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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
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NTIA Says State Muni-Bans Won’t Delay BEAD Funding
The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) insists that the 17 state laws that hamper nationwide community broadband deployments won’t delay a massive looming infusion of infrastructure broadband subsidies. But one industry group isn’t so sure.
BroadbandNow, a website dedicated to tracking the U.S. broadband industry, issued a report claiming that state restrictions on community broadband networks could delay the delivery of more than $42.45 billion in BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment) grants made possible by the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Such bills, often ghost written by the telecom industry by policy and lobbying intermediaries, often limit the construction or financing of community broadband networks, even in unserved areas that regional telecom monopolies have long neglected.
Covid’s home education and telecommuting boom highlighted the restrictive and often counterproductive nature of such bills, leading two states — Arkansas and Washington — to remove the barriers. And in Colorado earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 23-183 into law that eliminates an older 2005 law backed by regional telecom monopolies, which imposed cumbersome and onerous restrictions on Colorado towns and cities looking to build better, more affordable community-owned and operated broadband networks.
Colorado Repeal Of Community Broadband Ban A Turning Point Decades In The Making
Colorado state leaders have voted to eliminate long-criticized state barriers to municipal broadband networks. Community broadband advocates hope it will be a beacon for other states eager to bring more reliable and affordable high-speed Internet service to a market long dominated by monopoly providers.
The Colorado decision, made after years of citizen backlash to the counterproductive restrictions, is the latest inflection point in a retreat away from monopoly-backed state laws stifling creative efforts to bridge the digital divide.
On May 1, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 23-183. The new law formally eliminates an older 2005 law backed by regional telecom monopolies, which imposed cumbersome and onerous restrictions on Colorado towns and cities looking to build better, more affordable community-owned and operated broadband networks.
“SB23-183 removes the biggest obstacle to achieving the Governor’s goal to connect 99% of Colorado households by the end of 2027,” Colorado Broadband Office Executive Director Brandy Reitter said of the decision. “Each local government is in a unique position or different phase of connecting residents to high-speed internet, and this bill allows them to establish broadband plans that meet the needs of their communities.”
Colorado state leaders say the repeal puts them in a prime position to capitalize on numerous digital equity programs designed to address Colorado’s digital divide, as well as the more than $42 billion in broadband subsidies soon to be distributed courtesy of the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
“With large amounts of federal funding coming from the IIJA bill, we wanted communities to be ready to receive this money,” Colorado Representative Brianna Titone told ILSR.
Last year, Governor Polis signed an executive order formally setting a goal of connecting 99% of Colorado households by the end of 2027. Colorado state leaders have previously stated they expect their share of IIJA/BEAD funding to be between $400 and $700 million; money that can now be used more broadly on a diverse array of creative broadband solutions.
Treasury Doles Out $740 Million In ARPA Funds To California, Pennsylvania
The U.S. Treasury Department recently awarded more than $740 million in new American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding to the states of California and Pennsylvania, providing a major boon to both states’ efforts to expand access to affordable broadband.
The Treasury awarded $540.2 million for high-speed Internet expansion projects in California under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF). According to the announcement, the funds will be used to connect 127,000 homes and businesses across California as part of the state’s ongoing “California Comeback Plan.”
As part of that effort, California leaders say they’ll spend $7 billion on expanding broadband access over the next three years, with $4 billion of that to be used for constructing a statewide middle-mile, open access fiber network the state hopes will boost broadband competition and drive down broadband access costs statewide.
To manage federal grant funds, California created its Last Mile Broadband Expansion grant program, which was designed to provide Internet access to areas of the state currently lacking access to reliable, affordable broadband at the FCC’s increasingly dated definition of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream.
“The pandemic upended life as we knew it and exposed the stark inequity in access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet in communities across the country, including rural, Tribal, and other underrepresented communities,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.
“This funding is a key piece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments to increase access to high-speed internet for millions of Americans and provide more opportunities to fully participate and compete in the 21st century economy,” Adeyemo added.
Kentucky Hopes To Shake Off KentuckyWired Boondoggle as State Gets Ready for BEAD Funding
Kentucky is one of many states undergoing a baptism by fire as they jocky to take advantage of billions in historic federal broadband grants. The Kentucky Office of Broadband Development didn’t exist a year ago; now it’s tasked with identifying state broadband gaps and managing one of the most complex broadband subsidy efforts ever attempted.
All while shaking off a history of costly state boondoggles.
Kentucky officials last year announced they’d be spending more than $203 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to shore up broadband access. Now they’re preparing to spend hundreds of millions more courtesy of $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Kentucky Office of Broadband Officials have spent the last few months on a listening tour getting an earful from frustrated state residents angry about high broadband prices, spotty coverage, and sluggish speeds. Kentucky currently ranks 30th nationwide in such metrics thanks in part to monopolization by local cable and phone giants.
Like so many states, the lack of affordable, reliable broadband access was particularly notable during the Covid home education and telecommuting boom, driving a renewed interest in creative broadband deployment alternatives.
Avoiding The Sins Of The Past
Past Kentucky efforts to bridge the digital divide haven’t gone particularly well.
FCC nominee Gigi Sohn Named Executive Director of the American Association of Public Broadband
Two months after President Biden’s belated and long-stalled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee withdrew her nomination after a year-long attack campaign against her, today at the Broadband Communities Summit in Houston, Texas, Gigi Sohn announced her next move: Sohn will serve as the first Executive Director for the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB).
A non-profit organization formed by a group of municipal officials, AAPB’s mission is to advance advocacy efforts on behalf of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks. Since the organization first announced its formation at the Broadband Communities Summit in May of 2022, it has been working to educate federal and state policymakers who “have turned to the telecom lobby for help and are receiving biased guidance” on the community broadband networks approach, just as $42.5 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is set to flow to state governments to expand high-speed Internet access this summer.
During a keynote luncheon at the summit, Sohn was joined by AAPB founding board members Bob Knight and Kimberly McKinley on the main stage for a candid discussion in which she reflected on the state of Internet access in the U.S. and her experience that led to her to withdraw her nomination to the FCC. Near the end of the luncheon she announced her new role with AAPB, which was greeted by a standing ovation from the hundreds of attendees in the audience.
Freedom to Choose Community Broadband Future
The announcement was followed by a press briefing where she elaborated on her vision for AAPB.
“I will be the first Executive Director of the American Association of Public Broadband. Until now, there has not been a membership-based advocacy organization that works to ensure that public broadband can grow unimpeded by anti-competitive barriers. That’s despite the success of public broadband to help places like Chattanooga and the Massachusetts Berkshires transform from sleepy hamlets to vibrant centers of economic opportunity, education and culture,” she said at the press briefing.
Cleveland, Tennessee’s City-Owned Utility Getting Into Broadband Business
The Cleveland, Tennessee city council has approved the creation of the Cleveland Utilities Authority, the first step in allowing the city-owned utility to get into the broadband business. The goal: improve utilities services and provide city residents with faster, cheaper, and more reliable fiber access after years of neglect by often-apathetic regional telecom monopolies.
The plan, approved by the city council with a 7-2 vote (see full video here), paves the way for Cleveland’s city-owned utility, Cleveland Utilities, to begin deployment of a $72 million fiber network. The city’s plan, documented in detail here, is heavily inspired by the successes seen by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s publicly-owned utility, EPB.
Of the initial $72 million investment, $64 million will be funded by public-issued debt, and go towards construction of the network, which Cleveland Utilities states should begin in March of 2024 and be completed in “roughly two to three years” barring complications.
An additional interdivisional loan of $8 Million will fund three years of operation for the new division. The utility’s plan is based on a 30 percent take rate, and aims to become cash flow positive between years 2-3, with all debt paid between years 10 and 12.
Once complete, the network will dramatically upgrade the utility’s energy monitoring and maintenance capabilities and deliver symmetrical fiber at speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to local residents, and 10 Gbps to local area businesses.
Maryland Awards $92 Million In Grants For 35 Projects
Maryland officials have announced that the state is doling out $92 million in new broadband grants to expand access to affordable broadband. The latest round of funding was made possible via the Connect Maryland Network Infrastructure Grant Program, and will help expand broadband access to 14,500 unserved locations statewide.
According to a state press release, this latest round of funds should help fund portions of 35 different projects scattered around the state. A full breakdown of award winners indicates that while Comcast and Verizon secured $14.4 million and $11 million respectively in new funding, smaller ISPs and cooperatives were, unlike in many states, well represented.
Quantum Telecommunications, a smaller local ISP founded in 1995, was slated to receive $15.3 million in funding to connect 1,693 locations to broadband. Choptank Electric Cooperative, first founded in 1938, was among the biggest award winners, receiving $16 million to deliver broadband to 1,693 locations currently lacking broadband access.
New Report: Universal Broadband Infrastructure Would Return $43 million Annually to Counties Across Rural Black Belt
In partnership with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), today ILSR is releasing a new report that examines the link between high-speed Internet infrastructure, access to healthcare, and the economic implications involved.
The report – “Increased Wellness and Economic Return of Universal Broadband Infrastructure: A Telehealth Case Study of Ten Southern Rural Counties” – has particular relevance for those living in rural broadband deserts as it details how universal, affordable, broadband infrastructure would return $43 million per year using telehealth across 10 counties in the Black Belt of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi.
At a virtual press briefing today, SRBWI leaders and organizers were joined by Dr. Sandra B. Reed of Emory Healthcare; as well as ILSR Senior Researcher and the report’s lead author, Ry Marcattilio, to explain how robust broadband infrastructure could pay for itself in short order and open up untold access to healthcare, educational opportunities, economic development, community engagement, and other benefits along the way.
“It’s easy to miss the connection, but hard to overlook what’s at stake as rural hospitals close and the cost of transportation to get to far-off healthcare facilities presents a real barrier. This is about access to healthcare and Black women being denied the opportunity to take advantage of telehealth. The broadband infrastructure that’s needed for that just isn’t there,” said Shirley Sherrod, SRBWI State Lead for Georgia and Director of the Southwest Georgia Project in Albany Georgia.
Broadband … to Access Longer, Healthier Lives
LA County Selects Pilot Communities for Major Broadband Expansion
LA County is accelerating its plan to deliver affordable broadband access to the city’s unserved and underserved, with an eye toward building one of the biggest municipal broadband networks in the nation. But the county is first taking baby steps, recently announcing target communities prioritized in a pilot program aimed at bridging the digital divide.
In late 2021, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a major new broadband expansion plan. The plan’s first order of business: deliver free broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles County that currently do not subscribe to service, starting with a 12,500-home pilot project.
Last September, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved using a total of $56 million in American Rescue Plan funding to help connect these families to fast, free, and reliable Internet service.
To help coordinate the effort, LA county designated the Internal Services Department (ISD) as the lead agency responsible for managing this and any future projects. The ISD is now working in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to determine which areas of the county should see funding and logistical priority.
The ISD and LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell recently released a map of priority locations where the County will build low-cost internet for households in the Second District.
“I joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in the height of the pandemic,” Mitchell said in an announcement. “And it became very clear that access to reliable Internet was critical to our success of emerging out of the pandemic. In the Second District, as much as 30 percent of households lack home internet [access]. This is unacceptable, and Los Angeles County is working aggressively to upend this. We are leading the nation on a plan to crush the digital divide.”
IN OUR VIEW: Friday the 13th Mapping Challenge Deadline Highlights Failed Process
Last Friday was a major milestone in the process of moving $42.5 billion from the federal government to states to distribute mostly to rural areas to build new, modern Internet access networks. January 13th marked the deadline for error corrections (called challenges) to the official national map that will be used to determine how much each state will get.
As an organization that has worked in nearly all 50 states over the past 20 years on policies to improve Internet access, we spent the last few weeks struggling to understand what was actually at stake and wondering if we were alone in being confused about the process. Despite the stakes, almost no expert we talked to actually understood which challenges – if any – would fix errors in the map data before it was used to allocate the largest single federal broadband investment in history.