Tag: "digital divide"

Posted July 21, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As Senators involved in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework are negotiating over legislative language on how to spend $65 billion aimed at expanding high-speed Internet connectivity in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country, a new joint report has been published by Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that details the massive influence Big Telecom has on Congress.

The 21-page report – Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide – examines the political spending and lobbying efforts of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as their trade associations, and connects the dots on how some of the most despised companies in America have helped create the digital divide.

The report begins by noting how “major broadband providers, both telecom and cable, have chosen not to build their networks to areas they deem less profitable and not to upgrade many existing customers left behind by outdated technology. These choices entrench the far too wide digital divide and mean Americans pay some of the highest prices for service. At the same time, the largest ISPs have used their outsized influence in Congress to block any legislation that would undermine their stranglehold over the broadband marketplace. In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections.”

That’s an average of more than $320,000 a day, seven days a week, as the report’s authors note.

America’s ‘Most Hated’ Companies Lobby to Maintain Monopoly Power

Although policymakers have proposed reforms that would close the digital divide, the report says, “the (telecom) industry is on Capitol Hill spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight against legislation that would fund the deployment of future-proof networks, promote competition, mandate higher minimum speed...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The winners of the Truist EPIC grant program, which we wrote about earlier this year, have been announced.

47 projects applied for the funds. Innovative, community-centered projects in Florida and Alabama will be taking home money. So too is Wilson, North Carolina for an expansion of its municipal network, Greenlight. The awards will be distributed by the Internet Society:

Five recipients will share $1 million in grant funding to expand broadband access in their communities as part of the Truist Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant. The grant program supports broadband initiatives to help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the Southeastern United States.

The grants are "directed toward supporting community networks built, owned and operated by local governments and organizations." 

The full list includes:

  • The Duval County Public Schools will receive $180,000 for Project OVERCOME21, a plan to turn schools in the Florida district into local broadband hubs for the surrounding community. The hubs boost signals to a three-mile radius and connect to the school district’s existing network.
  • The Tuskegee Housing Authority will receive nearly $180,000 for its Jesup “Cyber Wagon” Project in Tuskegee, Ala. The project will provide broadband access to low-income, Black communities where a lack of Internet has hindered access to health, education and other services.
  • The City of Wilson, N.C., has been granted nearly $180,000 to expand North Carolina’s Community Broadband fiber-to-the-home into a rural, majority Black community in Wilson County.
  • The City of Williston, Fla., will receive $108,000 for its broadband program, COWLink, to support efforts to improve access and speed of broadband for local businesses, schools and homes.
  • Wave 7 Communications will receive more than $150,000 to connect residents of Enfield, N.C. and outlying rural areas, train digital stewards and provide online learning to residents.

In a press release, Internet Society Regional Vice President for...

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Posted July 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Internet access in the United States is among the most expensive in the world, both in terms of absolute prices and in cost-per-megabit. Millions of families around the country can't afford to get online, making them even more disconnected from social services, family, and friends, more economically vulnerable, increasingly bearing the burden of the homework gap, and less healthy. 

All of this is a direct result of the broken broadband marketplace, dominated by just a few monopoly providers regularly raising prices to extract wealth from communities. It's also the result of an FCC which has consistently refused to mandate the submission of pricing data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), or collect it from users themselves. Instead of investing in infrastructure upgrades or innovating, huge providers like Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Comcast, and Suddenlink have sunk time and energy into making our broadband bills harder to interpret, all while raising prices, changing plan terms, and playing around with data caps to pad their profits. 

Let's change that, together.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is joining with Consumer Reports to collect bills from 30,000 households across diverse geographic and demographic backgrounds in an initiative called Let's Broadband Together.  

Let's Broadband Together is asking individuals to take a 7-minute survey and submit a PDF of their broadband bill. The effort will contribute to a valuable dataset which will inform future analysis and support efforts to secure federal legislation or regulation to address these problems.

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Posted July 7, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

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.

Read the...

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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 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Internet connectivity in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is, well, downright medieval by modern telecommunication standards. With the exception of a handful of homes in the more densely populated communities of St. Johnsbury and Newport, the only choice for most folks living in the rural environs of the Northeast Kingdom is between DSL and satellite.

That’s all changing now thanks to one of the state’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD), enabled by a 2015 Vermont law that allows two or more towns to join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure. These local governmental bodies were formed to help the state reach its goal of having universal access to broadband by 2024.

In the Realm of Broadband, Fiber is King 

Formed in March of 2020, the NEK CUD has already raised $743,000 through a variety of grant programs, and, over the past year, has forged a partnership with Kingdom Fiber using COVID-relief funding to connect nearly 100 homes in the towns of Albany, Craftsbury, Greensboro, Hardwick, and Irasburg.

Now, the NEK CUD, known as NEK Community Broadband, has taken another major step on the path to bringing fiber connectivity to all residents and businesses in the 55 towns that comprise the district. Last week, the NEK CUD approved a $120 million business plan that will deploy about 2,800 miles of fiber across the region, passing 33,000 premises, according to NEK Community Broadband Chairman Evan Carlson.

“It’s mostly DSL here with 49 percent of addresses (in the Northeast Kingdom) not having access to anything 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second) or above,” Carlson told us in a recent interview.

“I had HughesNet at one point and I was paying $150 a month. But now I have StarLink. It’s not perfect but…,” Carlson began to say, as his connection froze for about 10 seconds.

Hark! FTTH Cometh to the REAP Zone

The expensive and unreliable connectivity Carlson and his fellow NEK residents have had to deal with will change drastically once the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network construction gets underway later this year. With Request for Proposals soliciting construction and Internet Service Provider (ISP) bids due by June 18, Carlson said he...

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Posted June 21, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last July, the Hamilton County School District, the county, the city of Chattanooga, and local nonprofit The Enterprise Center announced an historic commitment to low-income households with students: free 100 Mbps symmetrical connections to those households using the city's municipal fiber network, EPB Fiber.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported last week that the initiative has connected more than 14,000 households totalling 25,000 people, or about a third of the total number who qualify.

From the story:

'We are showing the rest of the country what it looks like to close the digital divide in education,' Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said in a news release. 'HCS EdConnect is a comprehensive solution, and since the partners have made a 10-year commitment to the program, this will be a lasting solution.'

We originally wrote about the initiative last summer. Read our original story here.

Posted June 7, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Part of the Michelson 20MM Foundation's digital equity focus area has been its Connecting California learning series, which seeks to "strengthen [our] collective understanding of the history and root causes of the 'digital divides' - the economic and educational gaps created by inequitable access to high-speed internet, computing devices, and digital literacy resources" in the Golden State.

The panel features introductory remarks from Dr. Gary Michelson (Founder, Michelson 20MM Foundation) and Congressman Jerry McNerney (U.S. Representative for California’s 9th Congressional District) before ILSR's Christopher Mitchell takes over as moderator and runs a lively conversation about what the below panelists have done (and learned along the way) in closing the digital divide before and during the ongoing pandemic.

The webinar includes discussion from Seth Hoedl (President & Chief Science Officer, Post Road Foundation), Joanne Hovis (CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology and Energy), Bruce Patterson, (Director of Technology, Entry Point Networks) and Preston Rhea (Director of Engineering, Policy Program, Monkeybrains).

Watch here, or below.

Posted June 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Since it was first introduced in Congress in March, the Community Broadband Act of 2021 has gained widespread support from over 45 organizations representing local governments, public utilities, racial equity groups, private industry, and citizen advocates. 

The legislation -- introduced by U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jared Golden, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker -- would authorize local communities to build and maintain their own Internet infrastructure by prohibiting laws in 17 states that ban or limit the ability of state, regional, and local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. 

The Act also overturns state laws that restrict electric cooperatives' ability to provide Internet services, as well as laws that restrain public agencies from entering into public-private partnerships.

States have started to remove some long-standing barriers to public broadband on their own. In the last year, state lawmakers in both Arkansas and Washington removed significant barriers to municipal broadband networks, as high-quality Internet with upload speeds sufficient for remote work, distance learning, telehealth, and other online civic and cultural engagement has become essential. 

Community broadband networks offer a path to connect the unconnected to next-generation networks. State barriers have contributed to the lack of competition in the broadband market and most communities will not soon gain access without public investments or, at the very least, the plausible threat of community broadband.

The Many Benefits of Publicly-Owned Networks

Despite the tangle of financial restrictions and legislative limitations public entities face, over 600 communities across the United States have deployed public broadband networks. (See a summary of municipal network success stories...

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Posted June 3, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Episode 15 of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by two representatives from the Internet Service Provider Cruzio: James Hackett (Director of Business Operations & Development) and Chris Frost (Director of Technology and Infrastructure). 

The topic of the day is Equal Access Santa Cruz, and how Cruzio is expanding its network with philanthropy to serve low-income households. They talk about the organizing and technical efforts that got it started, challenges along the way, and the success they've seen as a result of their collective hard work. 

The secret sauce of equal access programs? There is none. Just put together a coalition of groups that can continue to do what they already do best, the result of which is bringing affordable, fast Internet access to more families. School districts can continue to serve kids, community foundations can continue to raise money and build relationships, and the ISP can continue to construct and operate Internet connections and infrastructure.

One particular success of the project: bringing in a point-to-multipoint gigabit connection to 140 homes, two laundry rooms, and an office in one farm worker community, funded by the local agricultural firm, to provide free service for three years.

Read more about the project here.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here, or below.

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