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Digital Equity Unwrapped: End of Year Reflections/The New Year Ahead is just a week away, as seats are filling up fast for next Tuesday’s Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) event.
The popular (and free) virtual gathering – slated for December 12, 2023 from 3 to 4:15 pm ET – will highlight important milestones in broadband over the past year and take a look ahead for what promises to be another busy year for digital inclusion practitioners across the country.
There’s still time to register for the event here.
Co-hosted by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the final #B4DE of the year will serve up practical insights on everything from Digital Equity Act planning to how communities are confronting digital discrimination.
The event will be sparked by lightning round presentations featuring Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Administrator for Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Nubia Estrada and OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates Policy & Organizing Manager Eric Kim. Each will give a concise overview of their outreach work with “covered populations.”
In 2021, California passed Senate Bill 156, an ambitious plan allocating $6 billion to shore up affordable broadband access throughout the state.
Among the most notable of the bill’s proposals was a plan to spend $3.25 billion on an open-access statewide broadband middle-mile network backers say could transform competition in the state.
An additional $2 billion has also been earmarked for last mile deployment. Both components will be heavily funded by Coronavirus relief funds and federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) subsidies as well as California State Government grants – with all projects to be finished by December 2026 as per federal funding rules.
But while California’s proposal has incredible potential, activists and digital equity advocates remain concerned that the historic opportunity could be squandered due to poor broadband mapping, a notable lack of transparency, and the kind of political dysfunction that has long plagued the Golden State.
Massive Scale, Big Money, Endless Moving Parts
Still, California’s prioritization of open access fiber networks could prove transformative.
Data routinely indicates that open access fiber networks lower market entry costs, boost overall competition, and result in better, cheaper, faster Internet access. Unsurprisingly, such networks are often opposed by entrenched regional monopolies that have grown fat and comfortable on the back of muted competition.
With the holiday season upon us, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) are gearing up for the final Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) event of the year and encouraging digital equity practitioners to save the date.
The popular (and free) virtual gathering will be held December 12, 2023 from 3 to 4:15 pm ET and will feature a holiday-inspired theme: Digital Equity Unwrapped: End of Year Reflections/The New Year Ahead.
You can register for the event now here.
Coming on the heels of our last B4DE event in October, which is still reverberating through digital inclusion circles across the nation, we are excited to follow up with a jolly and informative agenda that will cover:
- The latest on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
- Lightning Rounds on digital inclusion work with covered populations.
- Setting the table on forthcoming Digital Equity Act funding and how communities are preparing.
- Unpacking digital discrimination and its practical implications.
Bountiful, Utah officials and community broadband advocates are breathing a sigh of relief as the Utah Taxpayers Association’s “Gather Utah” petition to stop the city from building an open-access network in partnership with UTOPIA Fiber fell short.
This past Friday was the deadline for “Gather Utah” to collect enough signatures for a petition that would have forced a citywide vote on the $48 million in revenue bonds authorized in May by city councilors to fund network construction.
In a press statement, City Manager Gary Hill said: “hired signature gatherers ultimately failed to collect enough signatures from registered voters to advance the opposition campaign.”
Bountiful Mayor Kendalyn Harris added:
“Bountiful is a unique city. Our residents started this process. They organized a ‘Fiber for Bountiful’ campaign that led to a thorough consideration of many options. We now look forward to offering a vital service to residents and businesses in an increasingly digital world.”
Now, after three years of study and more than two dozen public meetings, Bountiful Fiber will begin construction next month. As we previously reported, the city-owned fiber optic network will provide gigabit speeds to residents and businesses who subscribe for service.
Earlier this month American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB) President Gigi Sohn wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the “Gather Utah” campaign (backed by the cable industry) tried to derail the city’s project. After news of the petition failure, Sohn said:
Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, Trojan Horse Networks, and Flowering BUDs - Episode 561 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Associate Director for Communications Sean Gonsalves to check in on the move towards a citywide open access fiber-to-the-home (ftth) network in Bountiful, Utah, an expanding institutional network in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and widespread support among small Maine towns that public dollars should go to publicly owned networks.
Along the way, they chat about the astroturf misinformation campaign being run by the Utah Taxpayer's Association, how a city negotiated a capital fee it's using to build its own network and get out from under Comcast's thumb, and the growing momentum behind Maine's Broadband Utility Districts (BUD) and their quest to improve competition and Internet access for residents.
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.
In the Salt Lake City suburb some call “the garden spot of Utah,” Bountiful, Utah officials have settled on a plan to bring Bountiful Fiber and affordable connectivity to its residents and businesses.
The city will own the network and lease it out to multiple private Internet service providers (ISPs) – a model that city manager Gary Hill described as a way to create “a competitive marketplace for Internet service providers."
In a letter to city councilors before the bond issuance was authorized, Hill wrote: "Resident requests and sentiment ... demonstrate a need for city involvement to provide adequate, competitive, reliable broadband services.”
After issuing an RFP in November of last year, the city contracted with the nation’s largest open access network – UTOPIA Fiber – to build, operate, and maintain the network. It is expected that construction will take about 2 to 3 years to complete, though some subscribers will likely be lit up for service within 18 months of the start of construction, scheduled to begin this month.
Dark Money Looks to Torpedo Project
A dark money campaign spearheaded by the Utah Taxpayers Association (UTA), however, is threatening to derail the project. The group, whose annual conference is sponsored by Comcast and CenturyLink/Lumen, is backing a “Gather Utah” initiative to obtain signatures for a petition that would stop the city from building the network.
In just over 24 hours our next Building for Digital Equity (#B4DE) event goes live.
Tomorrow, June 7, beginning at 3 pm ET, #B4DE promises to offer engaging examples, practical tools, and nuggets of insight as digital equity advocates across the nation prepare to take advantage of unprecedented federal funds and programs spurred by the Digital Equity Act and bipartisan infrastructure law.
This free event, sponsored once again by UTOPIA Fiber, will be headlined by National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) Executive Director Angela Siefer. She will offer thoughts on what those working to close the digital divide should be thinking about while setting priorities in this historic moment, as states are developing their digital equity plans and getting ready to receive their share of the $42.5 billion contained in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Though seats are filling up fast, there is still time to register here.
The livestream will be available (and later archived) on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with live viewer questions answered by the panels. We recommend viewing it on YouTube here where the live chat will be most lively.
Co-hosted by NDIA Training & Community Engagement Manager Pamela Rosales and ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell, the 75-minute online webinar brings together a variety of front-line experts and digital inclusion practitioners who will share focused, concise lessons-learned and best-practices relevant for those working in both rural communities and urban centers.
Our next Building for Digital Equity (B4DE) event is only weeks away. Have you registered yet?
Sponsored by UTOPIA Fiber, the June 7 virtual gathering will feature engaging debates on the hottest topics in broadband: the upcoming release of BEAD funds, the challenges around mapping, updates on efforts to boost enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), and the looming implications for both urban and rural communities.
Like B4DE in the past, this event, slated to begin at 3 pm ET on June 7, will be cohosted by Pamela Rosales, from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), and our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR's Community Broadband Networks Initiative.
Register now for the event here.
As with previous B4DE events, this one will include informative, concise presentations, a series of interactive trivia games, and an introduction to new data tools for those working on the front lines of digital equity. It will all be livestreamed and will be available (and later archived) on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with live viewer questions answered by the panels.
Building for Digital Equity Podcast Series New Episodes
Meanwhile, be sure to check out our most recent episodes of our Building for Digital Equity podcast, which features short interviews with the people working in the trenches for digital inclusion.
Episode 7 is a discussion with Dwight Thomas, who built the first citywide municipal fiber network in Mont Belvieu, Texas. Thomas goes on talk about the importance of community engagement and how to make sure people can use the network once it is built before explaining his passion for discipleship and sharing knowledge.
Hoping to ensure it can actually spend its share of historic broadband funding, Montana lawmakers have tweaked the state’s restrictions on community broadband. However, experts say most of the state law’s pointless restrictions remain intact, undermining state efforts to bring affordable, next-generation broadband access to Montana residents.
Montana’s one of seventeen states that have passed laws banning or restricting municipal broadband networks. The bills are usually ghost written by telecom monopoly lawyers, and in many states either outright prohibit community-owned broadband networks, or are designed to make funding and expanding such networks untenable.
Montana’s specific law, Mon. Code Ann. § 2-17-603, only allow municipalities to build and deliver broadband alternatives if there are no other private companies offering broadband within the municipality’s jurisdiction, or if the municipality can offer “advanced services” that are not available from incumbents.
Covid home schooling and telecommuting needs highlighted the counterproductive nature of such restrictions, driving some states—such as Arkansas and Washington—to dramatically roll back their restrictions.
As communities across the country are implementing digital equity plans and looking to expand access to high-speed Internet connectivity, the second Building for Digital Equity event (#B4DE) of the year comes weeks ahead of when states will receive their BEAD funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Save the date and join us June 7 at 3 pm ET for #B4DE! As with previous B4DE events, this will be another virtual gathering that will offer up strategies to help simplify the complexities (and opportunities) of broadband connectivity. This event, sponsored again by UTOPIA Fiber, will focus on ways communities can foster meaningful action and advocacy.
Fresh off their most successful Net Inclusion gathering ever, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) will join ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks (CBN) team for the event as NDIA’s Pamela Rosales will co-host the livestream along with CBN Director Christopher Mitchell.
The 75-minute free event promises to be informative and include a series of fun interactive games. It will also debut a point-counterpoint component that will focus on the pending release of BEAD dollars for both rural and urban areas and the challenges around mapping as states try to determine how to get the biggest bang for the buck.
See our previous B4DE livestreams below: