Connect with us

Digital Inclusion

Sean Gonsalves: National Digital Inclusion Alliance Hosts Largest Net Inclusion Gathering

NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer zeroed in on the need for good data.

Published

on

Selfie of NDIA Executive Director Angela Seifer and Net Inclusions audience from Twitter

With nearly 1,000 in attendance at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) marquee gathering, those on the front lines of bridging the digital divide across the nation came to the three-day conference (Feb 28  to March 2) to network, share lessons, best-practices, and learn from experts as the largest ever federal investment in expanding broadband access is heading to state broadband offices this summer.

Mayor addresses attendees, acknowledges open secret of segregation

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg welcomed attendees, noting how his city was a fitting venue for the event.

“It’s no secret San Antonio is one of the most socio-economically segregated cities in the United States,” he said. “And that’s why we have zeroed-in on equity – in our budget, in who gets invited to the table.”

DeAnne Cuellar with Mayor Ron Nirenberg

Nirenberg congratulated NDIA for its work and the attendance record set by this year’s gathering. He also singled out our own outreach coordinator and San Antonio resident DeAnne Cuellar, not only lauding her work with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team but for her role in bringing city officials together with Older Adults Technology Services as the city commits to connecting 100,000 older adults in the city.

(ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team, which has long worked with NDIA participated conducted a workshop, participated in several panels discussions, and hosted a special Connect This! live stream at a social mixer at The Friendly Spot Icehouse.)

“Broadband is a basic human right and is a public utility. That’s why digital inclusion is a pillar of our recovery program,” Nirenberg said, noting how that is reflected in line items in the city’s budget.

Mayor Nirenberg also spoke candidly about injustices that had been baked-in to city and state policies in the past and, whether intentional or not, excluded vulnerable communities across the city, putting them at a socio-economic disadvantage. He said that closing the digital divide was central to correcting those injustices.

He concluded his welcoming remarks encouraging attendees to “use technology to live, learn, work and thrive.”

Texas broadband office announces new network funding opportunity

Also on hand for the conference was Greg Conte, Director of the Texas Broadband Development Office. Conte announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity for $120 million in grants for the construction of new high-speed Internet infrastructure across the Lone Star State.

As projects are funded to build new infrastructure, the state can’t assume people will automatically subscribe for Internet service, as efforts to tackle affordability and adoption are equally important undertakings.

“We want to make sure communities can get online and use it,” he said. “We ask all Texans to help in this process.”

He also briefly touched on something numerous other state broadband offices are in the process of doing: beefing up staff as each state is set to receive an historic amount of federal funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s BEAD program.

Conte was a guest on our Community Broadband Bits podcast last summer in which he discussed the challenges of staffing up his office and addressing the dearth of data about precisely where broadband is and isn’t available across the state.

Engaging other sectors in the work of advocating for more ACP funding

Batting clean-up was NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer, who first zeroed in on the need for good data that shows and measures how local digital equity programs are working, and how those efforts can be improved.

Angela Siefer speaking at Net Inclusion

And while quality robust data is vital, she said, it is also worth thinking about who benefits from expanded broadband access (beyond individual end-users) and how data and stories about digital inclusion initiatives can be used to engage industries and sectors of society who may not see bridging the digital divide as an urgent concern.

That includes the necessity of getting more than just Internet service providers at the table. Buy-in from healthcare providers, educational leaders, captains of retail and commerce, as well as transportation planners and housing officials should be engaged in helping to make broadband available especially for residents who struggle with affordability.

Specifically as it relates to commerce, Siefer noted, “the savings that can come from conducting certain business online can be invested into access.”

Siefer also emphasized the value of digital equity advocates sharing the stories they encounter of the lives impacted by their work with those who may not be tuned into the connectivity crisis that still plagues even such a technologically-sophisticated nation as the U.S.

Lastly, Siefer reminded the attendees that the federal funding that supports the Affordable Connectivity Program will run in the next year or so without additional appropriation from Congress.

“We need more money for the ACP,” she said, adding that it was important for state and local leaders to be pushing their Congressional representatives to replenish the ACP’s coffers.

“The long term plan is that the Universal Service Fund needs to be fixed but that is going to take time. The ACP will run out of funds before the USF is fixed,” she said.

Before the general assembly dispersed to a variety of focused workshops and breakout groups, Siefer ended with a note of encouragement: “Remember you guys are the heroes. You do the work on the ground. But NDIA has your back.”

Watch the plenary sessions below. Also, stay tuned for our new podcast series Building for Digital Equity, which will debut soon and feature interviews with dozens of frontline digital inclusion practitioners discussing the work they are doing in their local communities.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on March 2, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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. An award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist, Sean also has extensive experience in both television and radio. Sean has made appearances on WGBH’s “Greater Boston” TV show with Emily Rooney and was a frequent guest on New England Cable News (NECN), commentating on a variety of Cape Cod tourist attractions. He left print journalism in 2014 to work as a senior communication consultant for Regan Communications and Pierce-Cote, advising a variety of business, non-profit and government agency clients on communication strategy. In October 2020, Sean joined the Institute for Local Self Reliance staff as a senior reporter, editor and researcher for ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Broadband's Impact

Mississippi Nonprofit is Looking to Fill Gaps in Affordable Connectivity

The nonprofit Connect and Literacy Fund is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi.

Published

on

Screenshot of the event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A Mississippi nonprofit is setting up a fund to support connectivity and digital literacy in the state.

The Mississippi Broadband Association is looking to raise $10 million to start the fund, which MSBA Executive Director Quinn Jordan said is intended to ensure newly built broadband infrastructure stays affordable in the state.

“We can build these networks,” he said, speaking at a Fiber Broadband Association webinar on Wednesday, “But if we don’t get people connected, if they don’t have the literacy or capability to do so, what have we really done?”

The initiative, called the Connect and Literacy Fund, is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi. Over 18 percent of the state lives below the poverty line, making them eligible for the $30 monthly internet discount, but less than half that number participate. The MSBA is planning to make ACP sign-up part of the registration process to participate in the fund’s programming.

That programming will focus on teaching people how to use internet services like telehealth and streaming and provide large discounts for tables and PCs. The ACP provides a $100 device subsidy, but this is rarely enough for low-income households to make a purchase, Jordan said.

Difficulty accessing affordable devices is contributing to the digital divide in Mississippi, according to Jordan. He pointed to the fact that over 40% of Mississippians do not have access to a tablet or computer.

“That is a huge number. And it’s a barrier to entry,” Jordan said. “The Connect and Literacy Fund is hopefully going to address that.”

Jordan said the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, will be beneficial, but MSBA’s Connect and Literacy Fund will have a role to play in ensuring the state builds on the gains it makes with the federal funds.

“That money is going to run out,” he said. “What we’re doing is ongoing.”

The ACP might also be short-lived. The $14 billion allocation from the Infrastructure Act is set to dry up in April of next year.

MSBA has spent the last two months developing its programing and is looking to start coordinating events with local anchor institutions in the coming months, Jordan said. 

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.

Published

on

Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Internet Subsidies for Housing Assistance Recipients

The effort is aimed at raising awareness about federal internet subsidies among housing assistance recipients.

Published

on

Photo of Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Monday a partnership to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people receiving federal housing assistance.

The promotion efforts will include promoting the FCC program at public housing properties, joint enrollment events, and increased collaboration on messaging campaigns.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge touted the agency’s partnership with the FCC at a community event in Seattle, Washington, and encouraged residents to sign up.

The announcement comes a month after the launch of White House’s “Online for All” campaign, an effort to raise nationwide awareness of the ACP.

Part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP monthly discounts on internet service of between $30 for low-income American and $75 for Tribal residents.

The $14 billion program is serving more than 20 million households as of August 14, roughly a quarter of whom had no internet access at all prior to receiving ACP benefits.

A monitoring tool developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a community advocacy group, estimates that $6.3 billion in ACP funds have been used up.

The remaining $7.7 billion is expected to dry up in 2024. Lawmakers have called for funding increases, citing the racial divide in internet access – 71% of Black households and 65% of hispanic households have broadband access, compared to 80% of white households –  that could worsen in the absence of ACP discounts.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, released in July a report calling for Congress to eliminate old broadband subsidies that have been rendered redundant by the $42.5 billion BEAD program and divert the funds to the ACP.

“Public energy and time in this space would be much better served fine-tuning and scaling digital inclusion efforts than being obligated to lobby for a program whose continuation should be a no-brainer,” wrote Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the ITIF and author of the report.

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast News



Broadband Breakfast Research Partner

Trending