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Content tagged with "pennsylvania"
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.
Pennsylvania Bill to Ease Municipal Broadband Restrictions; Experts Say It Doesn’t Go Far Enough
A bipartisan coalition of Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation that attempts to reverse some of the state’s most-stringent provisions hamstringing municipal broadband builds.
But experts suggest that while the bill may be well-intentioned, a cleaner approach would be to eliminate the state’s harmful and dated restrictions on municipal broadband entirely.
As it currently stands, Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from providing broadband to state residents for money, unless existing telecom providers don’t currently provide broadband access at the address, and those providers claim they’re willing to do so sometime within 14 months of being asked.
Election Day 2022: Broadband on the Ballot
As voters went to the polls yesterday, broadband-focused initiatives and candidates could be found up and down the ballot all across the country.
Alabama voters cast their ballots to decide on a state Constitutional amendment known as the Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment. The measure sought to amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."
That measure passed, garnering a “Yes” vote from nearly 80 percent of Alabama voters. With 73 percent of the vote counted late last night, 922,145 “Yes” votes had been tallied with 251,441 “No” votes.
Also in Alabama, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell won her re-election bid to represent Alabama’s 7th congressional district. Sewell, whose district covers a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt, “spent much of her past two years in office bringing American Rescue Plan Act funds to rural Alabama, dedicated to healthcare, broadband access and infrastructure building,” as noted by The Montgomery Advertiser.
The Centennial State is not listed as one of 17 states in the nation with preemption laws that erect barriers to municipal broadband because nearly every community that had a vote has passed it to nullify it. But more communities had to go through that unnecessary process yesterday due to the law known as SB-152 that bans local governments in the state from establishing municipal broadband service absent a referendum.
Warren Co. Pennsylvania Seeks Partner to Bring Broadband to Rural Residents
In late August, Warren County Commissioners in northwest Pennsylvania issued a RFP that sought to establish a public-private partnership to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to rural parts of the county near the Allegheny National Forest and River.
County officials are now reviewing proposals for a plan to “design, engineer, procure, install, operate, manage, and maintain high speed Internet to connect and serve the underserved rural areas of the county.” The initiative is part of the county Broadband Task Force’s effort to close the digital divide in a region that is nearly 900 square miles and home to 40,000 residents.
The RFP calls for three required outcomes:
- High-speed Internet access for the fire departments in Garland, Wrightsville, Sugar Grove, Spring Creek, and Spartansburg.
- Wireless or wireline connectivity to businesses and residential households in Garland, Wrightsville, Sugar Grove, Spring Creek, and Spartansburg communities.
- Offer “no cost service” to municipal entities in the county.
And while the RFP does not specifically require wireless network proposals, the RFP puts its thumb on the scale in favor of proposals that detail a “Primary Wireless Solution.”
The county would own the infrastructure for three years and, during that time, the Internet service provider who wins the bid will pay a rights-of-way agreement for the network, and will be responsible for the management and maintenance of the network. The county is also willing to provide access to its vertical assets to enable the deployment of wireless technology.
The RFP does not specify required subscription costs or low cost options for subscribers but does ask applicants to provide a five-year customer rate table and specifies that they are looking for a project that is beneficial to all parties, including the residents.
A Plan for Middle and Last-Mile Comes Together in York County
For the past two years, York County, Pennsylvania (est. pop. 459,000) has been working hard on a multi-part plan to connect both rural and urban areas.
York began laying out plans for a county-owned middle-mile network in 2020. The idea was to make last-mile hookups viable for private providers in more areas of the county, and to close its major connectivity gaps.
Along with these plans, York launched a middle-mile pilot project along a 16-mile stretch of the York Heritage Rail Trail, which runs from the York metropolitan area in the center of the county down to Pennsylvania’s southern border. The project leveraged $1.5 million in CARES Act funding and a length of conduit that had been lying underneath the rail trail for two decades. The fiber that was deployed currently provides middle-mile capacity throughout the south central part of the county, as well as some wireless coverage from a tower at the stretch’s midpoint in Hanover Junction.
Building Beyond the Pilot
In early 2021, it was left to the YoCo Fiber Broadband Task Force, “led by the York County Economic Alliance and composed of representatives from business, government, health care, education, and other sectors,” to recommend to the county a way to “develop and implement a countywide broadband strategy.”
In July of that year, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to spend as much as $25 million of its American Rescue Plan money, under the guidance of the task force. The first $20 million was dedicated to building out the first half of an underground middle-mile network throughout southern York County, which was designed to “connect anchor institutions and build redundancy.”
Allentown, Pennsylvania Proposes Using Rescue Plan Funds for Muni Fiber Network
Once a booming center of manufacturing, Allentown, PA (pop. 120,900) is looking to reinvigorate its economy by reinventing itself as a modern 21st century “smart city,” bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet connectivity to every resident in the city.
In October, the city proposed using $7 million of its $57 million in American Rescue Act Funds to aid in the deployment of a citywide FTTH network. City leaders hope the investment will help them reach the goal outlined in its strategic economic development plan to become a smart city by 2030.
The city will work with Iota Communications to conduct a feasibility study they hope will be complete in the coming months. While the possibility of a FTTH network is in the early stages for the city, the proposal signals a serious ambition to bridge the digital divide in the region.
Feeling The Way Forward
Allentown is one of three cities that make up a larger geographic area known as Lehigh Valley, with the other cities being Easton (pop. 27,000) and Bethlehem (pop. 75,500). For a while now, leaders in the valley have been talking about the digital divide and it’s been made clear with the pandemic that it can no longer be put on the backburner.
Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law 2019 clearing the way for municipalities to have more of a say in how 5G is deployed in their communities. And while many local officials say the new law will help pave the way for Allentown to stay ahead of the curve, some have cautioned that a focus on 5G is a major distraction.
Nonprofit Directing Efforts to Improve Internet Access for Six Counties in Southern Pennsylvania
Nonprofit Alleghenies Broadband is leading a cohesive effort across a six-county region in south-central Pennsylvania to bring high-speed Internet access to areas that are unserved or underserved by reliable networks.
Part of its work is a recently completed Request for Proposals (RFP) in search of forming a series of public-private partnerships to help identify target areas and offer robust solutions to bring new infrastructure to the businesses and residents who need it most. As that process continues to unfold, however, the nonprofit is already working with city and county leaders to pursue a range of wireline and fixed wireless options that will result in better service and publicly owned infrastructure.
A Regional Approach
Formed in October 2020, Alleghenies Broadband is part of the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission. By coordinating efforts in six counties (Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset, collectively representing about 500,000 residents), it hopes to address the broadband gaps scattered across the region. Somerset, Fulton, and Huntingdon seem to be in the worst shape at present: while many residents have access to cable service, large swaths of the counties are stuck with DSL or satellite service only, leading to median download speeds of just 3.7-8 Megabits per second (Mbps) (see Fulton and Huntingdon coverage maps below, with satellite-only areas in grey). The remaining three counties also have significant gaps where no wireline access is available, representing thousands of households with poor or no service.
Community Broadband Legislation Roundup – July 19, 2021
Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection
California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network
New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor
The State Scene
The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24.
The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025.
Community Networks Borne Out of Covid-19 Continue to Strengthen and Expand
With vaccines rolling out tier by tier, state by state, and restaurants, bars and public spaces starting to reopen one by one, there seems to be a desire to say, “Wow, things are going back to normal!” Unfortunately, the public health crisis exacerbated healthcare, education, and economic inequities that have long existed in low-income and communities of color across the country and have no chance of going away any time soon. But some community leaders have stepped up and come to the table with one piece of the puzzle in bridging these inequities — better Internet access to these communities.
Over the summer, we covered several communities that jumped to action and came up with quick ways to implement long-term solutions.
The city of San Rafael, which sits on the coast of northern California in Marin County, continues to strengthen, expand, and research the use of the network it built over the summer and fall for one unserved area hit hard by the economic, education, and health impact of Covid-19. And on the other side of the country, Meta Mesh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania continues construction on a pilot project that is hoping to connect unserved families by the end of this summer.
Focusing on the Future
In San Rafael, California, the city, Marin County and a nonprofit organization — the Canal Alliance — all joined forces to bring free Wi-Fi to the Canal neighborhood.
Outside Gettysburg, A Battle for Better Broadband
In the heart of Adams County, Pennsylvania, not far from the site of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln later delivered his famous 1863 Gettysburg address declaring “a new birth of freedom,” plans are being drawn up in the battle for better broadband.
In the borough of New Oxford, ten miles east of the county seat (Gettysburg), the non-profit media group Community Media of South Central Pennsylvania is leading the charge to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) victory for the approximately 102,000 residents spread out across the rural county’s 520 square miles.
But with restrictive state laws that protect incumbent providers from competition by not allowing municipalities to provide broadband service, and scarce funding for non-governmental entities to build broadband infrastructure, victory is far from certain.
Small Steps, Big Broadband Problem
The goal right now, Community Media’s Director of Operations Mark Wherley told us this week, is to secure $3 million to bring fiber access to 1,200 homes in New Oxford and Abbottstown, two of the 34 municipalities that make up Adams County, encircling Gettysburg.
Working in conjunction with the Adams County Economic Alliance, Community Media is looking to tap the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) for funds to start building the network. Through RACP, Community Media would be eligible to receive between $1 million and $5 million, provided they are able to raise a 50 percent matching contribution.