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The 2024 Prediction Show | Episode 87 of the Connect This! Show

Connect This

Join us Tuesday, January 16th at 2pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting), Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber), and special guest Roger Timmerman (Executive Director UTOPIA Fiber) to prognosticate all of the broadband things for 2024: will ACP get renewed? Which states will get BEAD right, and which are showing signs of cracking under the pressure? What did we see at CES that will impact the broadband market? Is the fiber market going to pause? Tune in for titillating discussion on these topics and many more.

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

Subscribe to the show using this feed or find it on the Connect This! page, and watch on LinkedIn, on YouTube Live, on Facebook live, or below.

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FCC Broadband Definition Update May Be Too Little, Too Late

As we approached the new year, and after more than a decade of criticism, the FCC finally moved to tackle the agency’s long-dated definition of broadband with an eye on nudging the industry toward faster broadband deployments. But many industry watchers say the belated reform inquiry arrives late and long after other agencies have filled the void left by a lack of FCC leadership.

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI), issued in November, asks whether the agency should finally adopt 100 Mbps (megabit per second) downstream, 20 Mbps upstream as the new standard U.S. definition of broadband.

“Ultimately, I believe it is essential in the United States to set big goals in order to get big things done,” FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “That is why we are kicking off this inquiry to update our national broadband standard to better align it with the standards in pandemic-era legislation of 100 Megabits per second down and 20 Megabits per second up and also set a long-term goal for gigabit speeds.”

But there’s nothing about the FCC’s planned definition that’s “big.”

Of particular annoyance to long-time industry watchers is the agency’s continued adherence to an upstream standard that remains out of touch with modern needs. While Senators and consumer groups had pushed for a symmetrical definition of 100 Mbps, cable industry lobbyists managed to convince the FCC to lower the upstream bar dramatically.

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FCC entrance

Cable broadband speeds are notoriously topheavy, with downstream speeds far in excess of upstream speeds. While full duplex DOCSIS technology is supposed to eventually remedy that, the technology remains far from widespread deployment

Year in Review 2023 - Episode 582 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the final podcast of the year, join us as the staff gets together to get a handle on what happened in the broadband landscape in 2023. Returning to join Christopher are Ry Marcattilio, Christine Parker, DeAnne Cuellar, Emma Gautier, and Sean Gonsalves along with new staff members Jordan Pittman and Angelina Paniagua.

Together, they discuss the BEAD rollout, data and mapping, new municipal fiber projects, the FCC's fifth commissioner, and 2023's broadband "scandals." Give this episode a listen to find out how last year's predictions help up!

This show is 47 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

 

Cullman Electric Cooperative Launches Next Phase Of Fiber Expansion

Cullman, Alabama-based Cullman Electric Cooperative says it is launching a new phase of fiber deployment after receiving a $7 million grant to bring affordable fiber access to long-neglected Cullman and Winston counties.

The financing was made possible by the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund (ABAF), funded by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The state has already dedicated more than $82 million in funding for Alabama broadband deployments, bringing broadband access to 72,000 currently unserved residents.

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Cullman Sprout Fiber Internet logo

Cullman’s $7 million portion will bring affordable fiber access to 1,300 families. Known as Sprout Fiber Internet, Cullman currently offers residential customers symmetrical 300 Mbps (megabit per second) service for $60 a month; symmetrical 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) service for $80 a month, and symmetrical 2 Gbps service for $120 a month.

That’s significantly faster and cheaper service than is currently offered by any of the dominant private telecom monopolies in Cullman (predominantly AT&T or Charter/Spectrum), without usage caps, hidden fees, or long-term contracts.

BEAD’s Match Exemption for High-Cost Areas May Be Challenging for Tribal ISPs

After decades of failed broadband policy-making and incumbent provider neglect, many Tribal communities continue to lack affordable and reliable Internet connectivity. Limited access to capital for last-mile deployment on Tribal lands has been exacerbated by a vast “missing middle mile”  problem, and credible estimates put the costs of universal access on reservations at well over $10 billion.

Despite a historic investment in better Internet access from the federal government directly to Tribes, the problem is not even half solved. The first round of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program offered $2 billion in grants but received nearly $6 billion in requests from half of the 574 federally-recognized Tribes. With only $1 billion available in the final round of this program, an enormous funding gap remains.

Funding from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) will have to be used strategically and collaboratively with Tribes to bridge this gap. The “high-cost area” match exemption could be an important tool to facilitate sustainable infrastructure deployment on Tribal lands, but it is not yet clear that states will make this exemption feasible.

Jamestown Muni Broadband Plan Gets State Support But Timeline Remains Murky

A plan in Jamestown, New York to deploy affordable fiber to every last city resident has received welcome support from state leaders, even though deployment details remain murky and network construction remains well over the horizon.

In 2021, Jamestown officials told ILSR they were working with Entrypoint Networks on a $25 million fiber network for the city of 28,000. The city hopes to deliver fiber in conjunction with the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities, leaning heavily on the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to ensure low cost access to marginalized and low income communities.

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Empire State Development logo

The city’s plans got a needed attention boost last month when Empire State Development – tasked with boosting economic development across New York State – gave a nod to Jamestown’s efforts in the organization’s five-year development plan.

The plan, among other things, will shape how the state utilizes $664 million in federal subsidies made possible by the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the 2021 infrastructure bill. While Jamestown may qualify for BEAD funding, how much the city’s project could receive remains undetermined.

First Electric Cooperative Making Big Progress Delivering Affordable Fiber Service in Arkansas

First Electric Cooperative – and its broadband subsidiary Connect2First – are making major inroads on their quest to deliver affordable fiber Internet service to long-neglected portions of Arkansas.

Buoyed by an historic stretch of federal funding, the cooperative says it’s on target to deliver up to 2.5 gigabit per second service to 72,000 locations by the end of 2024.

Connect2First officials say they’ve deployed 4,371 miles of fiber across 18 counties in the southeastern part of the state, just outside of the state capital in Little Rock, delivering speeds significantly higher than seen in more urban, populous areas. The resulting service is also a notable step up in speed from regional monopolies like AT&T and Optimum, which see little market incentive to upgrade lagging networks or compete on price.

Connect2First residential customers have the choice of three tiers of service: a symmetrical 200 megabit per second (Mbps) connection for $60 a month; a symmetrical 700 Mbps connection for $60 a month; or a symmetrical gigabit per second (Gbps) service tier for $100 a month. The company’s tiers feature no service caps, hidden fees, or long term contracts.

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First Electric Cooperative logo

First Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Jacksonville, Arkansas, began in 1938 with just 3 employees and 150 members. Now with 94,000 electricity customers, it’s one of the largest cooperatives in the country, and the second biggest cooperative in the state of Arkansas.

Internet For All or Internet For Some?

The American Prospect recently published an analysis – "How Monopolies and Maps Are Killing ‘Internet for All’" – authored by our own Sean Gonsalves that lays out why the federally-backed “Internet For All” initiative will likely fall short of its aspirational goals.

It begins with facts-on-the-ground reporting about the estimated 37,000 households that do not have high-quality access to the Internet in Oakland, California and how cities across the nation are plagued with similar challenges – challenges many digital advocates say is “digital redlining.”

Here's a few excerpts:

“It would be reasonable to think the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, passed by Congress in November 2021, would change all of this. A significant part of the law devotes $65 billion to a moon shot mission, involving all 50 states and U.S. territories, to bridge the digital divide once and for all. It includes funding to build new modern networks, and other programs to address barriers to broadband adoption, like the Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps eligible low-income households pay for pricey internet bills, as well as initiatives that offer digital skills training and a mandate for the FCC to adopt rules ‘to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination.’”

“Similar to when the federal government set out to bring electricity to every household in America a century ago, the Biden administration intends to do the same with broadband, labeling this historic investment the ‘Internet for All’ initiative.”

“But what hasn’t dawned on most federal and state lawmakers—or at least, it has not been admitted publicly—is that the trajectory we are on will not lead to Internet for All, but something more like Internet for Some.”

You can read the entire story on the American Prospect website here.
 

Municipal Broadband Dark Money Campaign Washes Ashore on Cape Cod

Both the Sagamore Bridge and Railroad Bridge that span opposite ends of the Cape Cod Canal carry the kind of traffic that terrifies Comcast and Verizon.

The 576 count fiber-optic strand strung across the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay – and the 864 strand that crosses the Sagamore Bridge – belongs to OpenCape, an open-access “middle mile” network ushering the gold-standard of Internet connectivity into parts of each of the Cape’s 15 towns.

It’s an extension of OpenCape’s fiber network, lashed to utility poles in dozens of communities across southeastern Massachusetts, all of which connect the region to the nation’s Internet backbone/long haul network.

Middle mile networks are a key part of the Internet’s connective tissue that dramatically lowers the cost for Internet service providers (ISPs) to deploy “last mile” connections to individual homes and businesses.  

Thanks to a federal grant courtesy of the American Recovery and ReInvestment Act, the nonprofit fiber network was established in 2009 and since then has been providing Internet connectivity to most of the region’s anchor institutions – hospitals, public safety facilities, numerous libraries, schools, banks, and dozens of other enterprise clients with big data needs such as the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth.

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OpenCape Network map

Over the past several years OpenCape has deployed fiber deeper into the region, expanding the network from an initial 350 miles to 650 miles of fiber today, serving a growing number of Main Street businesses across the Cape.

Fort Worth Strikes Public Private Partnership To Set Table for Citywide Fiber Network

Fort Worth, Texas, (est pop. 956,000) has struck a $7.5 million, 34-year contract with Dallas-based Sprocket Networks to construct a new 300-mile fiber optic backbone to shore up city municipal communications needs, expand affordable access to marginalized neighborhoods, and boost local economic development.

City officials say construction crews are expected to begin work sometime in the next three to six months, with the full network construction expected to cost $65 million and take three years to complete.

Services will first be made available to nine target neighborhoods (including Las Vegas Trail, Como, Marine Creek, Stop Six, Rosemont and Ash Crescent) on a rolling basis. Sprocket Networks will own the finished fiber network.  

“This partnership was entered into with Sprocket with the hopes of eventually getting to universal service in Fort Worth,” Fort Worth IT Solutions director Kevin Gunn told ILSR in a phone interview. “We want the gold standard fiber optic connectivity: 100 megabits symmetric and up available at every doorstep, whether that's a senior family, multifamily or commercial.”

Gunn told ILSR that the city’s initial payment of $7.5 million to Sprocket consists of $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and $3 million from the North Central Texas Council Of Governments, which has allocated some of its transportation budget to broadband improvements the agency will benefit from.

In response to COVID era broadband inequities, the city of Fort Worth last year expanded free Wi-Fi access to 40,000 largely underserved city residents. Gunn indicated that those connections will be slowly phased out as the city transitions to fiber.