Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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What is digital equity? And why is access to ubiquitous, reliable and affordable high-speed Internet service so vital? The technological issues involved can sometimes seem confusing, especially for those who came of age before the Internet fundamentally transformed how we interact.
That’s why the Institute for Local Self Reliance, with support from AARP, has created the Exploring Digital Equity Fact Sheet Series. The series contains six user-friendly, easy-to-understand fact sheets to help demystify the challenges associated with creating digital equity.
We are releasing the entire series today, while AARP will feature the fact sheets as part of its Livable Communities initiative, an effort to support neighborhoods, towns, cities and rural areas in creating safe, walkable streets; age-friendly housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life.
The fact sheets series ultimately highlight how expanding Internet access to everyone who wants it isn’t an infrastructure problem alone. Achieving digital equity for everyone in a community is a multi-faceted endeavor, and requires engaging and activating an array of stakeholders. The Exploring Digital Equity Fact Sheet Series unpacks the issues, challenges, and opportunities today.
The Ohio Senate attached an amendment to the state's budget bill last week which would place significant restrictions on the establishment of new community broadband solutions. It would also, if passed in its current form, place substantial barriers on the operation and expansion of existing municipal networks and other publicly owned and operated projects.
Cities across Ohio have expanded Internet infrastructure in thoughtful, forward-looking ways. These municipal networks have created local government savings, increased speeds, promoted service competition, and powered economic development.
Some cities have specifically addressed the affordability gap in cities, where many residents have been left behind in a broken market where large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have underbuilt networks, leaving hundreds of thousands of broadband-hungry Ohioans in the digital dust.
This fact sheet [pdf] outlines the many long-term benefits that municipal broadband projects have brought to the state. For instance:
Despite raking in hundreds of millions in government broadband subsidies, Frontier Communications has failed time and time again to bring reliable, high-speed connectivity to the rural communities it serves. Instead of investing in network upgrades, Frontier has neglected its rural infrastructure to the detriment of its subscribers and the company’s own financials, with its worsening service quality paralleling its plummeting stock value.
Our new fact sheet, Frontier Has Failed Rural America, presents evidence of Frontier’s negligence and suggests that rather than continuing to trust Frontier, government officials should look to publicly owned and community-minded providers to connect rural residents, businesses, and institutions.
Download the Frontier Has Failed Rural America fact sheet [pdf].
Subsidies Can’t Fix Frontier
Federal and state government agencies have given Frontier nearly $2 billion to expand and upgrade its rural broadband networks. The company has received approximately $1.7 billion from the Connect America Fund Phase II federal subsidy program and millions more in grants from states like Minnesota and New York.
Even with the subsidies, Frontier ultimately failed to connect rural communities with high-quality broadband. The company has repeatedly chosen not to upgrade rural networks, leaving subscribers with poor, unreliable service that doesn’t fulfill their basic communications needs.
Frontier’s “Systemic Problems”
Our fact sheet, Frontier Has Failed Rural America, features events from the past five years that demonstrate Frontier’s inability to solve the rural broadband problem, including:
Next Century Cities (NCC) helps communities across the U.S. connect to each other, find resources, and discover ways to improve local Internet access options. The organization has released valuable tools and resources to that aim, including their most recent fact sheet, The Opportunity of Municipal Broadband.
Download the fact sheet from NCC here.
NCC’s fact sheet uses examples from municipal network history. Communities have invested in publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure to obtain better connectivity and to reduce telecommunications costs for municipal facilities. In more than a few places, those investments became the foundation for what later became networks to serve local businesses and residences.
NCC’s fact sheet looks at the long-term value of investment versus long-term savings. In addition to faster, more reliable connectivity, residents who chose slight tax increases to fund the investments still came out ahead — overall, paying less for better service from their publicly owned network than they had from poor quality DSL service.
The fact sheet also delves into other benefits, such as economic development, improved efficiency of other utilities, and accountability. NCC uses specific examples from places such as Ammon, Idaho; Longmont, Colorado; and Clarksville, Tennessee. With so many communities served in some fashion by a municipal network — approximately 500 — finding examples isn’t difficult; choosing which to include on a fact sheet is the challenge.
Moving Past the Roadblocks
As NCC notes, some states still prevent local communities from investing in infrastructure to develop municipal networks. Whether de facto or outright bans, these harmful barriers serve no purpose other than to maintain monopolies for the existing national ISPs. The results are detrimental for residents and businesses that need better connectivity and competiton.
It’s difficult to separate 5G fantasy from reality as reported in traditional news sources. Misunderstandings surrounding the demands and capabilities of 5G has snowballed, creating an incorrect assumption that the technology will solve America’s many connectivity problems. It’s true that 5G is an improvement, but it has limitations. In A Pocket Guide to 5G Hype, we address the most repeated errors surrounding 5G and explain why the technology should be considered another tool, not an exclusive remedy.
Download A Pocket Guide to 5G Hype [PDF] here.
Mistakes We Hear Over...and Over...and Over
Regardless of the source, several errors seem to be repeated and we address those in the fact sheet. We provide context to:
- The fact that 5G still needs fiber optic connections
- Why it won’t solve the problem of lack of competition
- Why 5G won’t eliminate the digital divide
- The myth of the 5G race
Orders, Complements, and More
The fact sheet also provides information about the FCC’s 2018 Order that interferes with local communities’ ability to control negotiations with 5G carriers. By choosing big telecom companies over local governments the FCC is preventing cities and counties from finding efficient paths to digital equity.
Our Pocket Guide to 5G Hype lays out a comparison between 5G and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Rather than replacing fiber with 5G, the two technologies can have the most impact when they work together; on the fact sheet, we've laid out the reasons in a side-by-side chart.
We want you to delve deeper into the issue of 5G and find out the truth, rather than get lost in the hype and we've offered a few additional resources to get you started on your own research. Share the fact sheet with others who are interested in the truth about 5G and be sure to send it to your local elected officials. As they create local policies affecting 5G deployment in your community, they need to base their decisions on realities, not hype.
NRECA Fact Sheet: Electric Cooperatives Could Bring High-Speed Internet To Another 6.3 Million Households
Cooperatives are building the next-generation networks that will support rural areas long into the future. We’ve covered this extensively at ILSR as we have gathered materials on community networks from across the country into one place. We want to share this fact sheet from National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on how electric cooperatives are well-situated to bring high-speed Internet service to another 6.3 million households.
6.3 Million Households Have a Co-op, But No Broadband
The fact sheet features an insightful map of the areas within electric cooperative service territories that do and do not have broadband. (Note: The FCC defines broadband as a speed of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Many telephone and electric cooperatives can take the credit for bringing needed connectivity to their communities. For example, more than 90 electric cooperatives across the U.S. have built Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, which offer some of the fastest Internet service in the country.
The NRECA fact sheet, however, reveals the 6.3 million households in rural electric cooperative service areas that still need high-speed Internet access. These areas are primarily in the Midwest and the South. Creating pathways for electric cooperatives to extend Internet service is increasingly a priority in a number of these states, and state legislatures are now passing laws to empower both electric and telephone cooperatives. NRECA offers more policy recommendations to continue the momentum.
You can learn more about the ways rural cooperatives are bringing better connectivity to rural areas by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.
Local governments spend billions on all sorts of infrastructure every year to advance the public good for their communities. Roads and bridges keep day-to-day activity moving. Investments such as water and sewer infrastructure keep cities clean and livable. Fiber infrastructure is used for a wide range of purposes, including economic development, education, and to keep a city’s administration connected. To get a look at how fiber network infrastructure compares to other public investments, we've developed the Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure fact sheet.
The fact sheet looks at investments in both larger and smaller cities. Each of the projects that we compared to fiber optic networks required similar local investment and contributed to the well-being of the communities where they were developed. The fact sheet offers a snapshot of cost, how the projects were funded, and the results.
Some of the projects we compared are located in Wilson, North Carolina; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the networks have been in place long enough to bring economic benefit and other public benefits.
We found that:
Communities invest in a wide range of infrastructure projects. Fiber optic networks fit well within the historic role of municipal investment to improve the business climate and quality of life, and are often lower cost when compared with other essential infrastructure.
This fact sheet helps illustrate how high-speed networks are public infrastructure and it helps with a visual of how that infrastructure stacks up compared to traditional forms of municipal investment. Share this resource with city managers, city council members, mayors, and other elected officials. The fact sheet will also help when discussing municipal investment with other people interested in how to improve local connectivity.
As interest in publicly owned broadband network infrastructure increases, local communities seek out new ways to fund municipal networks. Revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans, and avoided costs have been the three most common methods for funding Internet network infrastructure, but local leaders are finding creative approaches to get the job done. The Creative Funding Sources For Fiber Infrastructure fact sheet presents new approaches, pros and cons, and provides examples for further study.
New Approach to an Ongoing Challenge
Communities that need better connectivity must consider numerous factors when fiber optic network infrastructure is on the table. In addition to the type of model that’s most appropriate, decisions include vendor selection, and the extent of the network footprint. A critical element to every community network are the choice of funding mechanisms local leaders choose to see the project from idea to implementation.
Communities such as Ammon, Idaho, and Kitsap County in Washington are using fresh ideas to fund their infrastructure development. In this fact sheet we describe the way these new mechanisms work and lay out some benefits along with some potentially negative implications. It’s important that communities take a frank look at all the possible repercussions as they move forward.
This fact sheet will help your own creative funding ideas flow as you look for ways to finance your community’s high-quality Internet access project.
As a nation our goal is ubiquitous broadband coverage so every person, regardless of where they live, can obtain the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access necessary for modern times. For people in rural areas, where large national wireline providers don’t typically invest in the infrastructure for high-quality connectivity, satellite Internet access is often their only choice. In our Satellite Is Not Broadband fact sheet we address some of the reasons why depending on satellite Internet access to serve rural America is a mistake.
Download the Satellite Is Not Broadband fact sheet here.
Satellites are Cool, But...
It’s a marvel that science has found a way to deliver data in such a manner, but satellite Internet access is not the panacea for rural connectivity. The technology still faces many shortcomings. Rural residents that must depend on satellite for Internet access pay more and get less.
There’s a misguided faction of decision makers who try to describe satellite Internet access as “broadband,” which is patently incorrect. For those who have never used this type of Internet access, especially for an extended period of time, the realities don’t present themselves. This fact sheet lays out many of the reasons why, if we allow satellite Internet access to be the final technology of choice in rural areas, we cheat people who live there. In addition to the negative daily impacts, the incorrect perception of satellite Internet access effectiveness can end or reduce funding for rural wireline projects that will bring better connectivity.
Like our other fact sheets, Satellite Is Not Broadband is succinct, accessible, and a strong addition to your efforts to inform policy makers, legislators, and others with limited satellite Internet access experience.
Rural broadband policy can be hard to explain. That’s why we made this fact sheet. It explains how rural America can have high-speed Internet service without breaking the bank. Give this to your neighbors, to your co-op board members, city council members, county officials, or state legislators.
Quick Answers to Common Questions
This fact sheet is full of information that answers common questions, such as: What is broadband? What is Fiber-to-the-Home? Who doesn’t have access? How much money does the government spend to improve Internet infrastructure? What can we do today?
The fact sheet also explains the role of cooperatives and municipal networks in bringing high-speed Internet service to rural communities. About 60 electric cooperatives and more than 200 telephone cooperatives have fiber projects. Many small towns have also built their own networks. Explore more on our Community Network Map.
Host a screening of the “Do Not Pass Go” video to educate your friends and neighbors on these issues. We’ve made a guide on how to host a screening and generate conversation in your community.
Create a local group to discuss Internet access: Why does your town need high-speed Internet service? What resources do you have? How much funding do you need? Sometimes the data doesn’t match reality. It’s up to your community to find a way to get the connectivity you need.