Tag: "digital divide"

Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-...

A new report out by CTC Technology and Energy and Rural Innovation Strategies, commissioned by the state of Vermont, gives us one of the clearest and most detailed pictures so far of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on our attempts to live and work remotely. 

The “Covid-19 Responses Telecommunications Recovery Plan” [pdf], presented to the state in December 2020, includes both a comprehensive survey of conditions after a half-year of social distancing and intermittent lockdowns as well as recommendations for addressing immediate needs. But it offers solutions that provide a path forward by making sure that dollars spent now are in service to the state’s long-term goals of getting everyone in the Green Mountain State on fast, affordable wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

The report brings together network performance assessments from every level of government across the state over the last six months, pairs it with survey responses from citizens, libraries, hospitals, businesses, regional development corporations, and Communications Union Districts (CUDs), and offers analysis based on conditions for moving forward.

“Covid-19 has laid bare the challenges of lack of universal broadband in Vermont,” the report says, with “inequities in the availability and affordability of broadband create further inequities in areas such as education, telehealth, and the ability to work from home.” It offers a wealth of findings:

  • Broadband use has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, as would be expected. For example, respondents to an online poll report increased use of the Internet for telemedicine (an increase from 19 percent to 75 percent) and for civic engagement (an increase from 33 percent to 74 percent). Additionally, 62 percent of respondents use the Internet for teleworking on a daily basis, compared with 21 percent of respondents before the pandemic.
  • Overall, satisfaction with Internet service aspects has decreased during the pandemic, particularly for speed and reliability of service. More than one-half of respondents are not at all satisfied (approximately one-third) or are only slightly satisfied (approximately one-fifth) with connection speed and reliability during the pandemic.
  • Many municipalities have...
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Posted January 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-...

In August we first covered the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s new Digital Navigator’s program, which provides a best-practices model for organizations looking to use local resources to help neighbors learn the skills and overcome their reluctance to getting online. This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes Paolo Balboa, Program Manager at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Shauna Edson Digital Inclusion Coordinator, at the Salt Lake City Public Library to dive deeper into the program and talk about lessons learned so far.

The group dives right into what digital equity means both in policy and practice, and how we can be more thoughtful about both. Paolo shares the history behind the idea of the NDIA’s Digital Navigator Program and how it came to fruition, helpfully, right at the start of the pandemic. 

Shauna talks about the challenges Digital Navigators confront head on in communities, from helping residents overcome lack of familiarity with new devices, to learning to navigate the web, to connecting with local resources. Both Shauna and Paolo stress that successful forward progress will come from the presence of ongoing programs staffed by fellow community members, and Shauna shares the progress made in Salt Lake City so far.

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon.

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 ...

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Posted December 23, 2020 by sean

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

2020 is nearly over, and it's that time of the year we sit back with a cold glass of eggnog and reflect on what was, what is, what might have been, and what will be. In this episode the Community Broadband Bits podcast the MuniNetworks team cranks up Zoom for the zillionth time this month to review our previous years' predictions to see who swung the hardest and missed back in 2019, and who might be hiding a secret gift at prognostication that would put Zoltar to shame.

With the departure of Lisa and Katie, GIS and Data Researcher Michelle Andrews is the only one who must reckon with her predictions head on. Also on the show are two recent arrivals: Senior Writer and Editor Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. Hannah Trostle returns from a short hiatus as well, to offer insight and secretly watch Chris to make sure he hasn't turned into a total despot. During the show we talk state preemption laws, progress by municipal networks, electric cooperatives, and county governments in expanding affordable broadband, the recent RDOF auction, New Hampshire, Sean's water feature, and our favorite stories of the year. 

This show is 50 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon.

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.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...

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Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The Georgia Public Service Commission on Tuesday, December 15 agreed with the state's electric membership cooperatives's plan to lure private investment in broadband infrastructure, approving the plan they proposed earlier in the fall. It included simplified one-touch make ready rules, a one dollar per pole, per year, for six years rate of lease, and a host of other provisions.

Posted December 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

For the tenth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” we’re talking about the an innovative Building a New Digital Economic (BAND-NC) grant program, which provides funds to support devices, subscriptions, and digital skills training to communities across North Carolina. The program disbursed its first round of money to 29 projects across 39 counties this summer, and is planning a second round of funding right now.

To talk about how it came about and the impact it’s having, Christopher speaks with Maggie Woods, Policy and Program Manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State, Amy Huffman, Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager within the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, and Arlayne Gordon-Bray, IZone Community Engagement and Industry Partner at Edgecombe Public Schools.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png

We produced this episode and the “Why NC Broadband Matters” series in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization advocating for better connectivity across North Carolina.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

Transcript coming soon.

Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes...

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Posted December 17, 2020 by sean

Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities. Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.

Better Data is Needed

Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.

The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...

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Posted December 16, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Office of Innovation and Performance just issued a Request for Information (RFI) [pdf] which seeks to gather information from private vendors in the initial stages of a plan to improve connectivity for those on the wrong side of the broadband gap in Cleveland and the surrounding area. Responses are due January 15th.

Grace Chu, Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow with the Cuyahoga County Office of Innovation & Performance, spoke with us about the origins of the RFI and what the county hopes to get out of the request. The county released a new strategic plan in 2017, and broadband played a prominent role. In the time since, the county has partnered with local organizations (like DigitalC and PCs for People) in distributing devices and hotspots to get families connected. Their efforts have intensified during in 2020 and in the wake of the pandemic, but local officials seek a longer term, more comprehensive solution to the connectivity crisis. It sees projects coming to fruition over the next couple of years.

In the announcement, County Executive Armond Budish emphasized the scope of the digital divide and how the efforts they’ve taken during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic:

Sadly, Cuyahoga County is one of the worst connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households not having any type of internet service. While we’ve been working to lessen the digital divide through partnerships with the Cleveland Foundation and PCs for People—we provided broadband access to over 3,000 homes through this initiative—this RFI allows us to work toward a more long-term solution that can reach more people and provide easier access for those who need it.

In the request, the county signals its willingness to consider “a wide range of construction, operation, ownership, and financing options associated with public-private agreements, non-exclusive franchises, and other appropriate alternatives in its evaluation of business models to pursue. This includes creative solutions maximizing the efficiency of total investments by all parties while providing the scope of work...

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Posted December 11, 2020 by sean

Last week we began our broad overview of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, sweeping legislation that calls for a $100 billion investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country, as well as federal funding and coordinated support to meet the myriad of barriers that prevent tens of millions of Americans from having access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity.

The bill (H.R. 7302) has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force. The Senate version of the bill (S. 4131), which was filed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has stalled, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has “has buried the legislation in his graveyard,” in the words of Rep. Clyburn.

In this second-installment of a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation, we look at the “Title I – Digital Equity” portion of the bill.

New Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG)

The first thing the legislation does is requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The new office, which would be allocated a $26 million annual budget, would run point on federal outreach to communities who lack access, or need better broadband access, via regional workshops, trainings, and the drafting of reports that would provide guidance on best-practices.

The office would also be required to track federal spending on any broadband related expenditures, as well as coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a study on how affordability factors into households’ lack of connectivity...

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Posted December 9, 2020 by christopher

The FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund results are a puzzle. RDOF was the recent auction for large swaths of rural areas of the U.S. that have no broadband access, in large part because they were the territories of big companies like AT&T, CenturyLink (now rebranding as Lumen in hopes of improving its dismal image among its subscribers), Frontier, Windstream, and others. Up to $16 billion was at stake though the auction will actually disperse some $9+ billion dollars because many areas were bid well below what was expected. 

Please understand that this post is the best I can do right now - this is confusing and we are sorting our way through it. Please let me know if you can help us understand it. See our past coverage for more information.

The auction resulted in far more gigabit - 85% of locations I believe - than anyone expected, at far lower subsidy than expected. However, there is a lot of frustration and confusion because it is not clear that some of the top bidders can deliver. NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association - shared my original enthusiasm for RDOF and our concerns - best articulated over the years by Jon Chambers from Conexon - that the FCC was going to blow this auction by not ensuring those who bid had the capacity to deliver on the promised level of service. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, wrote this and recently tweeted on this:

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, has addressed this in the...

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