Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Building Frontline Digital Equity Tools at Education Superhighway - Episode 543 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Evan Marwell (CEO) and Jenny Miller (Director of Government Affairs), from the nonprofit Education Superhighway. Begun as an organization aimed at improving Internet access for schools, today Education Superhighway focuses its efforts on leveraging data and on-the-ground work to bring solutions for the more than 18 million households with basic broadband infrastructure available to them but for whom the price of connectivity is too high.
Evan and Jenny share more than a decade of work in working at the national, state, and local level to build tools like www.getacp.org, which simplifies the monthly subsidy application process, and their LearnACP program, which aims to train frontline workers signing individuals up. Finally, they talk with Chris about Education Superhighway's work to collect and publicize eRate contracts, which has helped create a more vigorous marketplace for school campus connectivity, dramatically lowering the price and increasing speeds for k-12 education centers.
This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Digital Navigators Help Communities Overcome Barriers to Broadband Adoption
For those in research, policy, community support, and the host of interrelated spaces who are hard at work to make sure that everyone in the country who wants to get online can, expanding broadband is a two-fold problem: that of broadband availability, and that of broadband adoption.
The first of these relates to the problem of making sure that federal and state legislation and the policies that go with them work towards building the infrastructure and creating the competitive markets that result in reliable, low-cost, high-speed Internet access for all. The second of these — broadband adoption — relates to the collection of obstacles that keep people offline even after an Internet connection is available up to their door. Cost remains one of the most problematic, but there are others as well.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic this year has made overcoming these challenges more important and immediately pressing than ever, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has initiated a program to help: one-on-one, phone-based support from locally trained people across a range of digital inclusion services call the Digital Navigator Model.
The concept was developed last April, and the completed Digital Navigator Model, developed by NDIA along with partners and allies, was released this August. Its purpose, from the press release:
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sudden, massive public need for trustworthy digital inclusion services. Millions of Americans need support from digital inclusion programs: to get connected with affordable home internet, find affordable computing devices, and learn basic digital skills. “Digital Navigators” is an adaptation of traditional digital inclusion programming to this new reality, providing one-to-one dedicated support via phone service.
Fighting Monopoly Power: How States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, of which the Community Broadband Networks initiative is a part, recently released a report, guide, and toolkit all in one. Fighting Monopoly Power: How States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities brings together the work of all the Institute's initiatives, which advocate for more local control and less consolidation of corporate power.
Here’s the driving impulse:
Concentration has reached extreme levels. Most industries are dominated by a handful of corporations. As we detail in this report, concentrated economic power has reconfigured multiple sectors in ways that have both weakened the broader U.S. economy, by stifling investment and innovation, and harmed working people and communities. This centralization of power in private hands is threatening Americans’ fundamental right to liberty and equality.
Too often policymakers try to alleviate symptoms. This guide calls for dealing with the root problem. Concentration didn’t happen by accident; it’s not the result of inevitable forces. As each section of this guide details, it’s a product of deliberate policy choices. While some of the changes needed are federal, especially antitrust and financial reform, states and cities have potent tools and, as we show, some are using them. During the last Gilded Age, local leaders were the first to take action against monopoly power. This is a guide to the policies that state and local policymakers should enact to rekindle that fight against corporate concentration.
The guide covers lots of ground, offering both analysis and policy solutions for the set of problems plaguing banking, electricity, food and farming, pharmacies, small businesses, state attorneys general, waste, and, of course, broadband.
In fact, broadband constitutes one of the most crucial components of this larger picture. In July 2018 we showed that the impacts of monopoly telecom and cable providers for Americans across the country include high prices, slower speeds, unreliable connections, a refusal to invest in network upgrades, and a dearth of options in rural areas as huge ISPs sought profits in urban markets. Look for an update to this report later this year.
Georgia Launches Trailblazing Broadband Availability Map
As Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GDBI) Director Deanna Perry promised last September, a state intra-agency task force has completed its mapping project of broadband Internet access in the Goober State. It offers a far more detailed look at who does and does not have Internet access — right down to individual homes and businesses.
Broadband Access Reality Check
The interactive map shows what we’ve known for a long time: that the FCC’s data on nationwide coverage dramatically overstates baseline broadband availability (defined as a connection capable of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mpbs)). This is especially true in rural areas. Georgia’s data, in particular, shows that of the more than 507,000 homes and businesses in the state lacking any access options, nearly 70% of these locations are in rural parts of the state. The reason for this discrepancy is because the GDBI map is based on location-specific data (individual houses and businesses), while the FCC map considers a whole census block served if just one location in that block is served.
Users can dive into the GBDI Unserved Georgia Map and type in an address or city to see how many locations within each census block are unserved, or check out the FCC vs GBDI comparison map to see the difference in reported coverage. In the GIF below, the GDBI data is on the left, while the FCC's claimed coverage is on the right.
Don’t Miss Out On Broadband Funding — The NTIA Has a Tool For You
Funding can seem like an insurmountable barrier to expanding Internet access and adoption. But for states, local communities, nonprofits, or other organizations looking for some help, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has updated its federal funding search tool for 2020.
Whether you’re looking to find money specific to your region, to pair a broadband project with transportation infrastructure, to expand access on tribal lands, or to connect your community’s anchor institutions, the NTIA can help. The funding search tool also lets users sort through options depending on what stage of the process they’re at, so whether you’re exploring your options via a feasibility study or looking to evaluate or expand adoption rates, the tool has you covered. It also, helpfully, provides funding sources for those looking to fund programs to expand digital literacy skills and training.
You can find, for instance, the USDA ReConnect program there, which helps fund projects in rural areas. We’ve written about how communities in Virginia, Maine, Iowa, and elsewhere have secured ReConnect funding to advance community broadband development in their states. Likewise, we recently wrote about how Cumberland County, Maine, used a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant to fund a broadband plan that brought together several communities seeking better Internet connectivity in the region.
See the USDA's complete Broadband Funding Guide [pdf] or dive into the online search tool.
Kiosk Toolkit from Next Century Cities Helps Maximize the Power of U.S. Census
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
Getting Your Community Broadband Ready Just Got Easier With Toolkit From Next Century Cities
On January 16th, Next Century Cities (NCC) launched a resource that will help communities of all sizes prepare themselves for the future. NCC's Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities combines best practices and experiences from places across the country to assist local communities as they begin broadband projects.
Ready, Set, Launch
In order to celebrate the new resource, learn about the content, and discover how the toolkit can be relevant to a range of projects, NCC hosted a launch event on January 16th. In addition to providing a demonstration that revealed the ease of using the toolkit, NCC brought community leaders to the event for a panel discussion. Dr. Robert Wack from Westminster, Maryland; Dan Patten from MINET in Oregon; and McClain Bryant Macklin from Kansas City participated on the panel hosted by ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell.
Panelists discussed the unique challenges they had encountered in their communities and how they overcame them along with the ways they addressed those challenges. In addition to issues that surrounded how they educated the community, panelists also talked about matters that influenced their choices of model, financial problems, and other issues. Below, you can watch the panel discussion, which include conversation on collaboration, information sharing, and other matters.
Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities is a comprehensive resource that covers considerations from early in the process to determining success throughout implementation. In addition to offering guidance with examples from across the country, the toolkit offers links to other resources, such as model ordinances, reports, podcasts, and organizations laser-focused on specific and relevant issues.
Watch Video From Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit
If you weren’t able to make it to the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit in Marietta, Ohio, on July 18th or if you’re just interested in learning more about improving connectivity in rural areas, you can still almost be there. Video of Christopher’s keynote address is available to view.
The event occurred on July 18th at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to Christopher’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about community ownership models. Other experts offering information included Marty Newell from the Center for Rural Strategies, Kate Forscey from Public Knowledge, and former chairwoman of the FCC Mignon L. Clyburn, who also spoke at a Town Hall that evening.
For more information on connecting rural America, including the Appalachian regions, check out these resources:
Access Appalachia page - Our page includes federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. Find toolkits and detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.
Central Appalachia Broadband Policy Recommendations from the Central Appalachia Regional Network
The Fiber Broadband Association's Community Toolkit from the Fiber Broadband Association
Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit from the Appalachian Regional Commission
Get more information from:
Appalshop of Whitesburg, Kentucky
Community Connectivity Toolkit Launched
If your community is hungry for better connectivity, you may be interested in starting a community network initiative. Getting started can be a daunting task so we developed the Community Connectivity Toolkit.
The Toolkit includes broad suggestions for steps you should take as you investigate solutions for your community. We also include resources to help you educate yourself through case studies, fact sheets, and other media. We touch on common stumbling blocks and ways to counter them. The toolkit suggests policies that will prepare your community for better connectivity.
The Community Connectivity Toolkit helps you ask the right questions and gives you a starting point where you can find information to learn, share, and prepare. If you have suggestions for how to improve the toolkit or questions that you want answered that are not in it, please let us know.
Community Connectivity Toolkit
Many people have come to us for advice on how to get started on an effort to improve Internet connectivity. We've created resources to help you and your community and have curated materials from other organizations to help as you seek a path to better Internet access. Please let us know if you have suggestions or additional comments by emailing us - firstname.lastname@example.org.
An increasing number of municipalities and cooperatives are investing in telecommunications infrastructure to serve public facilities, local businesses, and residences (see our map here). They're filling the gaps created by large national cable and telephone companies, which have focused their investments in primarily areas with assured returns. As a result, rural areas and urban regions with higher concentrations of low-income households don't have the Internet access they need. Often the infrastructure just isn't there; sometimes it's unaffordable.
In order to correct these errors and bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to all of their citizens, communities are implementing change at the local level. Each municipality, county, and region is unique, and so need to review potential policies to determine which suit their community and vision.
In the summer of 2019, Next Century Cities (NCC) released the Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit, the most comprehensive resources we've seen to help local communities. This comprehensive resource covers considerations from early in the process to determining success throughout implementation. In addition to offering guidance with examples from across the country, the toolkit offers links to other resources, such as model ordinances, reports, podcasts, and organizations laser-focused on specific and relevant issues.
The toolkit organizes material into overreaching themes, such as building community support, establishing policies to encourage investment, and the pros and cons if publicly owned models, among many other considerations. Within each broad topic, however, NCC has dug deep into specifics, such as addressing simplified permitting practices, creating digital inclusion plans, and ways to work around legislative or regulatory barriers. Throughout the toolkit, NCC turned to the many members of the organization for real-world examples of workable solutions.
Download the toolkit from the NCC website here
Over the years, we've also developed resources that can help educate and spread the word about the benefits of community networks as your project moves forward. Whether your project begins at the grassroots with regular folks in the community or in City Hall, these resources are easily accessible and help explain why community networks are a potential alternative.
- Santa Monica’s City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network - This community used the pay-as-you-go approach over several years to provide access throughout the city.
- All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access - Learn how twelve different communities - suburban, exurban, and rural – took unique approaches to improving connectivity in Minnesota. Some chose partners, some deployed on their own. We provide valuable policy suggestions based on our findings.
- Chanute's Gig: Rural Kansas Network Built Without Borrowing - This report outlines the process that the city of Chanute went through in order to build an effective fiber network. Rather than build out the network all at once, Chanute built it incrementally without issuing bonds or borrowing money.
- The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina - This report reviews the fight and barriers set in place in Wilson, North Carolina. After Wilson, big cable corporations such as AT&T fought hard to get barriers passed into law preventing other communities from building their own fiber networks.
- Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks - This study analyzes three of the most successful locally built networks in the United States: Bristol, VA, Chattanooga, TN, and Lafayette, LA. It gives the history of each network and provides analysis on the benefits they have provided to their communities and states.
- Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives the Greenlight to Fast Internet - When the incumbents could not justify the investment, Wilson knew it needed to act to ensure economic survival. This case study shares the story of their efforts, their challenges, and their ultimate success.
- The Art of the Possible: An Overview of Public Broadband Options - This paper explores a variety of approaches, assessing different business models and the benefits/risks of each. The report was created by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation along with CTC Technology and Energy.
- The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned the Competition in North Carolina - North Carolina is one of 19 states that have barriers in place restricting municipal network initiatives. This cast study dissects how the cable and DSL lobbies took control of the telecommunications landscape in North Carolina. This is a must read for any community that needs to know the opposition they may face.
- Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: The Reality of Lafayette’s Gigabit Network - Be ready to address common misinformation claims from those opposed to local telecommunications authority. This report takes a popular article that incorporates many falsities and addresses them one by one.
- RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Internet Cooperative - Farmers and other rural residents in Renville and Sibley Counties in central Minnesota used the cooperative model to create a FTTH and wireless network in a region left behind by big incumbents.
- Successful Strategies for Broadband Public Private Partnerships - An increasing number of communities are exploring the possibilities of working with a private sector partner to deploy, manage, and offer Internet access. This report offers caveats, smart policies, and examples for communities considering such an approach.