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benton institute for broadband and society
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In its ongoing effort to support a new generation of broadband scholars, practitioners, and advocates, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has put out the call for new Opportunity Fund Fellowship applicants for the 2023-2024 cycle.
The Institute is looking for fellowship proposals that are particularly focused on:
- Coalitions and capacity building at the state and local levels to implement and influence broadband programs
- The extent and impact of digital discrimination
- Building sustainable, affordable broadband for BEAD and beyond
- The impact of broadband on communities - the benefits and the vulnerabilities
- Evaluation frameworks to measure the impact of broadband funding
While that is not an exhaustive list of possible proposals, the Institute says it will “welcome other proposals of critical importance to our field that can better inform our current or emerging broadband policy debates,” adding that “we especially welcome applications that focus on historically marginalized communities.”
Fellowships will range from $5,000 to $20,000 with a tenure ranging from 6 months to 2 years.
The application deadline is August 15.
As part of its ongoing effort to support a new generation of broadband scholars, practitioners, and advocates, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has put out the call for fellowship applicants looking to further their studies on broadband access, adoption, equity, and use.
In a recent newsletter, the Institute says they “are interested in supporting a range of projects that can better inform our current or emerging broadband policy debates, either through critical research about the future of the Internet in our communities or the development of best practices and tools to advance our field’s work.”
More specifically, they are seeking “proposed projects (that) can yield either practice or research-focused publications or multimedia content.”
Some potential topics include:
- How are grassroots organizations and coalitions working to advance digital equity?
- How can we best measure and map the availability and quality of broadband?
- What state and local policy levers can influence broadband availability and adoption?
- How does improved access to broadband impact local economies and communities?
- What resources and information do state legislators or government agencies need to ensure universal broadband access and adoption?
The Institute goes on to explain how those topics are “by no means an exhaustive list” and that applicants “should feel free to propose other ideas of critical importance to our field;" noting also that the Institute is especially interested in applications that focus on historically marginalized communities.
In an effort to facilitate the deployment of innovative broadband solutions in underserved areas - both urban and rural - the nonprofit organization US Ignite recently partnered with National Science Foundation (NSF) and Schmidt Futures to launch ProjectOVERCOME.
The Benton Institute released a report in November naming the seven communities that the project will focus on: Blue River, OR; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Clinton City, MO; Detroit, MI;Loiza, Puerto Rico; and Yonkers, NY.
In the report that was released, Benton spotlights each community and the technologies they will use. The technologies include Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), fiber, fixed wireless and hotspots.
According to the initiative's guidelines, these communities were chosen because of how they vary in population, demographics, regions of the country, housing, and industry. The program will work with these communities to experiment in deploying innovative Internet connectivity solutions on a 12-month timeline.
The projects will collectively result in not only education, outreach, and local broadband organizing development efforts, but provide direct connectivity to more than 700 households.
For example, in a CBRS deployment in New York,
Report: Six Community Broadband Networks Demonstrate Diversity of Approaches to Connectivity Challenges
There are more than 600 wireline municipal broadband networks operating across the United States today. And while the ongoing discussion about our information infrastructure by Congress has placed a renewed emphasis on publicly owned endeavors to improving Internet access, the reality is that cities around the country have been successfully demonstrating the wide variety of successful approaches for decades.
In this report, published by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, ILSR's Sean Gonsalves, Christopher Mitchell, and Jericho Casper profile how six community networks in a diverse range of places stepped up to meet the needs of their communities, bringing faster, more reliable, and more affordable service.
- Huntsville, Alabama
- Conway, Arkansas
- Ocala, Florida
- Dalton, Georgia
- Ammon, Idaho
- Cheshire County, New Hampshire
The projects above, the report shows, run the gamut from municipally owned and operated fiber networks, to cable system upgrades, to last-mile open access networks, to public-private partnerships.
Communities seeking to create a more competitive broadband market and/or target low-income neighborhoods with high-quality, modestly priced service are increasingly building their own networks, whether in partnership with ISPs or on their own. Local governments considering this option have to do their homework to find appropriate consultants, vendors, business models, and more.
But as the communities profiled here demonstrate, there are many models and opportunities to improve Internet access.
As the Biden administration fleshes out the details on the President’s proposed American Jobs Plan, which includes as much as $100 billion to fund expanded high-speed Internet connectivity and bring much needed competition to the broadband market, opponents (mostly Congressional Republicans and lobbyists for the big telecom companies) are tossing the word “overbuilding” around, ostensibly as a warning against wasteful government spending.
Case in point: U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee recently told Bloomberg News, “The president’s broadband proposal opens the door for duplication and overbuilding.”
Meanwhile, many of his constituents in his home state point to how broadband infrastructure has actually been underbuilt by incumbent providers, leaving the Magnolia State and its broadband hungry residents in the digital dust.
Ideology vs. Reality
“For a poor state like Mississippi, being left behind by a 21st century economy is tantamount to economic death. Senator Wicker's concern about overbuilding and duplication is certainly not the case for the families and small businesses he represents across broad areas of this rural state in economic distress,” is how Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, Children's Defense Fund Southern Regional Director and head of the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative, responded to Wicker’s assessment.
To put it mildly, she doesn’t feel that the state has adequate Internet access networks today.
Lighting up the Prairie State: First Round of Illinois Broadband Grants Includes $50 million in Awards
A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.
Lots of Winners, Some Caveats
The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.”
Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, recently appeared on Broadband Breakfast Live Online on March 31 to discuss the impacts of the pandemic in the broadband sector.
Along with Christopher, the panel discussion was joined by host Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher at Broadband Breakfast, Gigi Sohn from Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, and Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks. The panelists explained policies to support universal broadband access, shared issues with telehealth, and suggested short-term solutions to bridge the homework gap.
Here is an excerpt from Christopher’s discussion with Broadband Breakfast:
I think that the school backbone networks can be helpful right now. We need any fiber available to immediately bring high-quality Wi-Fi to parking lots so that people can access networks right now, perhaps with a heater on and soon with an AC on. I feel like that is the major priority of what we are seeing in terms of the reactions. In the longer term, to actually make sure everyone is connected with the high-quality network, I think those school networks in some cases will be useful. Certainly, in municipal networks we've long seen sharing of cost. So if you are opening a trench to put in a school network, you should put in other conduit or fiber for other usage. A lot of municipal networks have benefited from the shared cost. So that is just a good standard practice.
Watch their full conversation below or on Broadband Breakfast.
In a recent article, “Tell The Story We Know: Broadband Competition is Too Limited,” Jonathan Sallet laid out the case for robust broadband competition as a necessary step in expanding high-quality connectivity nationwide. “Academic research tells us that more broadband competition matters: pushing rivals to up their game, saving money for consumers, increasing the quality of service,” explained Sallet, a current Benton Institute Senior Fellow and former General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission.
The article, co-published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, identified greater broadband competition as one of the four “building blocks” needed to reach the goal of connecting all Americans to modern Internet access by 2030. Sallet has expanded on this goal in the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, which we covered last year. In addition to creating more Internet choice, the report cited the need for continued efforts to deploy broadband infrastructure, increase affordability and adoption, and connect community anchor institutions.
Envisioning the Future with Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 381
In late October 2019, Christopher travelled to the D.C. area to attend a Broadband Communities Economic Development event and while he was there, he sat down with Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and Senior Fellow Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This week, we get to sit in on their conversations about the recent change at Benton from "foundation" to "institute" and about their recent report, Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s.
First, Christopher speaks with Adrianne, who discusses the reasons why the organization has recently changed in order to stay current with their mission and with the times. She talks a little about the history of Benton and describes some of the reasons for developing the report.
Christopher spends most of the interview with Jon Sallet, who authored the report and who has a long career in antitrust and communications. After working in D.C. in telecommunications and Internet policy for several decades, he's seen the influence of the Internet grow. In this report, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and in our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The interview will spark your interest in the report that provides more depth into the way broadband can be used as a versatile social tool. Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s [PDF] is filled with examples in which local communities have been able to expand local connectivity to achieve goals that went beyond better Internet access.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.