Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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In this week’s round-up of broadband news, we culled three stories we think are worth reading.
How Much is Fast Enough?
The first is a story from Ars Technica – FCC chair: Speed standard of 25Mbps down, 3Mbps up isn’t good enough anymore – written by veteran IT reporter Jon Brodkin.
For years now, broadband-for-all advocates have lamented the FCC’s minimum broadband speed standard of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload as being laughably antiquated. Indeed, it’s been almost three years since we made the case for Why 25/3 Broadband Is Not Sufficient, though it was outdated long before then.
But as Brodkin reported this week, the FCC’s minimum speed standard “could finally change under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who is proposing a fixed broadband standard of 100Mbps downloads and 20Mbps uploads along with a goal of bringing affordable service at those speeds to all Americans.”
Under Rosenworcel’s plan, the FCC would look at availability, speeds, and prices to determine whether the agency should take regulatory actions under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which requires the FCC to determine if high-speed Internet access is being deployed "on a reasonable and timely basis" to all Americans.
Now that there’s broad consensus high-speed Internet connectivity should be universally accessible, there’s no shortage of broadband news/content floating around out there.
There’s the wheat (more truthful, useful, and informative stuff); the chafe (a mundane grain of truth buried under a steaming pile of bs), and a vast spectrum of perspectives in between.
In this new space we will highlight insightful news stories, blog posts, podcasts, or videos we’ve come across over the past week or so – with an eye to separate the signal from the noise.
Downloading now …
What Happened to Gigi?
While the FCC has been defanged in many ways, the agency is still at the center of our shared telecommunication ecosystem. So when President Biden nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as the fifth and final commissioner to break the 2-2 partisan deadlock at the agency, numerous consumer and public interest groups were ecstatic. The nation’s telecommunication workers backed her nomination. She even had the respect and quiet support of a number of conservative lawmakers.
But her nomination was sunk by a vicious smear campaign, which led her to withdraw herself from consideration in March.
At the Broadband Communities Summit in May she described the process both like being put in a “washing machine full of rocks” and going through “a 16 month proctology exam.”
In its ongoing effort to support a new generation of broadband scholars, practitioners, and advocates, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has put out the call for new Opportunity Fund Fellowship applicants for the 2023-2024 cycle.
The Institute is looking for fellowship proposals that are particularly focused on:
- Coalitions and capacity building at the state and local levels to implement and influence broadband programs
- The extent and impact of digital discrimination
- Building sustainable, affordable broadband for BEAD and beyond
- The impact of broadband on communities - the benefits and the vulnerabilities
- Evaluation frameworks to measure the impact of broadband funding
While that is not an exhaustive list of possible proposals, the Institute says it will “welcome other proposals of critical importance to our field that can better inform our current or emerging broadband policy debates,” adding that “we especially welcome applications that focus on historically marginalized communities.”
Fellowships will range from $5,000 to $20,000 with a tenure ranging from 6 months to 2 years.
The application deadline is August 15.
Joined by an array of leading broadband experts, infrastructure investment fund managers, institutional investors, private equity, and venture capitalists will gather in the nation’s capital next week for a day-long in-person conference to discuss and explore the digital infrastructure and investment asset profile required to support a 21st century information economy.
The Annual Digital Infrastructure Investment conference, which brings the broadband infrastructure and financial services communities together, will be held on Thursday, November 17, 2022, at Clyde’s of Gallery Place in Washington, D.C. And though spots are filling up fast, there is still time to register to attend here.
The conference program will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m. and will feature four panels. The first panel – What’s the State of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)? – will be led by moderator Gabriella Novello, Assistant Editor of Communications Daily, and Glen Howie, Director, Arkansas State Broadband Office. The panel will explore how state broadband offices are feeling about the pace of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in moving the BEAN program forward, what states are doing to prepare for it, how big of an impact the infrastructure bill will have on the broadband industry.
The second panel – Broadband Mapping: Are We on the Right Track or the Wrong Track? – will include Bryan Darr, Executive Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla and Jim Stegeman, President of CostQuest Associates. That panel will get into the nitty gritty of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) quest to publish more accurate broadband maps.
As part of its ongoing effort to support a new generation of broadband scholars, practitioners, and advocates, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has put out the call for fellowship applicants looking to further their studies on broadband access, adoption, equity, and use.
In a recent newsletter, the Institute says they “are interested in supporting a range of projects that can better inform our current or emerging broadband policy debates, either through critical research about the future of the Internet in our communities or the development of best practices and tools to advance our field’s work.”
More specifically, they are seeking “proposed projects (that) can yield either practice or research-focused publications or multimedia content.”
Some potential topics include:
- How are grassroots organizations and coalitions working to advance digital equity?
- How can we best measure and map the availability and quality of broadband?
- What state and local policy levers can influence broadband availability and adoption?
- How does improved access to broadband impact local economies and communities?
- What resources and information do state legislators or government agencies need to ensure universal broadband access and adoption?
The Institute goes on to explain how those topics are “by no means an exhaustive list” and that applicants “should feel free to propose other ideas of critical importance to our field;" noting also that the Institute is especially interested in applications that focus on historically marginalized communities.
AARP Minnesota has taken notice: “broadband infrastructure has not been deployed evenly to communities across the state.”
In an effort to raise awareness about the “good news” of state and federal investments to expand infrastructure and how local leaders and residents can learn how to push for better broadband access in their communities, the Minnesota chapter of the AARP will host a “Critical Access: Broadband Expansion in Minnesota” webinar beginning at 1 p.m. CT Wednesday, Aug. 24.
Our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, will be a featured speaker for the one-hour event and will be joined by Cathy McLeer, State Director for AARP Minnesota, as well as Lori Vrolson, Executive Director of the Central Minnesota Council on Aging.
McLeer has been with AARP Minnesota since 2005, having first served as the Associate State Director for Communications in the South Dakota State Office, then as a Senior Advisor for the Central Region, before becoming the Minnesota State Director where she has been a powerful advocate on behalf of Minnesota’s 630,000 AARP members.
Hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to roundup the latest news in community broadband. A special guest may join later in the show.
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
Update, 1/22/22: Common Sense Media has released an easy-to-read, comprehensive guide to federal broadband funding opportunities. Read it here.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA).
In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.
This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.
Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending
The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding access to reliable, high-speed Internet service, passed in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The full text of the bill, posted on U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) website, appears to be identical to the draft of the bill detailed here by the law firm Keller & Heckman.
For those of us who favor local Internet choice, the bill is a mixed bag filled with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let’s start with …
Of the $65 billion allocated in the bill, $42 billion of that is to fund the deployment of broadband networks in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. The good part of that is the money will be sent to the states to be distributed as grants, which is better than handing it over to the FCC for another reverse auction. The FCC’s track record on reverse auctions is less than encouraging, and state governments are at least one step closer to local communities who have the best information on where broadband funding is needed.
In a nod to community broadband advocates and general common sense, the bill requires States to submit a “5-year action plan” as part of its initial proposal that “shall be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities.” It goes further in saying that those initial proposals should “describe the coordination with local governments, along with local and regional broadband planning processes,” in accordance with the NTIA’s “local coordination requirements.”
And the bill specifically says that when States award the grant money, they “may not exclude cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, private companies, public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility for such grant funds.”
In case you missed it, earlier this month President Biden signed an executive order that aims to promote competition in the U.S. economy. The order includes 72 initiatives, directing a dozen different federal agencies to promote competition in key sectors.
The White House published a fact sheet to explain what the EO aims to do. [Read the full factsheet is here]. It begins by pointing out how a "lack of competition drives up prices for consumers," which is why "families are paying higher prices for necessities—things like prescription drugs, hearing aids, and Internet service."
It goes on to say that the order will, among other things, "save Americans money on their Internet bills by banning excessive early termination fees, requiring clear disclosure of plan costs to facilitate comparison shopping, and ending landlord exclusivity arrangements that stick tenants with only a single Internet option."
As you might imagine, we are particularly interested in the section on “Internet Service,” which you can read below:
The Order tackles four issues that limit competition, raise prices, and reduce choices for Internet service.
In the Order, the President encourages the FCC to:
• Prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.