Tag: "legislation"

Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted October 1, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Fiber-to-the-home service is on its way to three counties in Southeast Georgia. In July, the Midway-based Coastal Electric Cooperative and Darien Communications – a family owned telephone, cable TV, and Internet Service Provider – announced they were teaming up to build a $40 million fiber network. Once the initial network is up and running, 16,000 homes and businesses in the counties of Bryan, Liberty, and Long will have access to high-speed Internet service.

The partnership has given birth to a new co-op entity with Coastal Electric known as Coastal Fiber Inc., which will lease the infrastructure and begin offering retail broadband service as early as January 2022. Construction began this summer with phase one of the project slated to be rolled out over the next four years.

The new partnership will first target 9,800 homes in Bryan County, 6,200 in Liberty County, and 500 in Long County.

Phase 1 Focuses on Underserved County Residents

“The first phase goal is for customers in Liberty County to begin seeing availability in January 2022. The system will be built out in phases from that point with the total buildout by 2030. The service to Bryan and Long counties will be as we build out in phases. No dates for Bryan and Long have been determined yet,” Coastal Electric Communication Coordinator Bethany Akridge told the Savannah Morning News.

“The service in Bryan County, for example, depends on where you live. There is broadband available in the more populated areas because it is more profitable for companies,” Akridge said. “The reason the cooperative is involved is because there is a need, so we are stepping in to fill that need where those areas are not served or underserved.

...

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Posted September 28, 2021 by Jericho Casper

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 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks...
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Posted July 20, 2021 by Maren Machles

Since the passing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) in 2017, the state has poured more than $100 million into connecting its most rural communities, and more than 20 electric cooperatives throughout the state have spent the last four years making their way into the broadband business. 

Back in 2016 and 2017, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), along with many other electric cooperatives, advocated for the right to build fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks out to their memberships in the most rural parts of the state. When TBAA passed through the state legislature, removing major barriers for cooperatives to build out their own networks, SVEC got to work.

Today, 23 electric cooperatives in Tennessee have launched their own broadband projects, including SVEConnect, a broadband subsidiary of SVEC offering FTTH that has connected more than 4,400 members across Marion County. 

From Electrification to Connectivity

SVEC was formed in 1939 to address the broad gaps in access to electricity throughout the rural areas surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee in Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie counties. When the cooperative was first established, the nonprofit’s leaders would frequent community events at churches and neighborhood gatherings, keeping their fingers on the pulse of community needs. The cooperative began offering an essential service: electricity.

More than 80 years later, a new disparity in service was emerging: members in SVEC’s service area were not receiving the same high-speed Internet options that were offered in urban areas around the state. 

A problem remained, however. In Tennessee, broadband wasn’t listed in the state statute definition of the “community utility services” cooperatives were allowed to...

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Posted July 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Congress and the White House are currently managing a handful of different infrastructure proposals which are coming down the pipeline fast. In terms of major legislation, there’s President Biden’s revised $65 billion in funding as part of the American Jobs Plan, the Bridge Act, which would see $40 billion dispensed in state block grants aimed at unserved and poverty-stricken parts of the country, and the LIFT Act, which comes from the 32 Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and would allocate $80 billion for infrastructure and another $30 billion for next-generation 911 services and digital inclusion efforts. 

It remains uncertain where we will ultimately land on the above, but a few things are clear: whatever plan we as a country adopt, this is a once-in-a-generation endeavor to upgrade and expand our broadband infrastructure in the name of future-proof, affordable, and universal service. Whatever framework is agreed upon will drive how and where we invest, and those are critical considerations to make.

It’s time for you to reach out to your city, state, and congressional leaders and stress that all of the above can only be achieved when communities are allowed to play an active role in the process. Local challenges require local solutions, especially when it comes to broadband infrastructure. The current marketplace is fundamentally broken, with more than 80 million Americans stuck with just one Internet Service Provider for their home connections: the majority of whom are national monopolies that have spent far more time and money during the last twenty year to protecting their territories so they can continue to extract profits from communities and send them to shareholders thousands of miles away.

Above all else, this means that cities and cooperatives – as trusted, accountable entities which have been delivering basic...

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Posted June 29, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Municipal broadband advocates in Ohio realized a major victory today when a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee released the final version of their state budget plan that added $250 million to expand broadband access in the Buckeye State and removed the anonymous budget amendment that would have effectively banned municipal broadband networks if passed into law.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the two chambers are expected to approve the final budget tonight before sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine to be signed into law ahead of the July 1 deadline. 

The vote comes after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against the last minute municipal network-killing amendment attached to the state budget proposal. State lawmakers were deluged with a flurry of calls, emails, and letters after the budget amendment was revealed two weeks ago without public discussion or debate. 

“We had a real grassroots movement here in Fairlawn. We are thrilled our residents, subscribers and businesses came together and helped us defeat this amendment,” Fairlawn Service Director Ernie Staten told us immediately following the news. “We appreciate that the State of Ohio recognizes that municipal broadband has a place in this state and we hope to continue this great endeavor.”

Staten said when FairlawnGig sent out word to the community about the budget amendment, the response from Fairlawn subscribers was fast and furious. “Over 700 emails were sent by our subscribers saying, ‘Don’t take this (municipal broadband) away!’ I think that’s amazing,” he said.

Will Municipal Networks Be Able To Access New State Grant Money?

While Staten celebrated the removal of the budget amendment, he called the victory “bittersweet,” as municipalities and electric cooperatives in the state do not have access to the proposed $250 million broadband expansion grant program that will be...

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Posted June 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

News outlets in Ohio have begun to pick up on something we first reported (here and here, thanks to our local allies), sounding the alarm on an Ohio Senate budget amendment that, if passed, would effectively kill municipal broadband networks and other publicly owned and operated broadband projects in the Buckeye State.

In the days following the unveiling of the budget amendment, the law firm IceMiller released an analysis of the overarching consequences if this language makes it into the final budget, outlining the problems not only for cities, but schools, port authorities, and intergovernmental agreements. The analysis suggests that not only would it discourage future investment, but also require many existing operations to cease altogether, to the detriment of Ohio residents and businesses.

‘Set Ohio Back Decades’

This past Sunday, the Akron Beacon Journal published a story on how the proposed amendment has Summit County officials concerned that it could put the region’s celebrated municipal network FairLawnGig out of business with Fairlawn Mayor William Roth saying the proposed legislation “would set Ohio back decades and make the state less attractive for businesses and economic development.”

The Beacon Journal goes on to report that both Mayor Roth and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro are reaching out to state lawmakers and the governor's office asking that the anti-municipal network language be removed from the proposed budget and are encouraging residents to register their opposition to the amendment with their legislators as well.

‘Vigorous’ Opposition From Local Community Advocates

In conjunction with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), FairLawnGig has issued a press release in response to the budget amendment in which Ernie Staten,...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher is joined by Douglas Adams, the CMO of Think Marketing (the firm which handles the marketing operations for the municipal network FairlawnGig in Ohio), Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for the city of Fairlawn, and Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The topic of the day is the amendment attached to the upcoming budget for the state of Ohio which, if included in the final version, would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment, expansion, and continuing operation of publicly owned and operation broadband networks. 

Douglas, Ernie, and Angela talk about the wide-ranging consequences of this amendment, which was pushed through without any meaningful public debate, and how it would ban the continued operation of existing municipal networks like those run by the cities of Fairlawn, Dublin, Springboro, Wadsworth, and Hudson. At the same time, it would preclude the establishment of new networks, as well as stymie efforts by counties and other public entities to use existing and build new Internet infrastructure to save local governments money or deploy low-cost options to families stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

See our previous coverage here and here. Click here to read a new fact sheet on the benefits that municipal broadband has brought to the state of Ohio, and the widespread impact if the amendment is adopted as-is.

Read our earlier coverage of the amendement here.

Read our new fact sheet [pdf] on all the ways Ohio's community networks have brought value to the state. 

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Ohio Senate attached an amendment to the state's budget bill last week which would place significant restrictions on the establishment of new community broadband solutions. It would also, if passed in its current form, place substantial barriers on the operation and expansion of existing municipal networks and other publicly owned and operated projects.

Cities across Ohio have expanded Internet infrastructure in thoughtful, forward-looking ways. These municipal networks have created local government savings, increased speeds, promoted service competition, and powered economic development.

 Some cities have specifically addressed the affordability gap in cities, where many residents have been left behind in a broken market where large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have underbuilt networks, leaving hundreds of thousands of broadband-hungry Ohioans in the digital dust.

This fact sheet [pdf] outlines the many long-term benefits that municipal broadband projects have brought to the state. For instance:

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Posted June 10, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Well, they did it. The Ohio Senate passed its two-year $75-billion budget bill yesterday, which included an amendment that effectively bans the creation of municipal broadband networks without much in the way of public debate.

If the amendment contained in the Senate’s budget survives the budget process, it would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks.

The vote was along party lines, with 25 GOP State Senators voting in favor of the Senate budget bill and the chamber’s eight Democrats voting against it. With the House having passed its budget bill in April, now the two legislative bodies have until June 30 to negotiate the differences.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the House and Senate budget bills agree on about 60 percent of what’s contained in the Senate spending proposal. Where the House and Senate disagree is on the size of a state income tax cut, school funding, access to subsidized childcare, and broadband.

Ohio on Cusp of Municipal Broadband Ban

When the Senate version of the state budget bill was unveiled earlier this week, it included an amendment that saddles community-owned projects with an array of conditions designed to prevent, stifle, and discourage political subdivisions from building and operating networks that meet the connectivity challenges of its residents. It also takes aim at existing projects which enhance the resiliency of regional communications, telehealth, and public safety operations.

Among the most pernicious consequences would be that it only allows for municipal broadband networks to be built in “unserved” areas of the state, defined as geographic regions where residents do not have access to “broadband service capable of speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 3 Mbps upstream.”

But with about 94...

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