A years-long headache for the Park Hill (Kansas City, MO) School District has finally come to a satisfying resolution that could benefit schools and libraries across the US. Since Feb 2018, Park Hill has wrestled with the federal government to obtain E-rate funding for a fiber project connecting several of its schools. On April 27, the Federal Communications Commission finally granted Park Hill’s E-rate funding request in a decision that also sets a good precedent for the larger community of E-rate applicants.
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition believes the “Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020” (H.R. 6563), introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), is extremely important to help students engage in online learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation will provide $2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program to fund broadband connections and devices for the millions of students that do not have broadband at home.
In a letter, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition applauded Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for promoting fiber broadband deployment to schools and libraries through the E-rate program. “Competitive bidding has been a fundamental principle of the E-rate program since its inception,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the SHLB Coalition.
Kansas City prides itself on being a national leader for digital equity. Becoming the first Google Fiber city in 2011 launched KC into the spotlight as it became America’s first gigabit metropolis.
The FCC’s proposal to adopt an overall cap on the USF is unfortunate, counter-productive and contrary to congressional intent. Congress directed the FCC to make ‘sufficient’ funding available to meet our nation’s universal service goals, not to prohibit spending that is necessary to reach those goals.
[Commentary] Broadband infrastructure legislation has been building momentum in recent weeks. Several bills have been introduced, Infrastructure Week created a buzz, and the Trump administration says that an infrastructure plan will be released soon. What does this all mean for America’s invisible broadband infrastructure and our digital future?
There are many solutions to broadband deployment – tax credits, direct funding, public-private partnerships, state matching, “Dig Once,” etc. No one solution is the answer. Connecting Americans coast to coast requires coordination and a combination of funding and best practices. Broadband is a bipartisan issue, and Republicans and Democrats are both developing proposals to connect our nation. Now is the time to GO, to LIFT, and to ACT to build future-proof networks that will boost our nation into the digital age.
[John Windhausen is the Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition]
[Commentary] The SHLB Coalition has offered our own proposal to Congress that would focus on deploying high-capacity broadband to and through anchor institutions to the surrounding rural community. Our “Rural American Broadband Connectivity” (Rural ABC) plan is fiscally prudent, promotes “dig once” and streamlined infrastructure policies, and is intended to ensure that high-speed broadband is available for public use in every single American community. Most importantly, it calls for a variety of financial mechanisms (including tax credits, grants and loans) and an open application process. Internet2 has also released an significant paper that documents the important role of the research and education networks in connecting anchor institutions.
[John Windhausen is the executive director of the SHLB Coalition]
Many studies show that competition breeds greater investment in broadband networks, more jobs, innovation, lower prices and higher quality customer service. Yet many anchor institutions still have only one choice for their broadband provider, and the lack of competitive choices hampers anchor institutions’ ability to acquire high-capacity broadband at affordable prices. Policymakers can address the shortage of competition by making it easier for new broadband providers to enter the market; requiring more bidders for E-rate services; ensuring that existing networks are open to interconnection to competitive providers; reducing prices of wholesale access to existing infrastructure and services that competitors need to expand their networks; and promoting network sharing.
[John Windhausen, Jr. is Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.]
[Commentary] Schools, healthcare providers, libraries and other anchor institutions are the gateway to the community. These non-profit and governmental organizations increasingly provide essential Internet services to students, patients, patrons and underprivileged people. But their ability to meet these community needs depends on being able to obtain affordable, high-capacity broadband connections that often do not exist, especially in rural and non-competitive markets.
The 2010 National Broadband Plan Goal #4 called for every community to have affordable gigabit level broadband to anchor institutions by the year 2020. While we have made significant progress in the last six years, there is much more work to be done to meet that goal. The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB Coalition) will be releasing an important Broadband Action Plan for Community Anchor Institutions on Wednesday, July 13. One of the most important recommendations of this Action Plan is the need to rein in the prices for special access services, also called “business data services.” Communities are clamoring for better, faster, more affordable broadband to support their public institutions. As we’ll outline in our Grow2Gig+ Action Plan, we believe addressing a lack of competition in business data services is an important step forward. We have the opportunity to dramatically improve teaching and learning, to offer equal and ubiquitous access to broadband for our communities and begin to reach goals we have set for ourselves.
[John Windhausen is Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition]