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In the interest of “closing the digital divide,” the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry in August “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion.” According to the notice, the FCC still considers it reasonable and timely to define the minimum broadband speed as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, the same minimum speeds the FCC first established in 2015.
It’s an important benchmark that is widely-agreed to be outdated in the era of families juggling multiple video chat calls and other digital tasks at the same time.
However, according to the FCC’s most recent look at the issue, there remains “significant support for maintaining this benchmark.” Therefore, the notice went on to say, “we propose to maintain the 25/3 Mbps benchmark for fixed services.”
This, despite the objection of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose official dissent noted that, in addition to the “nonstop criticism from consumers and Congress” over the FCC’s misleading data on how many Americans lack access to broadband, “in its last report, the FCC continued to use a broadband standard that is too low for a nation that has moved so much online.”
“Many households with multiple users are calling, watching, listening, gaming, and searching online all at the same time,” Rosenworcel noted. “But the FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second.”
A year prior to Rosenworcel’s dissent, Next Century Cities submitted comments noting how much had changed both up and downstream since the 2015 standard was put in place.
“As more people work from home or engage in online education courses, the requirement of multi-tasking while participating on an HD video conference will overwhelm that 3 Mbps capacity, even if no other devices in the household are attempting to share the network.”
I have stepped down from my role as Policy Advisor at Next Century Cities, an organization that I helped to found and one that I believe is very important to ensuring everyone can use fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access. Nothing is changing for me at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — I just wanted to reflect on how wonderful my experience was at Next Century Cities.
Next Century Cities members are incredibly innovative and at the forefront of efforts to expand this amazing human enterprise — the Internet — to everyone on terms that make it truly available to them. I am honored to have helped highlight their efforts and share the lessons they have learned to others that have iterated on the models and practices.
Working alongside Deb Socia in establishing and nurturing Next Century Cities has been a highlight of my career. The people I worked with at Next Century Cities taught me important lessons and I treasure all the time we spent advancing the interests of our innovative members. I cannot count the times I reflect on what I learned from Deb, who models intelligence, balance, grace under fire, grit, wit, and loyalty.
Almost all of the work I get credit for is a product of teamwork, informed by people I respect and trust. But I want to single out Cat Blake, who is also leaving Next Century Cities, as one of the most remarkable people with whom I have worked. I recently received a text from someone saying they often forget how young Cat is due to her impressive command and confidence on the issues tackled. I had just sent a note to someone making the same point. Cat came to us the same way her predecessor did — Kate Watson Jordan (now at Internet Society) — from Christopher Ali's tutelage at the University of Virginia (quite the pipeline). I was dubious about putting her on stage at one of our events, but she nailed it and I started to realize I was seriously underestimating her capacity. Then she created the Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit and I started to wonder what she couldn't do — I haven't seen a limit yet. It was a pleasure working with you, Cat.
Every decade, the U.S. counts itself to learn more about the people who make up the fabric of America. The upcoming census of 2020 will be the first census conducted mostly online and, while the prospect is an exciting statement about our technology, there are new risks that accompany innovation. Not everyone has reliable Internet access, which can lead to undercounts. Next Century Cities recently released the 2020 Census Kiosk Toolkit, a resource to help local communities and their citizens ensure results are accurate by establishing a public kiosk program.
Why Does It Matter?
The United States Census Bureau seeks a count of all people living in the U.S. states and territories in order to establish how to distribute federal funding. Dollars for education, infrastructure, healthcare, and other programs are determined based on population and need. When local communities and states come in with counts that don't reflect reality, they don't receive a correct amount of funding. This is especially a problem when large percentages of the population aren't counted.
Census data also determines representation in government. The number of seats in the House of Representatives, and congressional and state legislative district borders are determined based on census results. Local community leadership uses census data to help shape policy, planning, and how to distribute resources.
As one can expect, counting every person in the United States is a monumental task that requires cooperation at every level. In the past, census takers travelled door-to-door and paper ballots were mailed to households. This year, however, much of the data will be collected online in an effort to cut costs and expedite the process.
A Community-Minded Approach for Better Data Collection
Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Next Century Cities, and Allies Offer Insight to FCC on Broadband Data Collection
When local communities apply for funding to improve local Internet infrastructure, grants and loans are often predicated on the need to deploy to unserved and underserved premises. Whether it's federal, state, or local sources, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data determining whether or not a region has access to broadband is often the data that funding entities rely on. In recent years, it’s become apparent that FCC data grossly understates the lack of accessibility to broadband. Finally in August 2019, the FCC called for comments as they reconsider how to collect fixed broadband data. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance teamed up with Next Century Cities and several other organizations with whom we often collaborate, submitted both Comments and Reply Comments.
Fixing the Bad Data
We’ve covered this before, and the Commission has now decided to make changes. Traditionally, FCC data on broadband Internet access has been collected from Internet service providers (ISPs) that self-report on the areas they serve via Form 477. If a company has the ability to serve one premise in a census block they report to the Commission that they serve the entire block. Reality, however, often does not reflect such a high level of connectivity in one area.
When FCC data incorrectly determines that locations have the ability to subscribe to one or more Internet access companies, those areas lose eligibility for grants and loans for Internet network infrastructure. Sadly, these places are often caught in a strange purgatory between faulty FCC data and reality in which they can’t obtain funding to build out high-quality Internet access, and yet large Internet access companies don’t consider their areas a good investment due to low population densities.
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.
We recently shared the news that dynamo Deb Socia was leaving her post as Executive Director of Next Century Cities (NCC) to pursue a new position as CEO and President of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her departure leaves a gap that Next Century Cities and all its 200+ members now need to fill.
While taking up the mantle at NCC will be a heavy lift due to the high bar that Deb established, we’re all confident that the right person is out there. In order to reach that perfect candidate, we want to share the posting for the position of Executive Director and encourage interested people to apply.
Cover letters and resumes need to be submitted to Cat Blake by May 15, 2019 at cblake(at)nextcenturycities.org. If you have questions, you should contact Cat. We’re reposting the call for applications here to reach as many potential, but you can also see the original story at theNext Century Cities blog.
The Executive Director’s primary responsibility will be the development and strategic leadership of the Next-Century Cities project, with a key focus on building and coordinating the project’s 21st Century Leadership Forum of elected officials and other city leaders.
Essential Responsibilities and Tasks
- Set and execute the overall strategy for the project
- Recruit mayors and other elected officials to become members of Next Century Cities
- Help conceptualize and coordinate key projects, including city-to-city learning, policymaker education, resource creation and curation, and demonstration projects
- Lead the media strategy, including identifying and executing press opportunities
- Liaise with and continue the conversation among elected leaders
- Lead day-to-day operations of the project
- Lead fundraising
Required Education, Experience, Knowledge, Skills and Ability
It was only a year ago that Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Since then, Deb has continued to raise the bar for nonprofit leaders. She has brought people together, advocated for smart policies, and developed resources to help local communities improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide. Now, Deb has decided it’s time to share her high-energy magic in Tennessee. Deb recently announced that she has accepted a position as CEO of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga.
The Heart and Soul of Next Century Cities
Since she started the organization in the fall of 2014, Deb has led its team and the member communities that collaborate and share information. The group began with a modest 32 members, but through Deb’s hard work and determination, more than 200 communities have now joined. The nonprofit, through her vision and leadership, has assisted local governments in their vision of better connectivity and local policies that encourage broadband investment.
In an evening filled with art and broadband policy, folks gathered in Washington D.C. to attend a screening of the film Do Not Pass Go, a documentary that examines the efforts of Wilson, North Carolina, to expand high-quality connectivity to rural neighbor Pinetops, and how big monopoly providers and the state legislature blocked their attempts.
Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the National Association of Regional Councils, and the National League of Cities hosted the event, which included a panel discussion on relevant state laws, the value of local authority, and possible solutions at the federal and local levels to bring everyone high-quality Internet access. In addition to our own Christopher Mitchell, Terry Huval, Former Director of Lafayette Utilities System and Suzanne Coker Craig, Managing Director of CuriosiTees in Pinetops LLC and former Pinetops Commissioner spoke on the panel moderated by Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities.
Attorney Jim Baller, President of Baller Stokes & Lide and President and Co-founder of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice also took some time to discuss specific state barriers that interfere with local authority for Internet network investment.
After the panel discussion, attendees and panelists mingled and enjoyed music supplied by Terry Huval and his fiddle:
It’s just like I’ve always said, broadband policy and Cajun fiddle music are a match made in heaven. Thank you to Terry - former manager of Lafayette, LA’s utilities system - for sharing your talents! #LocalChoice pic.twitter.com/AZZd0wNtoU— Cat Blake (@cat_hannah_b) March 26, 2019
Host A Screening in Your Community
Winter has not been kind this year. In addition to interrupting our kids’ learning with numerous snow days, stranding the Minnesota office in our homes due to dangerously cold weather, and interrupting our typically prolific workflow with day after day of shoveling, minor ice related traffic accidents, and sick kids, there’s one other unforgivable offense that rests square on the shoulders of Mother Nature: the cancellation of the D.C. screening of Do Not Pass Go. An impending winter storm forced the cancellation of the event, which was scheduled for February 20th. The organizers are ready to try again, however, and the new event date is March 26th, 2019, 5 - 7 p.m. The venue will be the same — the offices of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties at 660 North Capitol Street NW.
Register for the free screening and the discussion.
The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), will lead the discussion about the film and the policies that influence the events of the film and the people living in Pinetops, North Carolina.
Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback, tells the story of Pinetops, where the community finally obtained high-quality Internet access when their neighbor, Wilson, connected Pinetops to Greenlight. The Greenlight community fiber optic network later had to disconnect Pinetops, however, when the state chose to protect incumbents from competition. Hoback’s film tells the Pinetops story and examines how lack of competition has negatively impacted rural communities.
After the screening, the group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.
The panel will include:
The story of tiny Pinetops, North Carolina, and how large corporations blocked their ability to obtain high-quality Internet access from a nearby municipal network comes to life in Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback. On February 20th, you can attend a screening of the film and stay for the discussion after. The event will be in Washington, D.C., at the office of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties from 5 - 7 p.m.
Join the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), who will be guiding the discussion about the film and the policies that come into play. The group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.
After the screening, a panel discussion will include:
- Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
- Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
- Joanne Hovis: Co-Founder and CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology & Energy
- Dr. Christopher Ali: Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Faculty Fellow, Benton Foundation; Fellow, World Economic Forum
- Suzanne Coker Craig:Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC
Following the panel discussion, the Networking Reception will allow participants to continue the conversation and share their individual experiences.
Register online for the free D.C. screening.
Pinetops, Wilson, and Greenlight