Thursday, October 27, 2022
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US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $759 million to bring high-speed internet access to people living and working across 24 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Palau. The investments include funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides a historic $65 billion to expand reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all communities across the US. The $759 million in loans and grants comes from the third funding round of the ReConnect Program, including:
- North Carolina’s AccessOn Networks Inc. is receiving a $17.5 million grant to connect thousands of people, 100 businesses, 76 farms and 22 educational facilities to high-speed internet in Halifax and Warren counties in North Carolina. The company will make high-speed internet service affordable by participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Programs. This project will serve socially vulnerable communities in Halifax and Warren counties and people in the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Statistical Area.
- Tekstar Communications is receiving a $12.6 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect thousands of people, 171 farms, 103 businesses and an educational facility to high-speed internet in Douglas, Otter Tail, St. Louis, Stearns and Todd counties in Minnesota. Tekstar will make high-speed internet affordable by providing its “Gig for Life” service, where households that sign up for internet will not have their internet prices raised as long as they stay at the same address and continue service. Tekstar also will participate in the FCC’s Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Programs.
- In Colorado, the Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association is receiving an $18.7 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network connecting thousands of people, 898 farms, 110 businesses and 17 educational facilities to high-speed internet in Adams, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crowley, Elbert, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lincoln and Washington counties. The company will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
- The Shelby Electric Cooperative will use a $23,690,245 grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,057 people, 511 farms, 61 businesses and two educational facilities to highspeed internet in Christian, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Montgomery, Moultrie, and Shelby counties in Illinois. Shelby Electric Cooperative will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program.
- The Hamilton County Telephone Co-Op will use a $12,413,362 loan and $12,413,362 grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 3,202 people, 248 farms and 52 business to high-speed internet in Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Saline, Wayne and White counties in Illinois. Hamilton County Telephone Co-Op will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC's Affordable Connectivity and Lifeline programs.
The US Department of the Treasury approved over $90 million for broadband projects in the state of Vermont under the American Rescue Plan’s (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund (CPF). Vermont will use its funding to connect nearly 14,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet. The funding advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to connecting every American household to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. The 13,818 households and businesses represent 22% of locations still lacking high-speed internet access. Vermont’s award will fund the Vermont Community Broadband Construction Grant Program, a formula grant program that provides funding to communities for the construction of locally defined and prioritized broadband infrastructure projects through a system of regional Communication Union Districts (CUDs). The total funding amount allocated for each CUD was determined based on the percentage of road segments without existing access to high-speed wireline facilities. The Broadband Construction Grant Program is designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. The plan submitted to Treasury that was approved represents 80% of the state’s total allocation under the CPF program. Vermont submitted plans for the remainder of its CPF funds and these plans are under review by Treasury.
The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) approved three grants totaling $26.45 Million to bring broadband to more than 4,000 underserved Vermont addresses. Of the $26.45 million, $9.1 million has been awarded to the Maple Broadband/Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) partnership to expand fiber-optic broadband into parts of rural Addison County, including Bridport, Ferrisburgh, New Haven, Panton, Waltham, and Weybridge. The source of the grant funding is the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This project will extend WCVT’s fiber-to-the-home network to approximately 2,000 additional customers in parts of Addison County in the Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom service areas. The network can deliver symmetrical broadband speeds of up to 1 Gb to residents. An additional $8.35 million has been awarded to WCVT to start the first phase of their build-out to bring broadband to 1200 underserved addresses in towns that are not part of a CUD. WCVT is adding a full build-out in the town of Charlotte and a full build-out in the town of Bolton. WCVT will also begin partial build-out work in seven other towns. The remaining $9 million has been awarded to Southern Vermont Communications Union District (SoVT CUD). It is partnering with Consolidated Communications to bring broadband to 6,412 addresses across southern Vermont, 1300 of which are currently underserved.
The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded the Dilkon Chapter almost $34 million in grants to address broadband needs as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). Awarded funds will go toward the Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project to install fiber, directly connecting 3,643 unserved Native American households, anchor institutions, and businesses. Additionally, the installation will facilitate a minimum of 25/3 Mbps wireless service.
For decades, municipal broadband operations have been subject to a minefield of restrictions and barriers designed to make the prospect of establishing or maintaining a community broadband network costly, difficult, and unsustainable. There are currently 17 states in total that have restrictive legislation against municipal broadband networks in the US. In the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has put states opposed to municipal broadband in an interesting position: since they are required to submit their grant plan for public comment before receiving funds, they will have to defend their stance on not giving these funds to municipal operators. Further, the NTIA has also included language that makes it possible for municipalities to ask for funding directly if their state denies it to them. If a state decides to go down this road, it will almost certainly delay the timeline for receiving funding at all. Some states are already beginning to signal that they will not allow community broadband to be eligible for this massive, once-in-a-generation funding initiative. This issue will undoubtedly spark a wider issue regarding federal mandates – something states are already heavily divided on.
The Idaho Broadband Advisory Board is requesting proposals from eligible entities on broadband infrastructure needs across the state of Idaho. This information will be submitted in the form of a broadband infrastructure or planning project proposal. Eligible entities include:
- Broadband service providers,
- Idaho nonprofit organizations,
- Limited liability companies,
- Cooperative entities,
- Political subdivisions and
- Idaho local or tribal governments.
Qualifying proposals should focus on expanding or extending middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure to connect unserved and underserved areas. Proposals should also detail how planning funds will be used for local planning purposes to improve access to telehealth, remote work, and more. If planning funds are needed for your organization, the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board is also looking for proposals for planning funds as well. The deadline to submit proposals is December 1, 2022.
Idaho Commerce hired Ramón S. Hobdey-Sánchez as the state’s new Broadband Program Manager. For over seven years, Ramón worked at the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) as a project manager in the Office of Governmental Affairs. His work at ITD has included consistent interactions with the public, local officials, Idaho Legislators, and the Governor’s Office. He has served as an ITD political and policy advisor for department strategy, and planning and has extensive experience with legislative presentations and managing an array of policy projects. Over the past 2 years, Ramón managed the state’s broadband rulemaking, which provided him with first-hand involvement and knowledge of broadband policy, infrastructure, and connectivity in Idaho. Ramón brings with him a deep understanding of recent Idaho broadband legislation, its stakeholders, and the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board. This background provides him with a solid foundation to continue the development and deployment of broadband across the state through the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board’s direction and guidance.
After President Joe Biden called on all agencies to reduce or eliminate hidden fees in September 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took action to effectively eliminate billions in banking fees. Fees account for tens of billions of dollars in revenue – a substantial source of revenue in many industries, including transportation, banking, internet, and hospitality. The CFPB's actions work in tandem with other initiatives in progress through various federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has issued proposed rules that would, if finalized as proposed, require internet companies to display a standardized “Broadband Nutrition Label” that discloses their monthly prices, fees, and internet speeds – so customers can see which company is cheapest and companies will have to compete for business. The FCC anticipates completing this rulemaking by the end of 2022. In his remarks about this initiative, President Biden highlighted the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal broadband subsidy program enabling qualifying low-income consumers to sign up for free or reduced-cost internet.
According to Dr. Karen Mossberger—a professor in the school of public affairs and director of the Center on Technology, Data and Society at Arizona State University—prosperity and income increases correlate with the number of broadband subscriptions in an area, whether it’s rural, urban, or suburban, across all demographics. Further still, “Broadband is important for participation in society,” said Mossberger. “It’s important for economic development as well as individual opportunities. Widespread digital access and skills may also represent human capital capacity and community because it provides access to information for education and job searches, skills for jobs and entrepreneurship, richer information networks and communities.” But broadband access varies across regions, states, and even towns. Angela Thi Bennett, digital equity director with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said “Higher education could really show up and support states in developing digital equity plans, help them think through how to measure success and impacts in communities, so we don’t just focus on outputs but outcomes we want to achieve to transform communities.” That’s why Mossberger and other experts want to see universities and colleges coordinate with NTIA to disperse the roughly $48 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding allotted toward programs that create greater digital equity. Post-secondary institutions could be instrumental in helping to coordinate and implement varied strategies. Ultimately, experts agreed that higher education institutions provide the anchor needed to access and implement these funds.
The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) have entered into a Collaborative Workforce Development Agreement to advance critical workforce education and training for the broadband communications industry. With $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding for broadband infrastructure, in addition to the $80 billion invested annually by the broadband industry, there has never been more demand to build broadband networks. To meet that demand, industry, and government must join hands to address workforce gaps. This agreement helps to promote both associations’ workforce development programs: the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) which is nationally sponsored by WIA for broadband and 5G technicians and the FBA’s Optical Telecom Installer Certification (OpTIC Path) program that trains fiber technicians. The associations will work together to promote Registered Apprenticeship, develop a world-class curriculum, establish industry-recognized credentials and certifications, and articulate career pathways. Additionally, the FBA will work to promote TIRAP apprenticeship programs within its existing and future network of community colleges and other learning institutions that offer the OpTIC Path course.
Identifying problems with Wi-Fi can be difficult, and people often just turn Wi-Fi off on their devices and instead use their cellular data connection. In doing so, they miss out on the potentially much higher throughput, and hence the faster Internet connection, that a Wi-Fi connection can provide. For several years, CableLabs has been working on a technology to achieve Wi-Fi that acts more like a cellular network. CableLabs Mobile Wi-Fi uses a central controller to group multiple access points or APs (think routers) into one continuous network. The central controller detects which AP your device is closest to and connects your device to that AP. If you move—for example, getting up and walking to a different room—then the controller evaluates whether you would get the best experience by staying connected to the old AP or if your experience would be better by switching to a new one. If it’s the latter, the controller moves your device to the new AP without you even noticing. Instead of asking the phone to reconnect to a different AP, CableLabs Mobile Wi-Fi moves the network itself to the new AP. This makes the transitions between APs seamless and transparent to the phone. The result is that your device will be consistently connected to the best available AP in your space. However, CableLabs Mobile Wi-Fi is not yet available to end consumers.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld the chapter 11 restructuring of Windstream Holdings Inc., finding bondholder complaints about the debt-cutting plan moot because reversing it would mean unwinding transactions that have already taken place. The court backed Windstream's 2020 restructuring, which put Elliott Management Corp. and other senior creditors in control of the business while wiping out junior bondholders owed roughly $2.4 billion.
It's been one year since President Biden nominated Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society] to the Federal Communications Commission. Since then, the FCC has remained deadlocked 2–2 as Sohn has faced an underhanded campaign by deep-pocketed phone, cable, and broadcast companies seeking to hamstring the agency that oversees their businesses. No other nominee in the FCC’s history has had to wait so long for a confirmation vote in the Senate.
Free Press Action Internet Campaign Director Heather Franklin said: “The US Senate gets an ‘F’ in FCC. Gigi Sohn has been in limbo for a year now, preventing a deadlocked agency from passing crucial policies that would help people in the United States connect and communicate. This senseless delay is harming millions of people, especially working families trying to pay their rising monthly bills and those in Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and rural communities that the biggest phone and cable companies have long exploited and neglected. Broadcast, cable, and phone companies don’t want the FCC to hold them accountable to people, so they’ve launched a smear campaign against Sohn, repeatedly misrepresenting her record in the media and on Capitol Hill. Sohn has faced antisemitic, homophobic, and blatantly false attacks online and in right-wing media. For a year, Democratic leaders have dithered and delayed, leaving people in the United States without the safeguards they need to access an open and affordable internet."
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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