education

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Chattanooga Leads with Innovative Services and Pioneering Programs for Low-Income Individuals - Episode 579 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher speaks with Deb Socia, President and CEO, and Geoff Millener, Chief Operating Officer, of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Enterprise Center is a non-profit partner to the City of Chattanooga that unites people, organizations, and technology to build an advanced and inclusive future.

The group discusses the HCS ED Connect program, a transformative initiative providing free home Internet access to low-income students in Chattanooga, and its notable impact on parent engagement and student success.

Deb and Jeff also shed light on the Orchard Knob project, leveraging technology to better health outcomes in African-American neighborhoods, and the Tech Goes Home program, offering technology access and training for seniors and their underserved populations.

Throughout the conversation, the group underscores the vital role of partnerships and community engagement in successfully implementing these initiatives. They conclude by emphasizing the overarching need for universal broadband access as a driving force behind fostering positive change in communities.

This show is 38 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.

Broadband as the Fifth Utility in Knoxville - Episode 549 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Jamie Davis, CTO of KUB Fiber, the broadband division of the Knoxville Utilities Board in Tennessee. The division is poised to be halfway done with a build across its footprint by June 2024, hitting 90,000 premises, with plans to steam ahead and complete its electric service territory as quick as possible thereafter. Jamie shares with Chris how the city changed its mind after almost a decade of declining to enter the broadband market. They talk about the rising tide of competition in Knoxville moving forward, and the expected benefits for subscribers as well as the other city utilities. Christopher and Jamie end the show by talking a little about a new pilot program aimed at getting KUB service into the homes of student, the Affordable Connectivity Program, and regional cooperation to extend service to as many households as possible.

This show is 30 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 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.

A Foundation for the Future of Digital Equity Work - Episode 520 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Pamela Rosales (Training and Community Engagement Manager, National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Davida Delmar (Digital Inclusion Manager, Amerind). Pamela and Davida talk about their digital inclusion work and how it differs across Tribal communities as compared to rural and urban areas. They also catch Christopher up on what's going on in cities and nationwide in the digital equity space, from how to develop outreach channels during an ongoing pandemic, 2022's Digital Inclusion Week, NDIA's ongoing Digital Navigator Program that is beginning to ramp up, what we can expect to see down the road in terms of needs and resources, and more.

This show is 31 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 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.

Holland, Michigan Votes to Build Citywide Open Access Fiber Network

In early August, the city of Holland, Michigan (pop. 33,000) voted to fund the construction of a citywide, open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. It’s the culmination of almost a decade of consideration, education, planning, and success, and builds on decades of work by the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) and city officials to build and maintain resilient essential infrastructure for its citizens. It also signals the work the community has done to listen to local residents, community anchor institutions, and the business owners in pushing for an investment that will benefit every premises equally and ensure fast, affordable Internet access is universally available for decades down the road.

In the Works

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Holland has been formally exploring the need for better local connectivity since before 2016. It has been aided in this effort by the fact that the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), which already provides electricity, water, and waste water services, has been maintaining a small institutional fiber network that it first installed in 1992 (see current coverage in map, right, current as of May 2019).

NDIA’s Digital Navigator Corps Goes Nationwide with $10M Grant

Two years after launching a community-based model to help residents overcome the digital skills challenges that keep so many offline, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced in February 2022 that it has received a $10 million grant from Alphabet subsidiary Google to dramatically expand the impact of its Digital Navigator Corps model across the country. The money will allow NDIA to take the Corps nationwide to 18 new rural communities (including Tribal sites), helping thousands of people overcome adoption barriers with the help of local experts. 

Filling a Need at the Onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic

In August of 2020, NDIA first announced the launch of its new venture - the Digital Navigator initiative - to directly reach the many households across the United States that have access to wireline infrastructure but lack the knowledge, skills, trust, or comfort to turn that possibility into an affordable connection. The goal was to help people “get connected with affordable home Internet [access], find affordable computing devices, and learn basic digital skills,” and was borne directly out of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the previous spring.

The Salt Lake Public Library and Rural LISC were pilot partners, but NDIA has since worked with more than 20 organizations and communities over the last two years in addition to releasing a cornucopia of resources for cities and anchor institutions that to adapt and use as they see fit, in places as wide ranging as Austin, Cleveland, Denver, Nashville, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, and Seattle. All of this work has led to refinement of the Digital Navigator model while also helping thousands get and stay online. 

Special Report: Baltimore Builds Muni Fiber, Prioritizing Equity - Episode 496 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, radio producer Matt Purdy reports a story on Baltimore’s efforts to build a municipal broadband network that prioritizes equity for historically marginalized communities.

This show is 13 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 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.

 

New Study: Digital Equity Requires Local Solutions

Caroline Stratton, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Florida, has published a new article looking at the digital equity plans of four major U.S. cities with the aim of seeing how policy makers understand the genesis of digital inequity in their cities and how they frame solutions for addressing it. She does so with the hopes of offering recommendations for other cities that will undertake these types of efforts in the near future. To do so, “Planning to Maintain the Status Quo? A Comparative Study of Digital Equity Plans of Four Large US Cities” looks at recent-ish plans published in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.

The first third of the study includes a lot about meaning-making and the social construction of understandings of digital inequity that readers can skip without missing the bread and butter of the piece (which begins on page 51). After that, Stratton highlights a few important points that will be useful for cities embarking on digital equity work for the first time.

A Broken Marketplace Requires Community Solutions

First, she says, an understanding of digital inequity doesn’t offer much chance for change without being accompanied by a vision for solving it. Second, better city plans had larger and more inclusive coalitions from the outset, and were tapped into a variety of constituencies that represented a broader swath of lived experiences in these cities. Third, successful plans relied on the advice and participation of nonprofits, libraries, and other trusted community anchor institutions. 

Importantly, Stratton shows that even though “ISPs’ profit-seeking motive may dictate why particular communities lack Internet service entirely, or service that is high-quality and affordable . . . they are spared scrutiny in plans” in many cases. More than 80 million Americans live in areas with a functional broadband monopoly.

The study also points to the reality that digital equity advocates have been describing for decades - that there are a host of other inequities that perpetuate the digital divide. 

Congress’ Community Broadband Act Gains Support From 45 Organizations

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

Waukegan, Illinois Broadband Task Force Issues RFP for Public-Private Partnership

Less than six months after its creation and a year after the city of Waukegan, Illinois (pop. 89,000) began exploring options to improve connectivity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued by the Waukegan Broadband Task Force in search of qualified applicants to assist in the creation of a broadband master plan. Applications are due June 30th, 2021.

Waukegan is situated about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, along the west coast of Lake Michigan. A 2020 initial broadband assessment showed challenges related to price, devices, digital skills for remote learning, and a lack of coordination to get income-qualified residents onto incumbent ISP's low-income plans. The city is served by a patchwork of ISPs, including cable from Comcast, DSL from AT&T and TDS, and fixed wireless from Rise Broadband with starting prices on plans ranging from $30/month to $60/month.

The Task Force website outlines the group's goals and stakes for the community:

There are few cities with the opportunities that exist within Waukegan. However, to truly become a ‘City of Progress’ , Waukegan must take the critical steps necessary to achieve its great potential. While 2020 brought challenges to communities around the globe, it also presented opportunities for innovation, collaboration, change and growth. The Waukegan Community Broadband Taskforce is an open, collective impact inititative of committed community stakeholders for all residents, businesses, institutions interested in working together to create a path to the future.

The RFP calls for solutions addressing access, adoption and utilization, sustainable funding, and communication and community engagement with a particular focus on remote learning, telehealth, and economic development.

The steering committee for the task force is made up of a collection of local nonprofits, the public library, the community center, city officials, and the school district. Funding for the master plan will come from private contributions.

Applicants can direct questions to wbctaskforce@gmail.com by 5pm on June 6th, with full RFPs due by June 30th.

FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Funds Ineligible for School and Library Self-Provisioned Networks

Closing the homework gap has been a top priority for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. She has a long track record advocating for Wi-Fi-enabled school buses, lamenting viral images of school children completing homework in fast food parking lots, and making the case that no child should be left offline. At the onset of the pandemic, she pledged to use her influence at the agency to fight to increase the flexibility of the E-Rate program, saying “every option needs to be on the table.”

When the American Rescue Plan Act established the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in March, a $7 billion program to connect students and library patrons to the Internet at off-campus locations, Rosenworcel had an opportunity to follow through on those promises. She could have seized the moment to steer the program in the direction of allowing schools and libraries to build, own, and operate their own school and community networks (what the federal government refers to as self-provisioned networks). Many schools serving areas with poorly connected students already do this, but without much help from the E-rate program.

But when the rules on how to spend the money were finalized on May 10th, the FCC’s Report and Order declared that schools and libraries could not use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks, but instead could only use the funds to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices, such as laptop computers and tablets. The one exception in which schools and libraries can use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks is in “areas where no service is available for purchase,” based on data self-reported by private ISPs.