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Institutional Fiber Network Enhances Town Operations Across Plainville, Connecticut
After working over a year to obtain licenses to deploy fiber across town, by this time next week the central Connecticut town of Plainville, home to approximately 17,500 residents, will begin construction of a municipal fiber network. When finished, the network will connect all town offices, public education facilities, public safety services, and wastewater treatment facilities.
Over a decade after high-speed fiber connections linking the town’s municipal center and a local high school to the statewide Nutmeg Network were first established in Plainville, multiple municipal buildings throughout town still lacked reliable broadband connections, and some had not been connected to the Internet at all.
With locally-based construction firm Sertex set to begin laying fiber for the townwide institutional network (I-Net) next week, which will include “12.5 miles of aerial cabling and three underground spans running beneath major highways,” that’s all about to change for the relatively dense, 10-square-mile community, reports Sertex.
Community Broadband Legislation Roundup - May 25, 2021
North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide
Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access
Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum
The State Scene
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide.
Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different.
Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:
$600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”
$420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.
$165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.
The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years.
Community Broadband Legislation Roundup - May 11, 2021
Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities
North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops
Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council
The State Scene
Charter Spectrum Pushes Florida Law That Would Preempt Local Authority and Increase Burden on Municipal Electric Ratepayers
A pair of bills making the rounds through Florida’s state legislature are an attack on the state’s urban municipal electric utility ratepayers to the financial benefit of big cable monopolies, under the guise of expanding rural broadband.
H.B. 1239 and S.B. 1592 read like regulatory wishlists for Florida’s big Internet service providers. Word around the capitol is that the bills are heavily influenced by Charter Spectrum, the major incumbent cable Internet provider in the region (insiders also noted in an interview that it was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members).
H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 would require municipal electric utilities to provide private companies with access to their poles at a capped rate, though the cost of attaching new telecommunications infrastructure differs based on size, shape, and weight. Florida’s municipal electric utilities, and their ratepayers, would be burdened with any additional costs that surpass the capped rate.
The bills would further require electric utilities to reengineer utility poles to accommodate broadband providers’ attachment requests within 90 days of receiving them. In some instances, municipal electric utilities would be forced to cover the full costs of pole replacements, rather than the new attacher.
At ILSR, we are concerned that make-ready policies do discourage competition and we have encouraged streamlined access and consistent, fair rates to ensure Internet service providers can pursue efficient deployment. However, this bill would force electric ratepayers, including residents and local businesses, to shoulder more of the burden for private firms like Charter Spectrum and AT&T with the latter avoiding paying their fair share of attachment costs.
Vermont House Backs $150 Million Broadband Plan
A bill dedicating $150 million of anticipated federal funding to create a new state broadband office to coordinate and accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet access throughout Vermont passed the State House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support.
On March 24th, the Vermont House approved H.B. 360 by a vote of 145-1, backing the creation of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority. If the bill becomes law it would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure between Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners, which include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
The bill was introduced in the state Senate last Friday, and discussed for the first time in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Enabled by a 2015 law, CUDs are local governmental bodies consisting of two or more towns joined together to build communications infrastructure. They were established to create innovative solutions to build broadband networks and provide a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless Internet connectivity in their respective territories across Vermont, especially in areas where incumbent ISPs fail to provide adequate service.
Vermont’s CUDs, which have called for federal funding assistance since the onset of the pandemic, are ideally positioned to distribute funds in a way that will provide reliable and high-performance Internet access to every nook-and-cranny of the state. Vermont’s active CUDs have already constructed deep pockets of fiber.
Whether or not the CUDs will be able to reach the state’s goal of delivering universal 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet service by 2024 now rests in the hands of Vermont’s Senate, Congress, and the Biden Administration as state and federal lawmakers wrestle with how to best expand access to broadband.
Republican Broadband Agenda Would Preempt Local Authority and Ban Municipal Networks
Last week, House Republicans introduced a bill package ostensibly to promote broadband expansion and competition across the country. In reality, the legislation is a wish list of monopoly cable and telephone companies that will protect them from competition and decrease their accountability to the public. It would also ban communities from building their own networks or engaging in public-private partnerships.
A Rights of Way Free-for-All
About a third of the bills in the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda would preempt regulations (including application timelines and fee schedules) set by government subdivisions on wireless deployment. The major mobile carriers are already in the process of slowly rolling out 5G networks which will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small-cell sites over the next several years. AT&T spent more than $23 billion on the recently concluded 3.7 GHz C-band auction, with T-Mobile spending $9.3 billion. Verizon outspent every other bidder combined at $45 billion. Establishing shorter shot clocks and maximum fees for the installation of new hardware in public Rights of Way would simultaneously reduce the income municipalities receive and lead to the proliferation of poles and attachments across the country with limited public input. We’ve already seen how it has negatively impacted cities like Milwaukee and Tucson.
A Call in Vermont to Assemble A Broadband Corps
A new report out by CTC Technology and Energy and Rural Innovation Strategies, commissioned by the state of Vermont, gives us one of the clearest and most detailed pictures so far of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on our attempts to live and work remotely.
The “Covid-19 Responses Telecommunications Recovery Plan” [pdf], presented to the state in December 2020, includes both a comprehensive survey of conditions after a half-year of social distancing and intermittent lockdowns as well as recommendations for addressing immediate needs. But it offers solutions that provide a path forward by making sure that dollars spent now are in service to the state’s long-term goals of getting everyone in the Green Mountain State on fast, affordable wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps).
The report brings together network performance assessments from every level of government across the state over the last six months, pairs it with survey responses from citizens, libraries, hospitals, businesses, regional development corporations, and Communications Union Districts (CUDs), and offers analysis based on conditions for moving forward.
“Covid-19 has laid bare the challenges of lack of universal broadband in Vermont,” the report says, with “inequities in the availability and affordability of broadband create further inequities in areas such as education, telehealth, and the ability to work from home.” It offers a wealth of findings:
Pennsylvania Laws Aim to Expand Broadband
A pair of broadband bills in Pennsylvania (one of which has been signed into law by the governor, and the other having passed one chamber) represent a collective step forward for broadband by updating regulations and establishing a broadband grant program so as to promote network expansion in rural and unserved parts of the state of Pennsylvania.
Fewer Restrictions, More Money
The first is House Bill 2438 [pdf], which allows electric cooperatives to use existing easements for an affiliate to deliver broadband service without re-negotiating with property owners. The bill also allows cable companies to use cooperative-owned poles with permission and in accordance with existing rates and regulations. It’s designed to make it faster, cheaper, and easier to bring Internet access to rural parts of the state.
Johnstown Area Regional Industries entrepreneurial coach Blake Fleegle said of the legislation:
Every county in our region is looking at bringing high-dollar earners to our region. Employers are finding people can be just as effective working in Johnstown as they would be in Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh. But they need to connect, and that's where broadband comes into play.
Chad Carrick, President and CEO of REA Energy Cooperative, likewise welcomed the legislation while emphasizing the role electric co-ops will play in the state:
It may be hard for some to believe, but there is a good 40% of Indiana and Cambria counties that either don't have broadband Internet access or it's not up to snuff, according to our surveys to our membership.
2438 passed the state House in June, the Senate at the end of October, and was signed into law by the governor at the end of last month.
Georgia Aims to Lure Private ISPs to Expand Rural Broadband
As the nation’s eyes are riveted on the political divide in Georgia and the implications it has for the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, many state residents are also keeping an eye on the digital divide in the Peach State with an aim to expand broadband service to rural residents.
Georgia’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) are promoting a new “Georgia Solution” to bring more broadband connectivity to the state’s rural regions.
That’s what the statewide trade association representing Georgia’s 41 electric cooperatives is calling its unique “roll out the red carpet” initiative as they hope to lure private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to expand broadband service now that state lawmakers passed the Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act during the 2020 Georgia General Assembly.
The law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp in August, authorizes the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to set “rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments between communications service providers and electric membership corporations and their broadband affiliates.”
Filed on October 23 with the state’s PSC to consider for approval, the “Georgia Solution,” aims to entice private ISPs with two “generous and unprecedented offers” -- the “One Buck Deal” and the “Georgia One-Touch-Make-Ready Program.”
Two-Part “Georgia Solution”
How McAllen, Texas Quietly Built Residents a Free Wi-Fi Network over the Summer
Over the last few months, a number of cities across the country have recognized the pressing need to find a way to get those in their community without Internet access connected. In San Rafael, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Champaign, Illinois, local governments along with a variety of philanthropic, technical, and private partners have developed a host of innovative ways to bring fixed wireless solutions to neighborhoods in need.
The city of McAllen (pop. 140,000) — near the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Texas — offers some additional lessons to be learned and a blueprint for success for other local governments thinking of doing the same. Quietly over the summer, it collected broadband data, designed, and deployed a fixed wireless network which to date covers more than three dozen neighborhoods and provides free connectivity for the city’s students and residents.
Fiber From the Water Tower
Citywide Wi-Fi has been a long time coming in McAllen. Mayor Jim Dalson and the IT Department have wanted to do it for years, IT Director Robert Acosta said in an interview, but finding a way to pay for it has been the major barrier. In the meantime, his department has been adding wireless coverage to public spaces for the past half decade, at city parks, outside of government facilities, at the Museum of Art and Science, and at the Boys and Girls club. He also extended the network to traffic cameras, water towers, and other government facilities, and when the pandemic hit his department had more than 60 miles of fiber to call upon.