Tuesday, November 3, 2020
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At the web sites of the five largest cable operators, upload speeds almost never get the same billing as download speeds; at worst, you may need to look up a technical-support document. Comcast, the nation’s largest internet provider with 27.8 million residential broadband customers, doesn’t list upload speeds if you check for its Xfinity service at an address or start ordering service at its site. Spectrum, the second-largest provider, also doesn’t list upload speeds if you check for or order service.
In mid-September, BroadbandUSA’s State Broadband Leaders Network (SBLN) held its semiannual Summit to discuss broadband issues and policy at the state level. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) provided an update on its National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) and introduced BroadbandUSA’s new State Broadband Mapping Cohort. The NBAM is a geographic information system (GIS) platform for the visualization and comparison of federal, state, and commercially available broadband data sets to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions. NBAM’s partners include 22 states as well as the Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the US Economic Development Administration. During the presentation, NTIA showcased the wide variety of available datasets and highlighted how NBAM users can harness this data. For example, comparing Ookla crowdsourced speed test data with the Federal Communications Commission's Form 477 Broadband Deployment Data allows users to highlight potential gaps in broadband availability. To further ensure that the views of the states are incorporated as NTIA’s broadband mapping platform evolves, the SBLN and NBAM teams introduced BroadbandUSA’s State Broadband Mapping Cohort.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $1.5 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Virginia. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program. Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative will use a $1.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 1,964 residents, 34 businesses, 27 farms, a fire station and two post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Brunswick and Halifax counties in Virginia.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that funding through Stage 2 of the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund will result in all locations in Puerto Rico having access to fixed broadband service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps. And nearly one-third of those locations will have access to fixed broadband service with speeds of at least 1 Gbps. Two winning applicants in the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Stage 2 Competitive Process submitted bids for $127.1 million in funding over 10 years covering more than 1.2 million locations through a competitive process that awarded support for fixed voice and broadband services based on the weighting of price and network performance, including speed, latency, usage allowance, and resiliency. Liberty Communications has committed to offering service to over 914,000 locations, and Puerto Rico Telephone Company will offer service to over 308,000 locations.
There are many challenges to broadband connectivity in rural and unserved areas of Texas, and currently Texas is one of six states that does not have a statewide broadband plan. In studying the progress of broadband development in unserved areas, the Council found that over 300,000 locations in Texas are unserved. As of July 2020, an estimated 926,859 Texans do not have access to broadband at home. The Council found that Texas’ rural population represents approximately 90 percent of all Texans without broadband access. The Council also studied barriers to broadband development in Texas. Some of the main barriers identified include regulatory, economic, and technical factors, such as population density and geography, infrastructure investment, profitability, and “backhaul” costs. Other barriers include a low rate of broadband adoption, lack of collaboration between stakeholders, and insufficient statewide coordination.
The Governor's Broadband Development Council has researched the progress of broadband development in unserved areas; identified barriers to residential and commercial broadband deployment in unserved areas; studied technology-neutral solutions to overcome barriers; and analyzed how statewide access to broadband would benefit economic development, higher education and public education, state and local law enforcement, state emergency preparedness, and health care services. Resulting from this research, the Council recommends that the Texas Legislature take the following action:
- Create a state broadband plan; and
- Establish a state broadband office.
The Council also believes that the following action could benefit the broadband landscape in Texas and therefore recommends its continued study:
- Develop a state broadband funding program to incentivize deployment in unserved areas.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) announced $12.7 million to increase broadband internet access across Michigan. The broadband projects were selected through the Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) grant program. The awards are estimated to generate between $15.7 and $23.1 million in annual economic benefits to consumers. These projects will extend access to over 10,900 households, businesses, and community anchor institutions (CAI) in Michigan. All projects have committed to closing the internet access divide and provide digital literacy training materials to residents and businesses in their proposed service area, and work with local CAIs and foundations to host events to promote e-learning, job, and workforce training. Recommendations for the second round of CMIC grant awards will be announced later, providing another $5.3 million towards further infrastructure expansion across the state. Gov. Whitmer signed a budget that included an additional $14.3 million in grant funding for a third round of projects in 2021. This announcement builds on the launch of the Connecting Michigan Taskforce (CMIT), with Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II helping to lead the efforts to strengthen and grow broadband infrastructure across Michigan. Approximately 1,243,339 Michigan households do not have a permanent fixed broadband connection at home.
While there are areas in greater Minnesota that are still in desperate need of high-speed broadband access, many low-income households in both greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities do not have internet access at home. Among households making less than $20,000 annually, nearly half in all greater Minnesota regions and 40% in the Twin Cities have no internet subscription at home. This includes an internet subscription for a laptop, desktop, tablet, wireless computer, or smartphone, or because there is no computer in the household. Many middle-income households do not have internet access either. A quarter of households in the northeast, northwest, and southwest regions making $20,000-$74,999 annually, and about one in five residents in the central, southern and Twin Cities regions, report not having an internet subscription at home. Internet access, particularly high-speed broadband access, is crucial for reasons that many of us take for granted, such as distance learning, applying for jobs and working from home, and requesting an absentee ballot.
The South Carolina General Assembly passed a bill supporters said will help get high-speed internet to hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas. The gap between cities and richer areas with good internet access and poorer, less populated areas without broadband access became even more stark over the past six months as COVID-19 pushed schools into the virtual world and made online meetings the way businesses and governments often communicate. The bill allows and gives incentives to smaller power companies and cooperatives to let internet providers provide their service alongside electric lines. Some 650,000 of the 5 million people in South Carolina don’t have access to broadband internet.
All signs are pointing to a third round of the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect funding program opening in spring 2021. It’s not too early to begin developing an application strategy to position yourself competitively for that opportunity. We expect the program might open at the end of the first quarter of 2021 with a grant deadline 60 to 90 days later. As is always the case, competition will be robust for these funds, but developing your grant strategy and strategic partnerships now will prepare you to submit a stronger application. We believe the following are critical steps in mapping out your application planning process over the next several months:
- Develop a grant strategy.
- Consider applying for state funds, if available, to complement your grant strategy.
- Gather the many types of information and support materials required.
- Define and refine your proposed funded service area (PFSA).
- Develop and review your project’s engineering plans and cost estimates.
- Develop a financial pro forma and business plan.
- Develop a market narrative, including discussion and data regarding service in the region.
- Collect the appropriate forms from businesses to demonstrate market interest and maximize points for that application item.
- Set up accounts and then navigate Sam.gov and the USDA portal site
- Commission the required legal opinion and reviews.
- Write compelling grant and budget narratives.
- Get in touch with your USDA regional representative.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS), the nation’s spectrum and communications lab, released a new official code base for the Irregular Terrain Model (ITM) for use by experts and non-experts alike. ITM is the fifth propagation model code base that ITS has released on GitHub. In addition to the C++ propagation model source code, ITS published packages that target the .NET development environment. ITS also code signs its propagation software. Users can be confident that our products originate with us, and have not been tampered with. Behind every wireless telecommunications decision is a prediction of how far the signal will travel and how much strength it will lose along the way. This is called propagation modelling. Propagation models drive decisions about things like how and where to deploy cell towers, what rules to establish for geographically sharing spectrum, and what kind of spectrum equipment to build. It is vital that all stakeholders trust the models being used and accept the results as sound.
Over the summer, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new program to bring high-speed Internet service to the alarming number of households who do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district, called Chicago Connected. The program aims to provide free high-speed Internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools students. At the end of Sept, during a virtual town hall meeting, Mayor Lightfoot said that while CPS was making progress connecting eligible families, they had not yet reached the goal. “We’re not where we want it to be. And I think part of the difficulty is, even though it’s free, it’s about making sure that families feel safe in signing up,” Lightfoot said. “Currently, we have over 25,000 households that are signed up, and that is the equivalent of almost 38,000 students towards our goal of 60,000 households at 100,000 students.”
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 Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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