Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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A new chapter in state-Tribal relations is being written as the importance of robust and reliable telecommunication becomes all-too-apparent, especially in the face of more frequent extreme weather events. For the first time, a Tribe in California is building high-speed Internet infrastructure in collaboration with the state, thanks to the resilience of the Hoopa Valley people.
Tucked along the Trinity River in the northwestern corner of the state, the Hoopa Valley Reservation is located in a rural and heavily wooded region that spans over 89,000 acres, home to over 2,500 Tribal citizens. Last summer, the area was ravaged by closely-timed wildfires and thunderstorms, followed by massive landslides that collapsed into the region’s riverways, including the Trinity River, a sacred body of water for the Hoopa Tribe.
As the river turned to mud and dead fish began to wash up on its banks, alarmed residents had limited means of connecting with one another, getting timely information about what was going on, or contacting emergency services. That was because of a hidden casualty of the wild weather: the Tribe’s wireless Internet network, which sustained severe damage that not only hindered communication but also extended the time it took to assess the damage.
Summit County, Ohio says it’s making progress on a $75 million, 125-mile fiber-optic ring made possible courtesy of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The project will start by providing gigabit connectivity to all county first responders, after which county leaders say they’ll focus on shoring up lagging broadband access to long-neglected communities.
A 2017 report by an outside consultant found that Summit County, like so much of America, struggles with a dearth of affordable broadband access thanks to a heavily monopolized U.S. broadband market. The county’s fixed-line broadband market is dominated by two major incumbents, Centurylink and Comcast, and wireless access remains spotty across large swatches of the county’s more rural territories.
Introduced last year, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro noted the network will first connect all 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit speed broadband and a data center. The network is expected to cost as much as $75 million. $35 million of that total will be pulled from the $105 million in ARPA funding received by the county.
Summit County’s interest in more affordable broadband extends back years. County leaders played a key role in beating back monopoly efforts in the state legislature to effectively ban publicly-owned broadband networks. Once those efforts were defeated, county leaders began formulating their broadband expansion plans in earnest.
Driven by Covid frustration and a boom in available grant money, Santa Clara County, California officials say they’re moving forward with their plans to explore a municipal broadband network, with the formal next steps expected to be announced at the tail end of this year.
Last December, the board of supervisors in Santa Clara unanimously approved the creation of a publicly-owned fiber municipal broadband network. Spearheaded by County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, the project aims to provide “affordable, reliable high speed broadband service” to communities across Santa Clara County.
Santa Clara county contracted CTC Technology and Energy to examine various construction and funding proposals and develop a project master plan. County officials tell ILSR that the next report on that effort isn’t expected until November or December of this year, but the county is working on building a bridge toward a publicly-owned option in the interim.
Hidden In Plain Sight
According to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), 70,000 Santa Clara residents have no access to broadband whatsoever. Another 73,000 currently qualify as underserved, meaning they remain stuck on dial up or antiquated DSL incapable of meeting the FCC’s minimum threshold of 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream/3 Mbps upstream to even be considered “broadband.”
“The pandemic has exposed the digital inequity that has been hidden in plain sight in the heart of Silicon Valley for two decades now,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez told ILSR.
Located in southeastern Iowa, Dubuque (pop. 60,000) has considered the advantages of building a municipal network a number of times over the past fifteen years. Back in 2005, the city – as well as several other Iowa communities – voted to “grant the right to create municipal systems” (Telegraph Herald, 2009). The new legislation, however, did not result in many new telecommunications utilities.
The road to better connectivity has been a long one, marked by repeated battles between locals served by poor or no service and the city’s incumbent providers. In 2009, Mediacom used the state’s right of first refusal law to keep competition out of its territory, causing the city to “cry foul” and Dubuque to reconsider a public network. In 2015, the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation joined forces to expand local connectivity in response to community demand. The partnership included convening private and public sectors to identify last mile infrastructure and foster collaboration, and supporting opportunities for expanded connectivity. By 2017, private providers including Wisconsin Independent Network, CS Technologies, Unite Private Networks, CenturyLink, and Mediacom had made efforts to serve some of the unserved areas, but pockets of the community were still left out.
Only more recently has a formal proposal been set forth, with the potential to create a robust middle-mile network designed to dramatically improve competition and incent private ISPs to invest in the un- and underserved pockets of the community.
A Formal Proposal for Public Broadband Infrastructure