Monday, November 7, 2022
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We believe the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program provides the best possible chance to bring robust, reliable all-fiber broadband service to the many millions of unserved and underserved locations throughout the country. That said, we understand that National Telecommunications and Information Administration may be considering permitting States and Territories to award grants to applicants using other, less capable transmission technologies where the costs to deploy networks can be extremely high. While NTIA may believe there may be select instances where fiber deployment costs could be excessive, these should be viewed as the rare exceptions to the overall approach. If we as a nation could deploy an electric wire to a location decades ago, there is no reason we cannot deploy fiber to that same location today. Regardless, even where an alternative technology may be considered, States and Territories should ensure that applications using such alternative technologies can actually perform as proposed. With millions of consumers and billions of dollars at stake, this is no time for placing bets on technologies that are not already widely available or are promising substantial leaps in performance based upon little more than vendor marketing collateral, test cases, or targeted deployments. If bad bets are placed on technological speculation or marketing hype, consumers at unserved and underserved locations will be “disserved.”
Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) announced that New York's ConnectALL Office has submitted over 31,000 addresses from across the state to the Federal Communications Commission under the Broadband Data Collection challenge process. The federal challenge process, which allows states to propose changes or updates to the FCC's broadband maps, helps to better locate areas unserved or underserved by broadband. In doing so, these proposed changes inform federal funding decisions regarding broadband access and help to ensure that high-speed internet is available at every address in the country. The Commerce Department is expected to begin disbursing broadband funding from the IIJA to states and territories in late 2023 based largely on the proportion of unserved and underserved homes and businesses in each state, using maps created by the FCC. The FCC has begun by issuing a "map fabric" that is meant to include all addresses in the country, which they shared with all states and other stakeholders to challenge and improve.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $59 million to expand high-speed internet access to rural Michiganders through four major projects across the state, including two in the Upper Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula Telephone Company will receive a $34,532,301 grant to install a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,625 people, 69 farms, 40 businesses, and two educational facilities with the higher speeds in Dickinson, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, and Ontonagon counties. The company will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity (ACP) and the Lifeline programs. In addition, the Baraga Telephone Company will receive a $3,302,981 loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 362 people, four farms, and two businesses to high-speed internet in Houghton County. The funds were made possible by the USDA’s Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Program.
A Maine group that has halted previous municipal broadband networks is out to convince the Caribou City Council to dump the city utilities district’s fiber-optic plans in favor of a Spectrum proposal. The Caribou Utilities District is applying for grants to construct a single strand of dark fiber that they claim will offer gigabit speeds to all Caribou residents, starting with those in the most rural areas. Since the district is not a city department, councilors do not have the authority to pause or stop the project. But the council has been considering expansion proposals from Consolidated Communications and Spectrum. Spectrum has been working to influence councilors’ votes and citizen opinions through the Alliance for Quality Broadband Maine. In October, the Portland-based ad hoc group issued several advertisements that called the project “risky” and “wasteful” and criticized the multi-year timeline for constructing the dark fiber network. Alliance for Quality Broadband Maine appears to have taken the Caribou ads off its Facebook page. But the ads reached at least 5,000 people, according to Facebook data. Caribou’s population as of the 2020 U.S. census was 7,396. The alliance and its partners spent at least $100,000 on one Caribou ad and at least $700,000 on another, the data show. The alliance’s other ads have praised towns like Hampden for rejecting municipal-based broadband expansion projects. Spectrum officials did not respond to requests for comment but sent a letter to Caribou officials on Sept. 13 in which Melinda Kinney, senior director of government affairs for Charter, confirmed the $1.4 million cost of Spectrum’s proposal. The company would expand coverage to 294 unserved homes in Caribou and install 43 miles of dark fiber, increasing coverage to 74.5 miles. The project would take only 12 to 18 months, Kinney said.
An ambitious new plan by the state of Colorado seeks to end the state’s digital divide once and for all — and to do so using fiber, the gold standard for the fastest internet connections. Brandy Reitter, the executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office, said she took the position because she wanted to do impactful work “that was well funded” so she could actually fix the problem. Now she’s leading the state’s plan to use $1 billion in federal money to improve internet service, not just to help those with no internet access, but those with subpar service. Unless Colorado households have a fiber connection, they are underserved or not served. Reitter's office inside the Governor’s Office of Information Technology recently released the Colorado Broadband Roadmap report, which aims to get 99% of the state covered by 2027. This includes building training programs, providing tools for distance learning, and adding gigabit broadband to state parks, prisons, and libraries. At minimum, there’s about $500 million in federal funding available to Colorado.
Nevada is working to distribute its biggest-ever investment in broadband infrastructure in conjunction with local communities, despite state laws restricting municipalities and counties from providing telecommunications services. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is administering the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, wants municipal broadband providers to have access to these funds. But Nevada is one of 17 states with laws limiting the expansion of municipal broadband networks. While the NTIA is encouraging these states to relax laws prohibiting municipal broadband networks, Nevada is not pursuing any changes in state law, said Brian Mitchell, director of Nevada’s Technology Office. The state is, however, engaging with local communities as much as possible, including through bi-monthly meetings with community-led broadband teams. Over the next five years, Nevada’s Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology plans to expand fiber networks statewide so everyone can access affordable, reliable, and fast internet through the High-Speed NV initiative. The first phase of the initiative will focus on expanding high-speed internet access to more than 1,000 state and local government facilities, schools, and libraries that have been identified as having limited or unreliable internet access. A total of $192 million from the state’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, provided as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARPA), are to be distributed during the first phase. A further $200 million, from BEAD, will be distributed in the second phase of the project, which will focus on expanding high-speed internet access to homes and businesses. The state estimates that more than 450,000 households lack high-speed internet access lack access to high-speed internet.
New York City (NY) has an agreement with CityBridge, the team behind LinkNYC, that involves installing 2,000 5G towers over the next several years, an effort to help eliminate the city’s “internet deserts.” Ninety percent will be in underserved areas of the city — neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and above 96th Street in Manhattan. Once the towers are activated, residents will have access to free digital calling and free high-speed Wi-Fi as well as 5G service. Many of the locations were previously home to pay phones. According to officials in the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation, 40 percent of New York City households lack the combination of home and mobile broadband, including 18 percent of residents — more than 1.5 million people — who lack both. The 5G towers, as well as fiber cables underground, will make up an infrastructure that carriers like AT&T and Verizon can use to provide better service to customers. Most of the towers, including the one on Mr. Little’s corner, have not yet been activated. But as is often the case when something new appears on the New York City streetscape, people seem startled by the large structures — and some have expressed unfounded fears about 5G.
The Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 7951) would expand telework training for managers, require agencies to develop goals for telework participation, and collect data on productivity and cost savings from teleworking. The bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to publish guidance to assist agencies in performing those activities and to improve the reliability of telework data collected by the agency. CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 7951 would have an insignificant effect on direct spending and no effect on revenues over the 2023-2032 period. CBO has not estimated the discretionary costs of implementing the bill. The bill contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Pay-As-You-Go procedures will also apply to this bill.
US District Court Judge Daniel Domenico in Colorado, a Trump appointee, has thrown out a lawsuit accusing Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) of violating the First Amendment by blocking a constituent on Twitter. judge Domenico essentially ruled that Rep Boebert was free to block people at will from her @laurenboebert account because it is “held out and operated as a personal and campaign account.” The judge said in his ruling that the block wasn't done by the government, because the Twitter account wasn't an official government account. The First Amendment generally prohibits only the government from discriminating based on viewpoint. “Whether it is wise for members of the United States Congress to block critical constituents from their social-media accounts is not for a court to say,” said Judge Domenico. “The only question here is whether federal courts are authorized to legally forbid one from doing so in these circumstances ... I conclude they are not.”
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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