Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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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
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.
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Join Us Live on Thursday at 5pm ET for Connect This! Episode 15 - How Equal Access Santa Cruz is Bridging the Digital Divide
Join us on Thursday, June 3rd at 5pm ET/4pm CT for a new episode of the Connect This! show, with co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) 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 a small ISP is expanding its network with philanthropy to serve low-income households. They'll 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 show will begin on Thursday, June 3 at 5pm ET/4pm CT.
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
Watch here, or below.
Building a Citizen-Centered, Smart City Public Network in Tucson - Episode 459 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
A couple of months ago we wrote about the city of Tucson’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by building a wireless citywide network. On this episode of the podcast, Christopher talks with Collin Boyce, the city’s Chief Information Officer, to hear more about how the effort started, what they’ve learned along the way, and the impact it’s having on the community.
Boyce tells us about the city's efforts to bring service to the tens of thousands of Tucson residents who either didn’t have options for or couldn’t afford Internet access. He talks about building a hybrid CBRS and LoRaWAN network from the ground up, leveraging existing fiber network to bridge the digital divide but also expand the city’s tools to get smarter, reduce pollution, and increase utility efficiency.
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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 Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) is expanding gigabit fiber Internet access with financial assistance from federal and state grants to provide high-speed broadband to residents living in some of North Carolina's most rural, poverty-stricken regions.
A $7.9 million federal allotment from the USDA’s ReConnect Program, to which the North Carolina-based telephone cooperative is contributing matching funds, has kickstarted a $15.87 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband deployment project in one of the Coastal Plains’ southernmost counties.
ATMC recently completed construction of the first four phases of its 60-phase “Faster Columbus” project, connecting residents living in the New Life community east of Tabor City to its gigabit fiber service. Upon completion of all 60 phases, the project will provide ATMC’s FOCUS Fiber Internet service to 2,775 unserved households in rural Columbus County. The completed project will also serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in the communities of Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, north Tabor City and Whiteville.
The fiber Internet service ATMC is providing is expected to have a substantial impact on the region’s agriculture industry, one of the main sectors of the local economy. The FTTH service will also benefit the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located on the edge of the Green Swamp. Speaking of the anticipated service, Brenda J. Moore, Housing Coordinator of the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe said, "Finally our Tribal students can look forward to no more boot-legging of Wi-Fi in order to do their homework."
Schools offer not only education, but nourishment, a place to form friendships and bonds, and a way to make sure youth are safe. When the pandemic hit, schools had to transition to distance learning and, as a result, many students disappeared because their family didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford a home Internet connection. It became immediately clear, all over the country, that a lack of broadband access and broadband affordability were no longer issues that could be ignored.
Many cities throughout the U.S. have been working over the last year to address this issue, but one city in particular - Columbus, Ohio - has been taking a holistic approach to broadband access.
The Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition was borne out of the emergency needs presented by the pandemic, but has shaped up to be a good model for how to address the broadband issues facing urban communities across the country.
After 11 months of meeting and planning, the coalition released a framework in March outlining its five pillars of focus: broadband affordability, device access, digital life skills and technical support, community response and collaboration, and advocacy for broadband funding and policy.
The coalition also developed two pilot programs to increase broadband access.
The first, which was a quickly deployed and desperately needed response to the lack of broadband access, was the Central Ohio Broadband Access Pilot Program. Launched in September 2020 in anticipation of the upcoming school year, it offered hotspot devices with unlimited data plans to central Ohio households with k-12 students. The program, while still growing, has been deployed with about 2,300 hotspots distributed so far with the help of PCs for People.
The second (the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus Pilot Projects) uses the city’s existing fiber backbone to bring affordable Internet service to the Near East and South Side neighborhoods in Columbus.
Both pilot programs are the result of nearly 30 organizations coming together to get affordable access to some of the city and county’s most vulnerable populations.
There’s Power in Numbers
Last fall we wrote about the launch of Project OVERCOME, a grant program "designed to connect the unconnected through novel broadband technology solutions" by soliciting applications from community-based organizations and ultimately award $2.7 million funded through the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures (the philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt).
Project OVERCOME seeks to "[C]ollect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies [in order to] discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served."
Each of the winning projects will serve as an incubator of sorts, deploying proofs of concept with an array of wired and wireless technologies to connect households in
Winning applications were recently announced for projects in Blue River, Oregon; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; Yonkers, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Clinton County, Missouri; and Loiza, Puerto Rico.
New York City is looking to take a bite out of the Big Apple’s broadband gap for residents living in newly built affordable housing.
Last month, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) released revised Design Guidelines requiring new affordable housing projects that use city funds to be “designed and constructed to provide high-quality [I]nternet access and service as part of their lease contract and at no additional cost to the tenant.”
That means all new affordable housing buildings that use city funds must be wired, “to the maximum extent feasible,” to offer free high-speed Internet access that supports “four simultaneous moderate users or devices, with preferred system capacity of 100 Megabits per Second (Mbps) upload and download, per unit.”
The guidelines further stipulate that residents should also be given the option to increase their household’s level of service “at their own cost.”
“As we continue to produce affordable housing at record pace, this Administration is equally committed to ensuring that housing contributes to creating a more equitable and sustainable city. That is why our new Design Guidelines incorporate lessons learned from COVID-19 and follow best practices to promote equity, health, and sustainability,” HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll said in a press release when the new guidelines were announced.
HPD officials said the health and economic fall-out of the pandemic had a “devastating” and “disproportionate” impact on low-income city residents, particularly communities of color.
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
With all the buzz around the prioritization of municipal and cooperative broadband networks in the American Jobs Plan unveiled by President Biden last week, let’s not forget about one leading voice in Congress calling for broadband for all.
Last year, with assistance from the House Rural Broadband Task Force he created, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, introduced the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All (AAIA) Act, a bold bill that proposed a $100 billion investment to build high-speed Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country.
Although the legislation stalled in the Mitch McConnell-led U.S. Senate prior to the 2020 election, it did set the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward. Now, as the Biden Administration has settled into the White House and with Democrats in control of Congress, Clyburn has reintroduced a slightly slimmed down $94 billion AAIA, alongside companion legislation in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.
If it passes, the bill would be a game changer, as it goes beyond funding high-speed Internet infrastructure to attack the digital divide from essentially every angle. The bill includes funding and dedicated support to address barriers that prevent millions of Americans from having access to affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity. It backs measures that would encourage pricing transparency, promote Internet adoption and digital literacy initiatives, guarantee affordability, and protect the rights of workers who would build the networks.
While all of these measures are critical, one of the most important requirements included in the revamped legislation is for input from local, state and Tribal governments to be taken into account when determining what projects AAIA will fund.