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Alabama, New Mexico Voters Eye Constitutional Amendments for Broadband Funding

Two states will allow midterm voters to chime in on state funds for broadband deployment.

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Photo of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

Alabama and New Mexico voters will soon be given the midterm option of changing their state constitutions to help boost broadband funding and deployment, albeit in notably different ways.

In Alabama, voters will head to the polls on November 8th to vote on a Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment that would amend the state’s constitution “to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act and award such funds to public or private entities.”

County leaders have spent much of this year warning that Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution bans the state from granting public money or “things of value” to local governments for public and private use. That’s a significant problem when it comes to the $276 million in ARPA funds Alabama Governor Kay Ivey earmarked for broadband expansion last March.

Programs such as the USDA’s ReConnect and the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund haven’t run afoul of the Alabama Constitution because they both involve the federal government directly doling out funds for broadband expansion. But ARPA funding allows local municipalities to distribute a portion of state-allocated funds.

“The legislature shall not have power to authorize any county, city, town, or other subdivision of this state to lend its credit, or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association, or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in any such corporation, association, or company, by issuing bonds or otherwise,” the Constitution reads.

Modifying the state’s constitution requires a three-fifths vote by the Alabama state legislature and a public vote. If approved on November 8, the Alabama constitution will be amended to read:

“The state, a county, or a municipality is authorized to grant federal award funds or any other source of funding designated for broadband infrastructure by state law to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expanding broadband infrastructure. The granting of funds by a county or a municipality to a private entity pursuant to this section must be approved at a public meeting held by the appropriate county or municipality.”

Alabama’s $276 million in ARPA funding for broadband is being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The state is also expected to get upwards of $2 billion dollars through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Amending the state constitution to allow for county and city governments to use public funds for the expansion of high-speed Internet service has the backing of the Alabama League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

Another indication the measure is likely to pass at the ballot box: the bill to put the amendment on the ballot, sponsored by Republican State Rep. Randall Sheddpassed both houses without a single dissenting vote.

New Mexico

New Mexico voters are also being asked to modify the state Constitution to ensure the easy flow of broadband funding. A 1900s era portion of Article IX of New Mexico’s constitution restricts “lending, pledging credit, or donating to any person, association, or public or private corporation.”

The proposal, which was approved by the New Mexico state legislature last February, would add an exception to the state’s anti-donation clause to allow the state legislature to appropriate state funds through a majority vote in each chamber for infrastructure that provides essential services such as water, sewer, electricity, and broadband.

If passed, the New Mexico Constitution would be amended to read:

“Nothing in this section prohibits the state from expending state funds or resources for the purpose of providing essential services primarily for residential purposes if the assistance is granted pursuant to general implementing legislation approved by a majority vote of those elected to each house of the legislature. The implementing legislation shall provide for accessibility to essential services primarily for residential purposes and include safeguards to protect public money and other public resources used for the purposes authorized in this subsection. As used in this subsection, ‘essential services’ means infrastructure that allows internet, energy, water, wastewater or other similar services as provided by law.”

FCC data indicates that 42 percent of New Mexico residents still can’t access broadband and the FCC’s already dated definition of 25 Megabits per second downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The dated provision in the state constitution has helped contribute, effectively hamstringing the subsidization of private sector rural broadband deployments.

“I’m confident that the voters will support this important measure to improve access to essential infrastructure for every New Mexican,” New Mexico state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos,  told media outlets earlier this year. “Every family should have access to clean water, reliable electricity and broadband internet.”

Earlier this month, Chandler co-authored an op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal with State Rep. Anthony Allison, that urges voters to pass the amendment to “give our state the ability to better grow, attract and retain job-creating businesses, and increase the power of small- and home-based businesses to compete in local, national, and even international, markets.”

The editorial board of the Albuquerque Journal concurred, reminding voters that it was the state’s “anti-donation clause prohibitions” that prevented New Mexico from being able “to leverage 2009 federal broadband money.”

Authored by Karl Bode, this article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Broadband Networks Project on October 24, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

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Broadband Mapping

Garland McCoy: Some State Attorneys General Are Preparing to Take the FCC to Court

While some will “cash out,” other state broadband officials will seek the full measure of federal broadband infrastructure funds due.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Garland McCoy, Executive Director of Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance

Let me start by saving the time of those state broadband officials who are going to accept the recently released FCC Broadband Map Data at face value and take NTIA’s “cash out,” and in doing so, forgo participation in the available FCC challenge process. For those state broadband officials, the insights, and recommendations I provide below will be of little interest to you. 

If the past is any prelude to the future, the Internet Service Providers will use the same challenge criteria to successfully throw out the crowdsourced and bulk data that states have gathered for their own maps. As I detailed in my recent article on Broadband Breakfast, the FCC published specifications for its challenge process on September 15, 2022.

This directive gives ISPs authority to challenge data drawn from their respective service territories, leaving states with little choice but to accept the FCC’s map. The only notable exception is California, which has put in place its own statewide device-driven data gathering methodology, and we consider its data as likely challenge-proof. 

Not all is lost for states seeking to challenge the FCC’s maps

But all is not lost for other states. By the end of the first quarter of next year I firmly believe there will be some state broadband officials who will seek to pursue the full measure of federal broadband infrastructure funds due them, and not simply acquiesce to a smaller portion of funds that is supported by the flawed FCC map.

I base this assumption on new methodologies now available to states, which will bring the same type of credible validation and metering to broadband service at the end-user level that has been available, and required, for decades with other important utilities such as electricity, water, and natural gas. In other words, these methodologies will allow consumers to determine if they are getting true broadband speed connectivity – and frankly whether or not they are getting what they are paying for.

These state broadband officials have reviewed the recently released FCC broadband map and have compared it to their own respective state broadband maps. And not surprisingly, what they are finding is an FCC map that vastly overstates the amount of broadband connectivity in their states, and in doing so, vastly reduces the amount of federal dollars that state will receive. And these differences are significant. It could mean as much as a loss of tens of millions of dollars in smaller states and up to half a billion dollars or more for larger states. 

What these state officials will ultimately find is irrefutable evidence that many of the ISPs doing business in their state have been systematically providing significantly less service speed and quality than their customers’ terms of service agreements stipulate.

States are beginning to work with their state attorneys general on lawsuits

Knowing this and considering how the FCC has not run a transparent and straightforward process – and has used the calendar in a way to run out the clock on states, you can see why some state broadband officials have begun working with their state attorneys general to not only prepare to challenge the FCC data, but to take their case to court. 

Consider the calendar issue alone: The FCC released its long-anticipated new map data on November 18, 2022, and is giving states until January 13, 2023, to respond – with the major holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s falling in the interim.

If you are one of these state broadband officials currently considering your options to challenge and/or litigate, then we can play a vital role in your efforts. You will need to ensure that your state broadband map data is litigation-ready by putting in place bullet-proof methodologies and highly credible network monitoring devices/meters. This data can be used to support your case for the full broadband infrastructure funding that your State is entitled to receive.  Additionally, these same devices and methodologies can be used to support any state lawsuits against ISPs for false/deceptive advertising and breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of customer “terms of service” contracts. 

Importantly, our device-driven methodology also focuses solely on the premium customers of ISPs in rural counties of a state, which establishes what FCC refers to as the “available service” for a given ISP’s service territory. 

You have the power to truly close your state’s broadband connectivity gap by fully utilizing the historic level of federal infrastructure funding that has been set aside for this purpose, which in turn will bring accountability and equity to broadband network services for your citizens. 

If you want a citizen-centric partner in these initiatives, please visit our website and contact me at the email address provided below. PAgCASA is a non-profit organization focused on promoting rural prosperity, and we are utilizing industry standard network monitoring/metering devices, same as used by the largest ISPs, litigation-ready methodologies, and an expert team and partnerships to accomplish our goals.

Garland T. McCoy, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a long-time non-profit veteran in the fields of technology and telecommunication policy having served as Founder and CEO of the Technology Education Institute. Garland was recently an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s iSchool, teaching information policy and decision making, and can be reached at garland.mccoy@pagcasa.org. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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Satellite

LEO Technology Could Connect the Unconnected, Although Capacity Questions Remain

Unlike geostationary satellites, LEOs offer a connection that can support real-time communication.

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Screenshot of Internet Society Director of Online Content Dan York

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2022 — Low earth orbit satellites have the potential to provide life-changing connectivity for rural and underserved users if they can overcome issues of affordability and sustainability, according to Dan York, director of online content for the Internet Society.

Speaking at a Friday event hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network, York explained that LEO technology can help to not only connect the two billion people worldwide who are unserved but also improve connectivity for the underserved.

Traditional geostationary satellites can provide some connectivity, but the high latency prevents uses like video calling or online gaming. LEOs offer a low-latency, high-speed connection that supports real-time communication.

In addition to being an interim solution while fiber buildout takes place, LEOs can provide redundancy during disasters and other outages, said Don Means, director of the Gigabit Libraries Network.

York agreed, noting that LEO satellites played an important role in providing connectivity during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian or during wildfires in California.

“Starlink makes it super easy because they can bring one of their trailers into a location, put up a Starlink antenna on the top, bring that connectivity down and then they can share it locally with Wi-Fi access points or cellular access points so people can be able to get that kind of connectivity — first responders, but also people in that local community.”

LEO satellites can provide connectivity even for certain locations that lack a ground station by using inter-satellite lasers, York added.

There are three primary LEO system components. Satellite constellations are made up of hundreds or thousands of satellites, launched into orbit and arranged into “shells” at various altitudes.

User terminals facilitate the transmission and receipt of data to and from the satellites. The antennas are “electronically steerable,” meaning that they can track multiple satellites without physically moving.

The final LEO system component is ground stations, also known as gateways, which are the large antennas and facilities that connect the satellites to the internet.

Advances in rocket technology are driving an increase in LEO satellites, York said. For example, SpaceX is reusing rockets, making launches less expensive. The relatively smaller size of LEO satellites means that they can be mass produced using assembly lines.

However, affordability is still a barrier to widespread adoption, York said. Another challenge is competition with mobile telecom companies for spectrum allocation. ISOC recently released a study discussing these issues and making recommendations for their resolution.

There is also still some uncertainty about the capacity of these connections, York said, pointing to anecdotal reports as well as an Ookla study showing that Starlink’s capacity had decreased in certain areas.

“How much of that is growing pains while Starlink continues to build out the rest of its constellation, versus how much of it might be inherent limitations within the systems?” he asked. “We don’t know. I think we probably won’t know until more of these systems get up and are launched.”

Despite these questions, York was optimistic about the promise of LEO technology: “I think there’s great potential that these systems, as they come online, can truly offer us ways to connect the unconnected.”

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Jeff Miller: Tools to Manage the Next-Generation Network Buildouts

Service providers that use GIS applications are able to reduce design time by 80 percent.

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The author of this expert opinion is Jeff Miller, Synchronoss Technologies CEO.

Today’s digital world is driving the insatiable need for fiber networks and connectivity, thus the thrust for widespread broadband buildouts and deployments worldwide. Broadband connectivity is the heartbeat for mobility, cloud applications, voice, video, and social media, not to mention home automation, IoT, and smart cities. As a result, service providers and operators are investing heavily in infrastructure, claiming their 5G networks are the largest or fastest or most reliable.

Initiatives like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are aimed at bridging the digital divide and fast-tracking investment to deploy high speed fixed broadband service to rural areas and small businesses that lack it. The Federal Communications Commission’s $20.4 billion program requires that networks stand the test of time by prioritizing higher network speeds and lower latency.

A key element in the implementation of RDOF-backed projects is broadband mapping. The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of updating its current broadband maps with more detailed and precise information on the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, signed into law in March 2020, requires the FCC to change the way broadband data is collected, verified, and reported

As carriers build, expand, and upgrade their fiber network infrastructure, a great deal of planning is required, along with documenting the intricacies of design and engineering processes.

Streamlining and automating network planning and design processes through software can deliver accurate and timely network info for service providers, increase efficiency, and create opportunities for reducing costs.

GIS based systems are replacing volumes of paper, and outdated static CAD, Excel and Vizio files. They offer sophisticated tools to manage all aspects of network design and infrastructure management. Working with many service providers that use GIS applications, they are able to reduce design time by 80 percent and drastically cut other capital expenditures.

Automation is key

Having to rely on a system of manual processes to manage the fiber network makes it increasingly difficult to scale. Fortunately, with the introduction of automation into the network management process by utilizing an accurate physical network inventory in addition to geographic information system mapping, scalability becomes a much easier task.

Continuous planning and engineering tasks can ultimately become automated through software implementation. Automating network fiber management creates significant business value by shifting a service provider’s approach from reactive to proactive. A comprehensive and updated database for network architecture quickly allows for scenario analysis and capacity planning. Sharing automated processes across different organizations becomes much simpler and improves collaboration while reducing errors. This can allow staff to shift their focus to more pressing operational activities thus making the network more reliable.

Integration between different systems

Whether it is your enterprise GIS or outage monitoring system, it should be easy to interact with third-party systems to get the most out of the network data. Ideally, you should be able to receive an outage notification and use that location to track down the network and pinpoint the root cause to act and quickly resolve the situation before customers notice. This can help save time, money, and guarantee customer satisfaction.

Mobilize network data and increase field worker productivity

Utilizing a fiber networking and planning solution enables network information to be shared easily and quickly between the field and office to provide access to the information they need when they need it at any given time. Enterprise-wide access can provide timely and accurate network information for a wide range of communications service providers.

When it comes to service providers, expanded visibility into a network yields a greater overall awareness of the network. Automating third-party data exchange processes with accurate and up-to date inventory can optimize performance for field workers and guarantee customer satisfaction. Improved access to data can increase ROI by allowing cable locators and field techs to receive accurate confirmation before they arrive at a job. In the end, there will be fewer mistakes which ensures happier customers.

The right tools can result in improved scalability, reduced time to revenue, lower operational costs, and actionable insights that can be gleaned from network data.

Jeff Miller serves as President and CEO of Synchronoss Technologies. He previously served as President for IDEAL Industries Technology Group, following a 16-year experience with Motorola Mobility where he was Corporate Vice President of North America. Miller also serves on the Board of 1871, Chicago’s largest start-up incubator, and on the non-profit Boards of Aspire Chicago and Junior Achievement. This article is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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