Ultimately, the conflict lies between companies that oppose greater competition in favor of protecting their territory and those that encourage competition in favor of creating more opportunities for their consumers, said George.

“What do [ISPs] really believe makes this industry, makes our world, makes our communities better?” asked George.

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