Thursday, June 2, 2022
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COVID & Connectivity
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COVID & Connectivity
One potential driver of economic resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic was the ability to telework. This paper estimates the factors influencing changes in unemployment rates for states in the Southeastern US during two distinct periods: (1) the initial months of the pandemic, and (2) the recovery experienced from April through December 2020. Our results suggest industrial composition and demographic factors were strongly associated with the early rise in unemployment and the subsequent decline during the first nine months of the pandemic. The ability to telework was a crucial factor in changing unemployment levels, with local broadband adoption levels driving this relationship. Telework had a positive impact for counties with a high broadband adoption rate from February to April. However, counties with a high ability to telework, but low broadband adoption rates, were held back from recovering from April to December.
In preparation for the inaugural Broadband Data Collection (BDC) filing window opening on June 30, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission announced the launch of an online help center and other new resources to assist internet service providers and other filers of verified broadband availability data prepare their submissions when the filing window opens. The tutorials and other help center tools are featured among other resources on the BDC webpage. The new video tutorials explain the information and supporting data that filers of biannual fixed and mobile broadband availability data must submit in the new BDC system. The help center also includes technical information on how to prepare availability data and subscription data for filing in the BDC, and an option for requesting additional support. All facilities-based providers of fixed and mobile broadband internet access service must
submit broadband availability data through the Broadband Data Collection no later than September 1, 2022. The initial collection will gather broadband availability and subscription data as of June 30th. Filers are encouraged to review the technical assistance resources in advance of the opening of the filing window and direct any questions to the BDC Help Center. The help center will continue to provide more resources in the future, including additional tutorials and other resources to assist state, local and Tribal governments, consumers, and other entities participate in the BDC challenge and crowdsourcing processes.
Much media and industry attention has been focused on the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program since Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and for good reason. The $42.5 billion BEAD program alone accounts for the majority of the $65 billion in broadband funding the IIJA allocated to fuel broadband projects across the country. But Tribal communities are set to get their own dedicated influx of broadband funding, with money expected to flow in the coming months. Specifically, the IIJA calls for $2 billion in funding to be distributed through the existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Established in December 2020 via the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the program is run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and launched with an initial allocation of $980 million. That means the new IIJA money will nearly triple the total amount of funding available. To date, the NTIA has awarded just $83 million in grants from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program following the close of an initial application window on September 1, 2021. The most recent installment of $77 million was distributed for 34 projects at the start of May 2022. Speaking at a recent press conference about the NTIA’s agenda for the next few months, NTIA Chief Alan Davidson stated "You’ll be seeing more from us on Tribal grants. We’ve got a big Tribal grant program, and we’ve waited until after this [BEAD funding notice] is launched but we’ve got more Tribal grants coming out.”
There is one interesting aspect of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants that could impact any rural community that is hoping to find a broadband solution from the $42.5 billion BEAD grant process. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is allowing local governments to challenge the broadband maps that will be used to determine the areas that are eligible for the grants. This is something that communities should be getting ready for today. The challenge process gives a community the chance to fight back if the new Federal Communications Commission maps–now estimated to be released in November 2022–show that their community is not eligible for the BEAD grants. Each state must allow for a challenge process where a unit of local government, a nonprofit organization, or an internet service provider (ISP) can challenge the broadband maps. States will not be asking for these challenges until sometime after the new year, so there is plenty of time in 2022 to start gathering the evidence. It may turn out you won’t need a challenge if the ISPs in your area report existing speeds honestly. But you need to be prepared for the situation where the FCC maps will deny broadband funding for your area. It will be a disaster for a community if they are unfairly denied grant funding because of a dispute about the FCC maps. It’s happened many times before – but communities need to make sure they don’t miss out on this giant round of funding.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said of a cable broadband comparison to fiber: "The idea that this technology [fiber] is transformative and superior is just dead wrong. It’s just another form of transmission.” There are mountains of facts that say that Rutledge is wrong. First, Charter is expanding its network around the country either through self-funding to reach areas just outside of the traditional cable territories, or by pursuing grants and subsidies, such as with the $1.2 billion that Charter claimed in the 2020 RDOF reverse auction. It looks like Charter is building fiber to all of these new locations. Other big cable companies are doing the same. Second, the vast majority of complaints that cable broadband customers had during the pandemic can be pinned on the slow upload speeds delivered on the technology. The third issue is jitter. This is the variance in the broadband signal. The broadband signal on many coaxial networks spikes wildly up and down. Jitter is what kicks people off Zoom calls when they have enough bandwidth – the bandwidth temporarily drops and is not enough to sustain the Zoom connection. Fiber networks have comparatively tiny jitter, with most of the jitter coming from the open Internet and not from the local fiber network.
Local telecoms and cooperatives continue to organize to improve connectivity in their states, with Indiana becoming the latest hub of activity. A group of 17 internet service providers and cooperatives formed Hoosier Net, a consortium which aims to leverage members’ fiber assets to offer statewide middle mile infrastructure. Indiana previously had a statewide fiber provider called Intelligent Fiber Network which boasted more than 5,000 route miles of infrastructure. However, that company was acquired by Zayo Group in 2021. Hoosier Net plans to offer a range of services, including Ethernet transport from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, direct internet access up to 10G, dark fiber, 10G or 100G wavelength services and cell site backhaul. Services will be offered to its owner-members, telecommunications providers and direct commercial clients including hospitals, schools and government institutions. But the group is also looking to make connections outside of Indiana as well. One of its founding members is Independents Fiber Network, a subsidiary of Ohio-based Com Net, Inc (CNI) which was established in 2003 to help provide backhaul to rural and underserved communities in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. CNI CEO Rob Shema has been tapped to lead Hoosier Net.
An ambitious plan to bring affordable high-speed internet to millions of people across New York City (NY) has been put on pause, leaving the poorest New Yorkers hanging while the Adams administration decides whether to proceed. The Internet Master Plan, which was announced in January 2020 by former Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY), was designed to help more than 1.5 million city residents who do not have any kind of internet access. It also aimed to bring more competition to areas with only one internet provider. Experts and other politicians praised the plan at the time, and an early pilot brought affordable broadband to 45,000 residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings. But at a City Council technology committee hearing in mid-May 2022, the city's new Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser said the program is being re-evaluated. And the next phase of the project — a $157 million effort that would build out public broadband infrastructure — is yet to launch. That’s despite the city drawing up contracts with internet service providers, according to officials at the Office of Technology and Innovation.
Stories From Abroad
More than 5,000 public buildings–including schools, hospitals and libraries–have been connected to high-speed broadband thanks to a United Kingdom Government scheme to level up public services. 1,200 schools, 340 libraries and 50 hospitals across UK are among those connected to gigabit-speed broadband. The upgrades, made possible by a £164 million UK government investment, will drive up productivity in public services, create better experiences for people who use them and encourage broadband companies to easily extend the network to thousands of surrounding homes and businesses which will boost the government’s national mission to grow the economy and create new jobs. The news comes as the government calls on broadband companies to submit bids to connect approximately 190,000 hard-to-reach premises in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cornwall as part of Project Gigabit–the biggest government-funded broadband roll out ever seen in the UK–with work set to kick off in these regions from January 2023. The future-proof connections delivered by Project Gigabit will fire up the economy by injecting a £60 billion boost to productivity.
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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