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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
The brief further elaborates on how America’s connectivity crisis has been created by uncompetitive market conditions, a dilemma that actually presents three interconnected challenges: Access, Affordability and Adoption.
Finally, the brief makes the case for why the federal and state governments should support local governments in resolving these challenges, rather than continuing to blindly hand out subsidies to the companies with the best government affairs' staff.
In an effort to connect rural communities in eastern Mississippi where the big monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed to deliver– Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber to East Mississippi Connect (EMC), the telecommunications subsidiary of the East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA). The immediate goal is to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to underserved areas in Lauderdale (pop. 74,000) and Kemper (pop. 9,700) counties.
In February, EMC received $38.6 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) grants to deploy fiber-to-the-home broadband to rural residents in the eastern part of the state. EMC, approved by EMEPA members and established in October 2020, has been building out the network in phases, with the majority of Phase One – which covers parts of Lauderdale, Kemper and Clark counties – complete, or near completion. There are a total of five phases that will eventually reach into 11 counties and connect 37,000 homes and businesses.
The deal marks the first time Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber – a move that was buoyed by a recently passed state law that allows electric utilities to “permit broadband providers use of the electric delivery system.”
EMC has two pricing and speed tiers: 100 Megabit per second symmetrical for $70/month and 1 Gigabit per second for $100/month.
“We are excited to be partnering with Mississippi Power to expand our opportunity of reaching an even greater number of rural communities with access to high-speed fiber Internet,” East Mississippi Electric Power Association Chief Executive Officer Randy Carroll said in a joint press release.
Join Us Live Thursday, December 9th to Talk About ISPs Working in Rural Areas - Episode 27 of the Connect This! Show
Join us live on Thursday, December 9th at 6pm ET for Episode 27 of the Connect This! Show, where co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Russ Elliot, CEO at Siskiyou Telephone, and Casey Irving, Director Of Business Development at Deeply Digital, to talk about the challenges and opportunities of being a carrier that's building rural areas.
The panel will discuss what they're looking forward to or afraid of with the new infrastructure money. They'll also share the conditions under which they see it as advantageous to work with local governments, and how communities can do work to facilitate projects that benefit both residents and locally based Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback, ideas for the show, or your pictures of weird wireless infrastructure to stump Travis.
What States, Communities, and Activists Need to Do to Make the Most of the Infrastructure Act - Episode 484 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Christopher Mitchell brings back a longtime favorite guest, Jon Chambers, Partner at Conexon, to talk about what is next for municipal and cooperative broadband efforts given the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The two discuss the importance of rural cooperatives when connecting some of the most underserved areas of country. Chamber said the number of dollars isn’t what’s impacting the increased connectivity around the country. The impact depends on where those dollars are going, and this infrastructure legislation will hopefully create a more direct line to cooperatives, given the fact it will be dispersed through block grants to the states.
They talk about new issues that could arise given the FCC’s new polygon mapping method and how it will almost certainly slow down disbursement of funds.
Finally, they hone in on what communities can do to help channel these dollars in the right direction and bring high-speed, reliable Internet to folks across the country.
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.
The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities.
But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totaling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.
Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well.
Leader from Yurok Tribe in California Explains the Impacts of Digital Sovereignty At Broadband Bootcamp
Back in July, with the support of the Internet Society and a crew of community broadband advocates interested in increasing digital sovereignty across Indian Country, five tribes participated in the first ever Tribal Broadband Bootcamp.
The Yurok Tribe (northern California), Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria (northern California), Hoopa Valley Tribe (northern California), Pueblo of Laguna (New Mexico), and Nation of Hawaii have all applied for and received a 2.5 GHz license to build a community network for their tribes.
In this video, Jessica Engle, IT Director for the Yurok Tribe speaks in more detail about the connectivity challenges her community has faced historically, and how she is returning home from the bootcamp ready to put her newfound knowledge to work.
“When you bring high-speed Internet, that’s when development happens and opportunity happens. So, you know, making sure that (tribal) council and everyone’s aware this is going to cost money, and it probably won’t have a huge return on investment directly. But there are a million different indirect benefits of bringing the access,” Engle says in the video.
Currently, the standard connection for residents is 1 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. The premium is 5 Mbps.
Both her and Linnea Jackson, General Manager for Hoopa Valley PUD stress the importance of tribes in their region being able to build and operate their own networks.
“You do have the ability to provide service for your own people,” said Linnae Jackson, General Manager of the Hoopa Valley PUD.
Watch Jessica Engle speak further with Chris Mitchell, Travis Carter and Matthew Rantanen on Episode 17 of Connect This!
Learn more about how to build LTE networks with our four-part educational video series.
The Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC) has worked to meet the communications needs of its members since its inception by the citizens of rural Brunswick County, North Carolina who were without telephone service in 1955. Nowadays, ATMC believes meeting members’ communications needs means ensuring all co-op members have access to gigabit fiber Internet service.
High-speed Internet access is currently available throughout 100 percent of the co-op’s service area in southeastern North Carolina. Most co-op members have access to fiber Internet service already, except for those living in ATMC’s Brunswick County service territory, where ATMC originally began offering Internet services.
Brunswick County is the last county ATMC needs to upgrade to fiber, in order to complete an overarching goal of delivering fiber-to-the-home Internet service to all existing members. The co-op recently announced it will soon start a project to replace all of its copper and coaxial wires in Brunswick County with fiber optic cables. It will cost $100 million dollars and take eight years to complete, but at the end of the project, all of the cooperative’s members in Brunswick County currently served by legacy infrastructure will be upgraded to fiber, offering even faster Internet access speeds and far greater reliability.
In the meantime, ATMC has increased the maximum broadband speed delivered to co-op members in Brunswick County from 200 megabits per second (Mbps) to 600 Mbps, a company press release states. Over 22,000 customers had their download speeds doubled without an increase in price.
“The project is slated to start in January 2022,” according to an ATMC press release announcing the project. “By constructing in the most densely populated communities first, the cooperative estimates that it can convert as many as 75 percent of homes and businesses to the new fiber optic network within the first 60 months.”
This past Friday Congress finally passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation includes $65 billion to boost high-speed Internet connectivity – “the largest (federal) investment in broadband deployment ever,” as noted by Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This is an historic piece of legislation that includes many of the things we wanted to see in it and we believe it will significantly help solve broadband challenges for many who have not yet been well connected.
There are two major buckets of broadband money that will be made available to states and tribal governments: $42.5 billion for the deployment of infrastructure, which will be mostly aimed at rural communities, with the rest going toward digital inclusion efforts.
While we have not yet gone through the final version with a fine-toothed comb, the broadband portion of the infrastructure bill appears to be identical to what was in the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which we previously wrote about here.
Rural America Biggest Beneficiary
The $42.5 billion portion of the bill will be allocated to the States in the form of block grants under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which will be administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
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.
This month Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for ILSR Christopher Mitchell will join the panel for a four-part virtual series on developing communities that foster safe and thriving lifestyles for an aging population. The North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee AARP offices are partnering to present the Livable Appalachia Summit in an effort to bring experts and local leaders together to share ideas and connect about the best way to support their communities.
Mitchell will be the keynote speaker for the second part of the series, “Our Connections: Creating Broadband Networks” which will be on Oct. 15. He will be one of six experts and leaders discussing what rural communities across the country are doing to close the digital divide by connecting underserved communities. They will talk about opportunities and barriers that exist when it comes to providing low-cost access to lower-income households.
The series started on Oct. 1 and will run through Dec. 3. Sessions will run from 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM. More details are below:
10/1 Our towns: Growing with Grace
10/15 Our connections: Creating Broadband Networks
11/12 Our homes: Affordable and Accessible Housing
12/3 Getting there: Transportation Solutions
Register for the event here.