Monday, February 14, 2022
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As 2021 turned into 2022, the Federal Communications Commission transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program into the Affordable Connectivity Program. Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and provided the FCC $14.2 billion to subsidize broadband service for low-income households. Broadband providers will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land) for providing service to low-income households. But since participation in the new program is voluntary, will broadband providers show up to offer service? This is the first in a series of articles looking at which providers are opting into the Affordable Connectivity Program.
[Grace Tepper is a Writing Associate and Kevin Taglang is Executive Editor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.]
As state and local officials across the country consider bills addressing broadband service and decide how to allocate funding received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, a new white paper from the Center for Rural Affairs offers ideas and solutions for improving access in rural areas. Molly Malone, Senior Policy Associate for the Center, and author of “Access Granted: Rural Broadband Options, Obstacles, and Solutions” said broadband access is a topic of discussion in rural communities across the country and has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Broadband is core infrastructure,” she said. “Without it, people cannot participate fully in our economy and society. If service is unavailable, unaffordable, unreliable, or weak, or has a long lag time, it can affect the viability of a community.” Using examples, such as education, health care, economic development, and agriculture, the paper addresses the importance of reliable service, as well as connectivity options.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance compiled a sampling of free, online digital literacy resources that demonstrate the diversity of curricula and methods that can be explored to help determine what works best for your community:
- Techboomers.com: a free educational website that teaches older adults and inexperienced internet users with basic computer skills about websites.
- DigitalLearn.org: a “one-stop-shop” for computer and technology training for computer basics, hardware, software, and applications as well as basic job search resources.
- GCFLearnFree.org: a website with free resources and tools for learners to acquire necessary skills for 21st-century life.
- Mozilla Foundation: free and open-source tools and resources for facilitators to lead sessions on how to read, write and participate on the web.
- Google for Education, Applied Digital Skills: well-organized curriculum for teachers covering over 1,000 topics.
Inequitable access to the internet became a glaring public health issue during the pandemic. Here’s how three communities addressed the digital divide equitably and quickly:
- In Cleveland (OH), nonprofit DigitalC has been working to provide equitable internet service since 2003, when it started connecting neighborhood networks to the larger internet. DigitalC is now bringing wireless broadband service to those neighborhoods.
- When schools across the US closed in March 2020, the Murray City School District (UT) was more prepared than most. With the help of money from the federal CARES Act passed in the early days of the pandemic, the school district created an LTE network by installing 25 seven-foot-tall cell towers on 11 school district buildings.
- The success of Project Waves—a community-owned internet network in Baltimore (MD)—is a testament to community trust, says founder Adam Bouhmad. Since March 2020, Project Waves has been able to connect more than 120 households via fixed wireless service. An additional 68 households are connected through a partnership with Baltimore City Schools.
The Pew Charitable Trusts sent a memo to state broadband offices that are participating in its technical assistance program, the broadband education and training initiative, that discussed how states can use line extension programs to subsidize “curb-to-home” connections—the final segments of infrastructure needed to connect each individual home or business to a broadband network. Pew looks at how three states have implemented programs to address last-mile expansion, including the rules and procedures they employ to award funds to households, property owners, or internet service providers. Summary points include:
- The cost of connecting an individual household or business to a network can be prohibitively expensive to achieve broadband access despite being located in a served area, as a significant portion of these costs typically falls to the property owner.
- State programs can support this final stretch of deployment by subsidizing these individual connections to existing infrastructure through line extension programs.
- State approaches to line extension programs have provided funds in the form of grants either directly to households and property owners or to the providers, following individual submissions.
[Jake Varn is Principal Associate at the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Analysis dated November 4, 2021.]
Southern Tier 8 Regional Board, a multifaceted planning and development agency in New York state, sees broadband as an opportunity to improve the economic situation of the rural communities it serves. Jennifer Gregory, executive director of Southern Tier 8, recently announced Project Connect, an initiative to connect the agency’s entire eight-county region to high-speed broadband. To make Project Connect a reality, the Southern Tier 8 Regional Board applied for a $22 million federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) grant to connect 895 addresses among New York state’s hardest-to-connect residences to fiber-based broadband. The NTIA grant will introduce 895 addresses in the 10 towns to fiber-based broadband. As Southern Tier 8 moves its broadband plans forward, it’s focused on several initiatives to understand the trouble points in the region. It’s providing public education and outreach, advocating for policy changes within the state to increase buildouts without implementing taxes on existing ISPs, and positioning the counties to apply for funding and be prepared with American Rescue Act (ARPA) dollars.
In Fort Collins (CO), Connexion broadband service broke ground in early 2019, but the desire to equip the city with service dates back more than a decade. Broadband discussions have been incorporated into Fort Collins' strategic plans since 2014. The city's plans now include broadband as a specific strategic objective: “Encourage the development of reliable, high-speed internet services throughout the community.” After years of thoughtful planning and community feedback, Fort Collins began building a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in February 2019. The network is set to be complete in 2022. The new service will bring gigabit-speed internet, phone and video to all Fort Collins residents and businesses. Connexion expects to complete the installation of its fiber optic network by the end of this year and is turning on new services in neighborhoods weekly. A $120 million bond Fort Collins residents approved in 2017 provides the funding to build and improve the municipality’s infrastructure to support broadband service for all qualifying residents.
House lawmakers have teamed on two bipartisan bills that would "promote competition, innovation, national security, the interests of consumers, and American leadership in the thriving commercial satellite communications industry." The discussion drafts of the bills work toward modernizing the Federal Communications Commission’s satellite licensing rules and authorities under the Communications Act, with the goal of promoting responsible space management, incentivizing investment and innovation, and advancing US leadership in next-generation, satellite communications networks. The Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act would require the FCC to come up with performance requirements, space safety and orbital debris requirements for satellite licenses, give the FCC a year deadline to act on an application for a constellation of satellites and earth stations and 180 days to act on a renewal. The Secure Space Act addresses national security issues. It would amend the Secure Trusted Communications Networks Act to prohibit the FCC from granting a license for satellite constellations "if the license or grant of market access would be held or controlled by an entity that produces or provides any covered communications equipment or service or an affiliate of such an entity, and for other purposes." Covered communications or services -- particularly tech tied to Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei -- are ones the government has determined pose a threat to the supply chain and national security.
The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on sweetheart deals made between building owners and broadband providers, but that could leave some tenants out in the cold when it comes to reliable internet access. Analysts have warned that without extra financial incentives, some fiber providers may be unwilling to invest enough to deliver a quality network. Cutting the cost of infrastructure is one way to address this problem, and Nokia wants to do this for fiber providers by importing solutions that are working in Europe. The vendor is positioning its software-defined access network (SDAN) and Gigabit Connect as technologies that can make multiple dwelling unit (MDU) deployments more efficient. SDAN is enabled through cloud-native access control software called Altiplano, which Nokia describes as a tool to combine the management of software-defined networks, legacy hardware and third-party equipment. Since SDAN facilitates integration of equipment from different vendors, it can enable an open access network in which the primary infrastructure provider can lease access to multiple service providers.
Much of Africa has gotten a taste of the internet thanks to cellular technology, but high-speed access remains scarce on the continent thanks to a lack of consumer spending power and a fractured, unreliable power grid. Cassava Technologies, a spinout of an African telecommunications firm, aims to change that equation. Africa is home to 54 countries and 1.3 billion people and covers an area larger than India, China and Western Europe combined. That's too big a chunk of the planet to be stuck with spotty, expensive internet access. Much of the continent now has cellular access. But expanding to high-speed internet service has been a challenge. One key is making the economics work. Across the continent, 85 percent of people earn less than $5.50 per day, per the World Bank, while in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of people take home less than $2 a day. Reliable power is another issue. Utility companies have struggled to provide consistent access to power and where it is available it is costly, Pemhiwa says, adding that in many countries 12-hour blackouts are common and even in places such as South Africa multi-hour disruptions still occur. The result is that less than 40 percent of Africans have steady internet access due to either availability or cost. Enter Cassava, which last year was spun out of Econet, one of Africa's large cellular providers. The firm has businesses doing everything from laying fiber and building data centers to offering mobile payments and cybersecurity services.
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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