A Stately Tour of BEAD Plans - Episode 568 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the show, Christopher is joined once again by Sean Gonsalves, Associate Director for Communications for the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. After a short stop to talk about the establishment of a new municipal network in Timnath, Colorado, Christopher and Sean get down to talking about the BEAD 5-Year Plans that states are filing with NTIA to get their hands on the first tranche of what will be an historic pot of federal funds for new broadband investment. 

Some states, like Maine and Vermont, Sean shares, are doing lots right: setting high bars for new infrastructure, listening to communities about their needs, folding in digital equity initiatives, and thinking about how to reach the last households that BEAD will fall short of. Others, like Pennsylvania, seem written with the intent to waste public money and leaves tens of thousands of households stranded with poor or no service - in other words, exactly what the monopoly cable and telephone companies want.

This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Christopher Mitchell (00:07):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I'm in St. Paul, Minnesota today, speaking with Sean Gonsalves. Sean, I think you might now be one of the most recurring guests at this point of the show.

Sean Gonsalves (00:27):
It's getting up there.

Christopher Mitchell (00:29):
You are the Associate Director for communications for the Community Broadband Networks team here at I L SS R.

Sean Gonsalves (00:36):
Yes. And you know what? It's so much easier to pronounce my title now, not to pronounce to say

Christopher Mitchell (00:42):
It, to remember it everything. Yeah,

Sean Gonsalves (00:43):
It's not a paragraph anymore. It's a concise description.

Christopher Mitchell (00:47):
Today we're going to be talking mostly about the five-year plans we're starting to see come out. You just dove into them a few nights ago, I think. I'm curious, I want to talk about a few things before we get into that, but did you just pick one up and you were like, wait a minute, I got to check this out. What's going on here? What led you to want to read 'em all?

Sean Gonsalves (01:04):
Actually, because I think I saw somewhere that Maine's plan and we cover Maine quite a bit and think highly of what they're trying to do there in Maine and their approach. And so you go down the rabbit hole pretty quickly and I went to the N T I A website and started seeing all of these five-year action plans popping up, and I said, we should probably look at each one of these.

Christopher Mitchell (01:25):
Yeah, yeah. Better you than me.

Sean Gonsalves (01:29):
Well, and then also there's the issue of what they call it isn't exactly intuitive, at least the way my brain works.

Christopher Mitchell (01:37):
We're going to talk about BEAD here. All right, so 42 and a half billion dollars probably all the listeners know about this now,

Sean Gonsalves (01:41):
Right? I'm assuming folks know this by now, but 42 and a half billion in the BEAD program, the largest single federal investment in US history as it relates to broadband. And in order to unlock those funds, each state and US territory gets a portion of that pie. And so in order to unlock those funds, of course you have to file these five-year action plans and initial proposals. Now, the way my brain works, the word initial means the first thing,

Christopher Mitchell (02:12):
Right? But that would be wrong. The

Sean Gonsalves (02:13):
Word five-year plan seems to, at least to my brain, say that's the final thing, but it's exactly, I had that exactly backwards. Well,

Christopher Mitchell (02:23):
The last thing to be clear is final, at least the final proposal. So they have to do three pieces of paperwork relating to this broadband plan. They also have to do a digital equity plan as well,

Sean Gonsalves (02:35):
Which some states have chose to combine into one document, which is probably smart because those two things work hand in hand, of course.

Christopher Mitchell (02:43):
So the states should be mostly done with their five-year plans. Many have submitted them, they're working on the initial plans. A few are very close or have submitted it already, but they have until the end of the year to do that. And then at the end of next year, middle of next year is when we'll start to see those final plans finalized and put into the N T I A.

Sean Gonsalves (03:03):

Christopher Mitchell (03:04):
Okay. So a couple other things before we dig into what you found and looking into these five-year plans. And by the way, I mean I think these are absolutely things that people should be reading to get a sense of this is an official document the state has put time into it has looked for public comment. There is still time. If you're in many places that may not be finalized yet in other places, you might be able to correct something in the initial plan if you don't like the way they're approaching it in the five-year plan. So there are still places to go if you feel that the state is ignoring the comments of you or your group. You can talk to the F P O, the federal program officer from N T I A, and if you Google that, you could find pretty easily who that is. Reach out to that person on email and say, Hey, I've been telling the state this and they won't listen to me or something like that. And the F P O can try to figure out what's going on there because states are supposed to be taking feedback

Sean Gonsalves (03:59):
Big time. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (04:00):
Alright, so Sean, yesterday we did the history of L T E on the Connect This! Show. Did you watch that?

Sean Gonsalves (04:07):
Man, I was so busy deep into these plans that I haven't caught up with that yet.

Christopher Mitchell (04:12):
That's what I thought. And I think probably a lot of people listening are in a similar position. The Connect This! Show is a show that we have some fun with and usually it's about the news and current news, but the one we did yesterday should be pretty timeless and encourage people to go back if they want to check out Connect This show.com. You may not see it up there immediately, but if you go to communitynets.org and look at the most recent Connect this show on the front page in the center column, you'll see it a link to it. I just say that because Ry's out and Ry's the one that usually updates that stuff. That's right. It'll be up on Monday actually, by lot of people who are listening to this. It should be up there. But at any rate, a history of wireless L t E and that sort of thing, it is a good discussion.

It's a good history and just good walking down memory lane, a little bit of some of the early wireless stuff. It's kind of cool. So we did that and then we got, there's a few other things that have popped up. One is you wrote a story about Loveland Pulse Network. That's right. Network that I'm not going to spoil anything, but we have decided, and almost certainly now to do our fall retreat in the front range in Colorado, and we are hopefully going to visit Loveland Pulse, visit Longmont, visit Fort Collins to see their networks. But Loveland Pulse has just announced that they are expanding their fiber network to a smaller community nearby. What's going on there?

Sean Gonsalves (05:36):
Yeah, that's the town actually of Timnath. I think it's Timnath, not Timnath, but Timnath. I've never been, it's

Christopher Mitchell (05:43):
T I M N A T H.

Sean Gonsalves (05:46):
Yeah. Which is about 10 miles north of Loveland. And they've been kind of kicking the tires around a municipal broadband. And so they had been looking at Fort Collins and the Pulse Network in Loveland, and they reached a memorandum of understanding, which essentially is an agreement between the two towns. So that Pulse is going to be expanding. They're bringing fiber, ubiquitous fiber into the town of Tim Nth, which I believe has about what, 7,800 folks I think that live in town there. It's a pretty residential community. Got a chance to speak to the town planner there. They're extremely excited. And frankly, he was pretty candid in saying that a big driver of this is that because of all of these wonderful networks that are popping up in the front Rain region, frankly they were very concerned that they were going to be left behind, especially as it related to attracting residents.

I mean, that's an extremely appealing piece of infrastructure, particularly in that part of the country where you've got such fabulous fiber networks nearby and in fact, there's one, so this is Larimer County that both Loveland and Tim Nather, and there was another county, there's another town within that county whose name I can't remember. And they were talking about how they didn't want to be like that town where they were hearing quite a bit that folks were not moving, were leaving that town and not moving into that town specifically because the Internet connectivity there just wasn't cutting it. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (07:23):
Yeah. That's not surprising to hear. I know that Loveland has also had a commitment to expanding some of the unincorporated areas, I think around Larimer working with the county there, and that's what we want to see. I think there's a lot of excitement around making sure that when there's public dollars available, if we can use it for public network expansion to meet these needs in the longterm. That's awesome.

Sean Gonsalves (07:45):
It is. And we hear a lot about public private partnerships. This is sort of like a public partnership.

Christopher Mitchell (07:52):
We've seen a lot of these in Iowa. Cedar Falls has done a lot of this. Reedsburg and Wisconsin has done this quite a bit. There's a number of networks that have done this. I think Chattanooga would've done it if the state hadn't made it illegal. And by the state, I mean at T and Comcast.

Sean Gonsalves (08:08):
That's right.

Christopher Mitchell (08:10):
It's ridiculous. There are still people outside Chattanooga who don't have decent Internet access, and the state would rather pay some private company like a bunch of money rather than changing the law to allow Chattanooga just extend that network a little bit at no cost to the taxpayer. Ridiculous.

Sean Gonsalves (08:25):
It really is a bizarre way of thinking. It's like you have one of the best municipal networks in the

Christopher Mitchell (08:31):
Country, best municipal, best networks in the nation,

Sean Gonsalves (08:33):
Right? Right, exactly. And it's like, yeah, let's just keep it in Chattanooga and everybody else just Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (08:41):
And what's weird mean? This gives you a sense of the state, right? Is that the state is giving money to municipalities, right? I think Knoxville got some money to expand because Knoxville's building this massive municipal network that will be bigger than Chattanooga.

Sean Gonsalves (08:54):
Yeah. It'll be the biggest in the country when it's finished.

Christopher Mitchell (08:56):
And so they have part of their territory, their electric territory is areas that are deeply unserved, and so the state is willing to pay them money to help them make those connections because that is allowed. But the state cannot change this law from 1998 because Comcast and at and t just got those lobbyists. They got it locked down. I remember it was maybe five or six years ago, maybe more, but I saw an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and it said that there was 26 lobbyists from Comcast and at and t in a room for a subcommittee vote that was like five to four or five to three or something like that. You got eight committee members who are voting and they got three lobbyists from just one industry on each of them.

Sean Gonsalves (09:39):
Oh man. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (09:42):
You kind of wonder, are they actually pulling the puppet strings? Do they attach strings to, and they're like each orchestrating it above that person. Yeah. I mean, that's pretty wild. So that's exciting. I think for Chinni think, I'm hoping we'll see more of that in Colorado.

Sean Gonsalves (09:59):
Yeah, I mean, it feels like there's been, over the past couple of years, of course, they rolled back the restrictions there or that they had in Colorado where you had to have this referendum vote after half the cities and towns have already sort of opted out of the law that calls for that, and now they've gotten rid of that. But it feels like Colorado was turning into this hotbed of municipal broadband networks. I think word spreading. And then of course you've got those great networks there in the front range region that I think are really blazing a trail for other communities, certainly for Tim Nth. And then so much a part of all of this is obviously about competition and affordability. And man, you look at the prices that Pulse offers their subscribers $45 a month for their most popular, or actually their most popular package is the symmetrical gig, $75 a month.

Christopher Mitchell (10:55):
Yeah, that's a good price.

Sean Gonsalves (10:57):
45 bucks for their starter package. It's those kinds of things that not just people like me, but that make people go, man, when I'm thinking about moving to a community, I'm checking for things like that. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (11:10):
Well, one of the things I find interesting too is there is this claim from the big cable and telephone companies that if states like Colorado made it easier for municipalities to build their networks, that we would see less private investment because for the private companies, wall Street would view it as a less hospitable investment. They might be less likely to be able to make their money back. But we're also seeing announcements from Google Fiber. We see private companies doing public private partnerships in Colorado. We see everything in Colorado. It's almost like the state removes barriers to investment and actually encourages investment, and then you get investment. So I just bring that up to say, these liars have been saying this stuff forever. I mean, they've been saying like, oh, we need to restrict this to make it safer for the taxpayers. And then in states like Utah where they pass the laws that are supposed to be protecting taxpayers, the taxpayers are put at greater risk because what they're doing is they're increasing the risk of the project. Communities still need a high quality Internet network. It's just that now there's higher risk because of the law that was passed by Comcast and at and t or Charter or whoever. So yeah, I mean there's a lot of garbage out there, but it's good to see that our analysis are standing up still 10, 12 years after we've made them. And so a little pat on the back for ourselves there.

Sean Gonsalves (12:27):

Christopher Mitchell (12:28):
Let's talk about the five year plans. So you dug into the five-year plans. Where do you want to start? Well,

Sean Gonsalves (12:33):
Let's start with where I started, which is with Maine. And honestly, there weren't really a lot of surprises in their five-year plan. We follow what's going on in Maine pretty closely, and we know that Maine has made public broadband or investing in locally controlled, publicly owned infrastructure as being a centerpiece of their statewide plan to get folks connected. A lot of that, of course, has to do with Maine is such a rural state, and there's a lot of areas in Maine that are not particularly attractive to the big guys. And so in some ways, that kind of drives them to look for alternative models.

Christopher Mitchell (13:06):
There's a lot of interesting things happening in Maine. I mean, not just that sort of individual municipal network, but they've created the structure, the broadband utility district to make it easier for communities to work together. At the same time, consolidated. The company that's now called Consolidated, the incumbent telephone company for a majority of that whole region of the upper New England, they have done more on public-private partnerships after it was before it was consolidated. The previous companies, Verizon and FairPoint, they were awful. And I think Consolidated was the same people effectively, but they've actually stepped up the game quite a bit. But prior to that, there was D S L that was rotting. It's bad, and they were not even willing to do partnerships. At least now Consolidated is willing to do that, and I think a lot of that is because of the people in Maine that really came together to create the Maine Broadband Coalition. You got Peggy Schaefer, so you obviously have such great ISPs up there, willing to partner. You got Pioneer Broadband, G W I Long, I mean, GWIS work is I think just terrific on this stuff. There's multiple others that I'm missing in my brain right now, but there's just this great ecosystem that's been developed up there. Exactly. And so that's great. ARP has been deeply involved. I mean, there's all kinds of folks that have pulled together up there.

Sean Gonsalves (14:27):
Exactly. And one other thing, and we knew about this, but one other thing that the plan does include, which is that the fact that that Maine has actually redefined the meaning of broadband, which is so the standard in terms of what they're looking to get to of the a hundred over 20, Maine says, no, we want symmetrical a hundred megabits per second service. And so they're integrating that into their plan. So there's just a lot of action and exciting things, and I feel like Maine is well poised to really capitalize on this moment. And whereas other states, it feels like even in looking at their plans, that it's even the ones that look kind of beautiful are, it's kind of like the same old same old kind of thing with a lot of the obligatory rhetoric around how important it is to close the digital divide and how they're going to maximize the federal funds and all of these kind of things. So

Christopher Mitchell (15:26):
There's only so much you can say about permitting, right?

Sean Gonsalves (15:28):
That's right. There's only so much you can say about permitting. So that's certainly a pattern that I've seen is that a lot of the language, it varies from state to state, but they're pretty much all making the same points about what the goals and the vision include. Obviously a big part of that are the digital inclusion initiatives that are in each of these plans. But what I find to be most interesting is the sort of the contrast between states like Maine and Vermont. We should mention they've also filed their five-year action plan, and they're moving gangbusters there in Vermont, very much like Maine is also a state that has centered community broadband model is at the center of their plans. And then you've got the string of states 17 by our account that have these preemption laws that really fly in the face of the plain language of the infrastructure bill, which says that you've got to give municipalities and political subdivisions access to these B dollars. And there's 17 states that have some form of restriction in some cases that outright ban municipal broadband. And so I was interested, and this is the part that I've been spending my time on in the last few days, and looking specifically in these plans in those states of how they're wrestling with their preemption laws in the face of BEAD.

Christopher Mitchell (16:52):
Yeah. If people dig back into their podcast feed, it's episode 4 98 where I interviewed Nancy Werner, who is at natoa at the time, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. We talked about that and talked about what options were open to N T I A, and I think she made a strong case that N T I A is playing its hand poorly. I think N T I A has a bunch of folks who are under a lot of pressure, but I think they could be pushing harder on states. I don't think it's realistic. I've said this before and it undermines what you and I would like to see happen. We want to see N T I A play hardball

Sean Gonsalves (17:29):
And be like, we're not giving you your funds unless you remove these barriers.

Christopher Mitchell (17:32):
I mean, the election could be decided by Georgia or North Carolina or Wisconsin, and each of those has some barriers and well, Georgia's is really light. It's not really related to broadband, but it is hard to imagine the Biden administration telling North Carolina, you're not getting broadband funds in an election year or we're going to delay it. Right. It is just politically, that's not how the world works. But nonetheless, I do feel like N T I A could be pushing harder back on some of this. It is the case. They're not doing nothing. They're doing what we had suggested. One of the things which is states are supposed to document this and track all of this stuff.

Sean Gonsalves (18:11):
You're right, I mean in the best of all possible worlds, in some ways I fantasize about N T I A really saying, look, you got to follow the law. You've got to deal with this or you're not going to get the funds. On the other hand, I do think that the very fact that N T I A is requiring those states though, to explain themselves and specifically in different ways, not only to identify what those barriers are, but to also explain how that barrier may or is affecting the grant applications and potentially if applicants are denied, how that plays into it. And so I think that exercise has produced some interesting results in some states that have North Carolina and South Carolina that have these barriers where I frankly was surprised at how candid those state's broadband officers were in these plans in acknowledging those barriers and calling them for what they are and saying that they're real hindrances. And there are real challenges, and I don't know if it's North Carolina, South Carolina, or both, but I think maybe either in one or both, they were suggesting that they may very well suggest to the state legislature that this should be dealt with.

Christopher Mitchell (19:27):
So I think it's important for people to have a sense if people don't really have a good sense of how the state is organized, these plans are being developed by people who are career staff, who have been working for state government. My wife works for state government. These are people who they don't care about politics so much. They're not motivated by, I mean, personally, they might have strong opinions, but they usually are very professional in not bringing that to work. And so they don't want to get involved in something that is a political hot potato because what could happen to them is that their boss, who is also in many cases, a nonpolitical appointee, a career staffer, will get grilled by a political appointee above them who a department or a cabinet member or something like that, a head of the department. And that person is going to be like, look, we don't want to have this big fight.

Don't piss off the legislature, don't piss off the Republican leadership in Raleigh who is clearly bought and paid for by at and t and Charter Spectrum. We don't want to, this is not where we want to have a big fight. And so for them to come out and to just be so clear that these laws are hurting our ability to get everyone connected, we did not see that five years ago from any state really, because the career folks felt like that was aligned too far. But now they clearly recognize that this is such an issue and this is such a barrier that they can't ignore it. And so we are in a much better place because of that honesty, I think now. But it is pretty remarkable.

Sean Gonsalves (21:04):
And that's what I mean. I think we need to acknowledge that the needle has moved pretty far on that. I mean, granted, it isn't the actual removal of some of these barriers in some of these states, but to the extent that the folks who are administering these programs are candidly acknowledging these barriers, I think is a significant step forward.

Christopher Mitchell (21:25):
So then in South Carolina, there was something else that was interesting though with what we saw in the report, which I think we didn't really expect,

Sean Gonsalves (21:34):
Which was they were quoting actually people from the listening sessions and stuff that they were having around the state. And to me, the quotes that they used in there really signifies that even in states that do have these barriers, and I think this is true across the board, people get it. People understand that the connection between the lack of competition, the lack of choice and how that relates to prices, reliability, and customer service and things of that nature. And so I was trying to see if I could quickly find some of the quotes. They were really good.

So South Carolina included some direct quotes that they were hearing as they were doing their listening sessions and building these plans. And so residents are saying things like, will ISPs be held accountable to high priority areas that have no Internet? What is being done to stop companies from becoming a monopoly due to the contracts that they make you sign to be able to use their services? Our current services does not match the amount of money we are spending. And then another person flat out says, there is a monopoly. Why don't we have an array of ISPs to choose from? This is the kind of stuff that they're hearing. And kudos to them for not only documenting this, but making it public and for folks in their state to see that this is a real issue, which is why they spend quite a bit of time kind of going over. They spill some pretty good ink going over what that barrier is and how it will affect how the BEAD funds are distributed and whether or not they'll be able to meet their goals.

Christopher Mitchell (23:11):
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things I find the most interesting about this is the discussions you and I have had. We've talked about on the Connect this show we've talked about in a bunch of places where we feel like most of the money is going to go to these big companies because of the, I think this is something I lay fully at the feet of N T I A, which is this ridiculous and unnecessary letter of credit requirement, which is just super harmful. And N T I A refuses to remove for reasons that are beyond me. There's things where I disagree with an agency or a person, but I get where they're coming from. I do not get this at all. It is wild to me that they will not change this. I thought that by now we would have two things that were done.

One, I thought Congress would fix the taxation issue that right now Congress is still planning on taxing these grants at 20% because of the Republican bill in 2017. I just want to be clear, because people always assume that taxes are going up as Democrats. It was Republicans whom wanted to tax broadband awards. They changed the I R S language to tax this stuff in 2017 under the Trump administration's. Right? And then the other thing is this thing with the letter of credit, I thought that we would've, these two things resolved and nobody caress. It's just it's not being treated seriously.

Sean Gonsalves (24:24):
And now of course, there's a group of coalitions of which we're a part of, which I think in terms of asking the N T I A to come up with some alternatives to the letter of credit, which I think also shows that we're able to make the distinction between the big monopoly in Cummins in the small to mid-size ISPs that are really doing good work and why it's important that they're a part of this. And as it stands, and some of these plans that we're looking over these five-year action plans, a number of them specifically point to the letter of credit as a concern as it relates to smaller ISPs and their ability to participate in the program. I mean, that's a real concern. I mean, if you've created a program that essentially squeezes out a lot of the smaller ISPs, even in states that are encouraging public private partnerships, I mean, your options are dwindling quickly. I mean, if you've got municipal barriers in place and you've got this letter of credit requirements and things like that, it really is pushing things in the direction of where some of these states are not going to have much of a choice but to hand over a lot of this money from the big incumbents.

Christopher Mitchell (25:32):
Because what'll happen is bigger companies that want this money, they're going to find some way of adjusting their tax liability so that they're not getting that 20% hit on this, right? They're going to figure out some other way to offset that with something else somewhere else. And it's the small companies who don't have a division of tax attorneys who can't figure that out. And so we're going to end up in that spot where everyone in South Carolina at these public meetings is basically saying, Hey, let's fix this. Let's not just figure out the quickest and easiest way to get a new company out there. Let's make sure we actually have good service that meets our needs. But that's not what the states and N T I A are setting up here. They're setting up to just have a government funded expansion of big monopolies. I think that's pretty ugly. But you'll be talking about this in 10 years, Sean. You'll be like, yeah, I watched as they set this up. You want to know why you have one service provider out here in rural South Carolina is what?

Sean Gonsalves (26:28):
Tell you a little story. We told them.

Yeah. Some of the other things that we're seeing in the plans is in several of the master plans is this discretion. I believe that the states are taking in terms of, so BEAD requires of course, that you first take care of unserved areas, then underserved areas, et cetera. But there are a number of states who are explicitly saying in their plans as it relates to this question of Is BEAD going to be enough to get them to universal coverage? A number of states I've looked at said, yes, they feel like it'll be enough. Maine actually says, Nope, not quite. But we've thought about that and we've got a plan in place as it relates to that. The thing that I'm starting to see is that a number of states are saying, alright, we're going to take care of the unserved. We're going to do underserved.

We're going to do underserved. And then if there's any money left over, we're going to look to connect multi-dwelling units, low income, multi-dwelling units, and other types of apartment buildings and condos and things of that nature. If memory serves, I believe I specifically might've even asked Al Davidson, the head of N T I A, this question at Mountain Connect, not the most recent one, but the year prior about this. And I think he explicitly said that You don't have to make the MDUs connectivity be the last thing. And so it feels to me that there are a number of states that are kind of saying, Hey, maybe we'll eventually get there. If there's enough money, we'll eventually get there. So to me, that's fundamentally an equity issue. And I get it that most of the BEAD funding is geared towards rural America, but there are lots of urban and suburban areas that could really use some of these funds. And there's some great, I think, gems in the infrastructure bill that allows even urban areas and such to use some funds to connect things like MDUs, except that some of these state broadband officers are kind of taking the approach of, we'll get to that last if we get to it at all. Yeah,

Christopher Mitchell (28:32):
It's the lowest priority. And to be very clear for people, you're saying the MDUs, what we're talking about is low income apartment buildings. This is where people working class and people who are often struggling, they might be on government assistance programs, they might not be able to work, they might be retired. These are folks who have been left behind. There are more of these people than there are people in rural areas who don't have infrastructure available. And once again, many states are saying, we're going to maybe worry about you last. We don't really care that much about you. That is the explicit message and is frustrating because N T I A I think was deliberately ambiguous in part because the statute was somewhat ambiguous and could be read different ways. But it is clear that states could start putting money into these very high poverty apartment buildings immediately if they wanted to.

And we're talking about that. We're talking about an improvement that might cost $500 per family served or per household. It might be less. It might be a little bit more, but that's the range. And instead they're basically saying, oh, rather than doing that, we're going to make sure we serve all these households where it costs $10,000 per household to fix up. And it's like, okay, you and I are strong believers that we want to get Internet access out to everyone, but there needs to be some balance there. And this is one of the things we're seeing in Los Angeles in particular with the state there, where you have more people in Los Angeles who are in this situation of living in a small low income apartment building and they're not getting any assistance, and there's more than a million of these people. And then across the state, you've got another million people in the rural areas, and the state is just basically, well, you got to worry about them first. Well, no, you don't have to. It is a policy decision that you are making that, once again, we are taking the low income families and we're putting them at the back of the line and saying, Hey, we're going to get to you next, but we really know what that means is we're never going to get to you. We don't care about your problems. You don't vote in high enough numbers. You don't give money to our campaigns. Our system is not prioritized to be responsive to you, and here's what it looks like.

Sean Gonsalves (30:38):
And I got to believe that there are some congressional offices and staffers who are probably pulling their hair out of their heads over this, because in the sausage making of all this, of course there's all these trade-offs that happened, but there were some people that I think worked hard to try to embed certain things in the infrastructure bill that allowed for things like this, despite the overall shape of it being sort of more geared towards connectivity challenges in rural areas, that there were these little, what I call Easter eggs in there, and it feels like there's a number of states that are just leaving them there.

Christopher Mitchell (31:14):
Yeah, no, and to some extent, I think there's a little bit of, people may not be aware of it, but we've talked about it so many times, and I think Pew and others have talked about it. Benton, I'm sure has highlighted it. Anyone who's paying attention, you have the opportunity to learn about it. Alright, one last thing. We got to cut this off in a minute, but we got to talk about Pennsylvania for a second. Pennsylvania, a friend of ours, someone we respect a lot was just aghast at how bad the five-year plan was from Pennsylvania. I haven't read the whole thing. I was just skimming through it and I was a little bit surprised by a few things. Few, you noted one of them already, which was something you were talking about, which is how does Pennsylvania deal with their, they have this weird law from 2003, 2004 that Verizon pushed through, which is basically that a community has to get permission from a private company offering telephone service in their area before they could build a network to improve Internet access. Remarkable. Just very on the nose, like exactly, who's writing the checks here kind of.

Sean Gonsalves (32:18):

Christopher Mitchell (32:19):
So that barrier's still in effect.

Sean Gonsalves (32:21):
And also, yeah, a telephone company. I mean, it just feels like, so 1995, but so again, as we said initially, states are supposed to be detailing these things, and so curiously, in Pennsylvania's five-year action plan, in the actual section where they're supposed to be identifying obstacles and barriers, they don't even mention it. They do mention it in the plan elsewhere. You have to look for it.

Christopher Mitchell (32:42):
Yeah. They have a section called Obstacles or Barriers, and they say, barriers across Pennsylvania. This is what puzzled me. Did you notice this? One of the barriers that they're talking about is limited Internet options. It's a remarkable thing to be like, one of the reasons people don't have Internet access is because they don't have the option for Internet access. Oh, really? Thanks a lot. Really insightful.

Sean Gonsalves (33:08):
Right? No, exactly. I mean, actually in a lot of these plans, as I'm reading through, I'm one of my most common out loud to my self remarks is like, oh yeah, you think

Christopher Mitchell (33:18):
So literally, the last sentence of this paragraph on limited Internet options is, I've read this 10 times now and I have to share this. These challenges also impact the ability to overbuild existing broadband networks in a cost-effective manner. Now, if anyone can explain to me what that means, I would be interested. First of all, overbuild is supposed to be this horribly negative word. I think whoever wrote this doesn't actually know what that word means, but the connotation of it is. But a problem with having limited Internet access is that then nobody can overbuild. Well, yeah. You can't overbuild something that's not there, I guess. Anyway, it's wild how much this looks like it was scripted. Some group got more than a million dollars to do this, and I think you and I should have done it in a weekend, man, we would have some good vacations later this year. No

Sean Gonsalves (34:04):
Doubt, no doubt. I will give their graphics people credit. I mean, the plan looks beautiful. They've got all these wonderful maps in there and colorful graphics and what have you. But the thing that strikes me about Pennsylvania is not only do they sort of breeze over that barrier, they don't ever really connect the dots, even though the plan is littered with evidence that shows that Pennsylvanians are screaming for competition and choice. I mean, do the surveys that they talk about, the different surveys that they've done and the results. And it's like when they ask residents who don't have home Internet service, why they didn't, the top three answers were it costs too much. The services unreliable, or I hate the service provider. Those were the top three answers that they heard all across the state. And so there's all these different bits and pieces in the plan that kind of scream, pay Pennsylvania, why don't you kind of help create the conditions to increase competition, et cetera.

And they kind of just sort of breeze over that and say, yeah, we're going to go with relying on the big incumbents and we're going to encourage public-private partnerships. Although there's not a lot of detail as to how they're going to do that, because again, when we talk about the letter of credit stuff, I mean, it's one thing to say we're going to encourage public-private partnerships, but you can't force Internet service providers to partner. And so you can put some carrots in there, but what are those exactly? How are you going to help them get over the different concerns that they have to even want to enter into public private?

Christopher Mitchell (35:37):
Yep. Well, we're out of time went longer than I tried to. Once again, always so much to talk about with you, Sean. Thank you.

Sean Gonsalves (35:45):
I do like to flap my gums.

Christopher Mitchell (35:47):
I love having you on here to talk about this stuff. I hope people enjoyed the show, and I'll be seeing you later.

Sean Gonsalves (35:54):
Okay, take

Ry Marcattilio (35:54):
Care. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni networks.org/broadbandbits. Email us@podcastmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at communitynets, follow muni networks.org. Stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from I L S R, including Building Local Power, local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter@lsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arnie Sby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.