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With support from the Internet Society, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has produced a video series to help tribes meet the requirements set by the FCC in getting their 2.5GHz networks up and running. Featuring participants from this summer's inaugural Tribal Wireless Bootcamp (including Spencer Sevilla and Deb Simpier), the series offers an introduction to key terms before walking viewers through the necessary steps from inception to connecting end users to a new network.
Christopher wrote a retrospective of the event at the end of September, so head there if you're curious about how it all came together, the lessons learned, and more about the wonderful people who took part in the effort.
The educational series is split into four parts: 1) Why LTE? 2) An Intro to EPC 3) Setting up the eNodeB, and 4) Configuring SIM Cards and Adding Users.
Watch the videos below, or view the full playlist here.
Update, 1/22/22: Common Sense Media has released an easy-to-read, comprehensive guide to federal broadband funding opportunities. Read it here.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA).
In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.
This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.
Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending
Earlier this summer, a small group of people gathered in the southern California desert for the first Tribal Wireless Bootcamp. Organized by a loose collection of people with a long history of building and encouraging nontraditional broadband networks, the focus was on building, maintaining, and troubleshooting wireless networks in Indian Country.
To avoid any pretense of journalistic integrity, I will just say upfront that it was awesome. Not just in the sense that it was a good time, but in the sense that it was overwhelming and hard to fully grasp. For some of us, it was the first time in more than a year we had been in a group of people of any size, let alone people outside our immediate social circle.
Some of the attendees were already operating networks and others were new to it but everyone shared strategies, whether about software or how to organize people in historically marginalized communities - taking lessons from the Bronx and applying them to Tribal lands.
Ultimately, we achieved the multiple objectives set out from the beginning - to share strategies on building physical networks while actually building a social support network for this work that would endure after the weekend ended. Each of the Tribes involved received a set of 2.5 GHz radios that would not only allow for a high-capacity link, but would standardize the participants so they could better help each other to troubleshoot and improve their networks.
Many rural areas lack decent broadband Internet access, but the lack of availability in Tribal reservations is extreme. No one even knows what the statistic is, but like many statistics that the Federal Communications Commission publishes, everyone knows it is a gross overstatement. For decades, Tribes have been overlooked, ignored, and defrauded by telecommunications companies seeking to extract wealth from their people and land, with some notable exceptions of companies that have worked hard to connect Indigenous communities. Many Tribal leaders have concluded they need to build their own networks to ensure high-quality Internet access to secure many of the modern benefits the rest of us take for granted.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding access to reliable, high-speed Internet service, passed in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The full text of the bill, posted on U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) website, appears to be identical to the draft of the bill detailed here by the law firm Keller & Heckman.
For those of us who favor local Internet choice, the bill is a mixed bag filled with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let’s start with …
Of the $65 billion allocated in the bill, $42 billion of that is to fund the deployment of broadband networks in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. The good part of that is the money will be sent to the states to be distributed as grants, which is better than handing it over to the FCC for another reverse auction. The FCC’s track record on reverse auctions is less than encouraging, and state governments are at least one step closer to local communities who have the best information on where broadband funding is needed.
In a nod to community broadband advocates and general common sense, the bill requires States to submit a “5-year action plan” as part of its initial proposal that “shall be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities.” It goes further in saying that those initial proposals should “describe the coordination with local governments, along with local and regional broadband planning processes,” in accordance with the NTIA’s “local coordination requirements.”
And the bill specifically says that when States award the grant money, they “may not exclude cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, private companies, public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility for such grant funds.”
As the Biden Administration is working with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a proposed infrastructure deal which now includes a $65 billion federal investment to expand broadband access, the details of how that money should be spent and where those investments should be targeted have yet to be decided.
In a new policy brief, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance looks to provide clarity for policy-makers by exploring the real challenges of America’s connectivity crisis. The brief aims to clear up a common misunderstanding of exactly where the digital divide is located.
Digital Divide is Not Urban Vs. Rural, It’s Both
It does so by explaining why high-speed Internet access is not a challenge confined primarily within rural America. A lack of fast, reliable, and affordable broadband is also a major problem in urban and suburban America.
As the brief details, millions of citizens could subscribe for service right now, if only they could afford it — but they cannot. In fact, most recent municipal broadband systems were built to resolve problems with monopoly excess, not the absence of broadband. Many of the places that appear from the DC as though they have gigabit services actually have unreliable networks that are not getting the job done.
The Case for Prioritizing Local Community Efforts
Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities
Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks
U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC
The State Scene
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders.
Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.
Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant.
Closing the homework gap has been a top priority for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. She has a long track record advocating for Wi-Fi-enabled school buses, lamenting viral images of school children completing homework in fast food parking lots, and making the case that no child should be left offline. At the onset of the pandemic, she pledged to use her influence at the agency to fight to increase the flexibility of the E-Rate program, saying “every option needs to be on the table.”
When the American Rescue Plan Act established the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in March, a $7 billion program to connect students and library patrons to the Internet at off-campus locations, Rosenworcel had an opportunity to follow through on those promises. She could have seized the moment to steer the program in the direction of allowing schools and libraries to build, own, and operate their own school and community networks (what the federal government refers to as self-provisioned networks). Many schools serving areas with poorly connected students already do this, but without much help from the E-rate program.
But when the rules on how to spend the money were finalized on May 10th, the FCC’s Report and Order declared that schools and libraries could not use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks, but instead could only use the funds to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices, such as laptop computers and tablets. The one exception in which schools and libraries can use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks is in “areas where no service is available for purchase,” based on data self-reported by private ISPs.
As the Biden administration fleshes out the details on the President’s proposed American Jobs Plan, which includes as much as $100 billion to fund expanded high-speed Internet connectivity and bring much needed competition to the broadband market, opponents (mostly Congressional Republicans and lobbyists for the big telecom companies) are tossing the word “overbuilding” around, ostensibly as a warning against wasteful government spending.
Case in point: U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee recently told Bloomberg News, “The president’s broadband proposal opens the door for duplication and overbuilding.”
Meanwhile, many of his constituents in his home state point to how broadband infrastructure has actually been underbuilt by incumbent providers, leaving the Magnolia State and its broadband hungry residents in the digital dust.
Ideology vs. Reality
“For a poor state like Mississippi, being left behind by a 21st century economy is tantamount to economic death. Senator Wicker's concern about overbuilding and duplication is certainly not the case for the families and small businesses he represents across broad areas of this rural state in economic distress,” is how Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Director and head of the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative, responded to Wicker’s assessment.
To put it mildly, she doesn’t feel that the state has adequate Internet access networks today.
Welcome to In Our View, a new series here at MuniNetworks. From time to time, we'll use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.
Special thank you to ILSR Data and Visualization Researcher Michelle Andrews for noticing the Michigan discrepancy, and for her contributions to this piece.
Earlier this month, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) released updated Form 477 data, the primary source of information used for the FCC’s broadband coverage maps and the basis upon which federal agencies and states make major funding decisions.
With new interim leadership from FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel – who has been well-aware of the FCC’s dubious track record of publishing imprecise, insufficient, and often inaccurate broadband coverage data – you will be disappointed if you were expecting any improvements in the newest data set.
Filers had until March 26, 2021 to make revisions to data that was submitted by September 1, 2020 for service they provided as of June 30, 2020. When the updated data was first released on April 7, it indicated that nearly the entire state of Michigan had access to 10 Gbps (Gigabit per second) broadband, thanks to Form 477 data provided by Strategic Alliance CDC (see map below, or a high-resolution version here).
Historical Error Repeats Itself
Federal Government Devotes Billions to Internet Access: A Community Guide to Current Broadband Funding
In the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress and the Biden Administration included a multi-billion dollar appropriation to help expand high-speed Internet access. This guide offers an overview of the different funding opportunities for communities interested in expanding broadband services. As application deadlines vary in some cases and other money must be spent within certain time frames, it is critical for states, municipalities, community organizations, and Tribal governments to start planning initiatives now.
It’s also worth emphasizing that 18 states still put localities at a disadvantage when it comes to spending anticipated funding effectively by preserving laws that interfere with community investment in broadband infrastructure. Much of this money could also be funneled for other purposes due to a lack of good plans and community engagement.
The amount of funding flowing into communities is unprecedented. Localities should prepare to spend funds on needed, futureproof infrastructure. This is an historic, once-in-a-lifetime investment in Internet infrastructure and communities who develop a clear, actionable plan and are as ready as possible once the money starts flowing will prosper.
If you’re a homeowner looking for assistance paying your Internet bill…look to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program or Homeowner’s Assistance Fund.
If you’re an HBCU or Minority-serving institution looking to expand Internet access to your students, or if you’re a minority business enterprise or nonprofit organization in the surrounding community...look to the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.
if you’re a Tribal government, Tribal organization, or Tribal college or university, including native Hawaiian organizations, education programs and native corporations…look to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
If you’re a city interested in partaking in a public-private partnership…look to the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program.
If you’re a school or library whose main concern is obtaining remote Internet access devices...look to the Emergency Connectivity Fund.
Federal Aid Directly To States, Counties, Localities and Territories