Tag: "legislation"

Posted August 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

HB 13, a law moving through the Ohio state legislature, creates the state’s first-ever residential broadband expansion program in order to address an access gap faced by hundreds of thousands of households across the state. Unfortunately, it bars municipally owned networks and electric cooperatives from participating in the $20 million pot of funds aimed at extending Internet access to areas with significant connectivity challenges. 

How It Would Work

The bill — titled “Establish Residential Broadband Expansion Program” — passed the Ohio House of Representatives on June 11 of this year, and takes aim at addressing last-mile connections and bringing more Ohioans online. If passed, it would create a $20 million fund and effect regulatory changes to provide subsidies for private entities in the state to extend their networks and connect more people. 

HB 13 establishes a number of conditions that have to be cleared for projects to be eligible. First, areas included can’t already include projects that have gotten money from the federal programs like Connect America Fund or the FCC's upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund taking place this fall. 

Second, the bill establishes a score mechanism that privileges areas that are unserved and underserved. Projects addressing unserved areas top the list: it defines the latter as lacking access to download speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps. The bill then favors “Tier 2” projects (which provide a minimum of 25/3 Mbps service) to either unserved areas or to “Tier 1” areas (those where download speeds come in between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps and upload speeds are between 1 Mbps and 3 Mbps). 

Finally, HB 13 provides extra consideration for projects aimed at “distressed areas,” projects that can demonstrate in-kind or other financial contributions that have already been approved, those that utilized public Rights-of-Way, and those that demonstrate advantages in terms of the speed of the buildout or future scalability.

Problem Provisions and Vague Definitions

Bill co-sponsor Rick Carfagna, who worked as Government Relations Manager for Time Warner Cable for 14 years,...

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Posted August 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state. 

The two projects represent over nearly $32 million in total investment, with money coming from the counties, the electric cooperatives, the investor-owned utility, and the state. 

Innovative Partnerships 

The first-of-its-kind agreement between PGEC and Dominion Energy was originally announced last February, and aimed at a combined 6,700 residents in Surry County. Dominion will serve as the middle-mile provider, and is already installing fiber as part of upgrades to its grid management. It will lease that fiber to RURALBAND, PGEC’s broadband subsidiary, which will then be responsible for building last-mile connections to homes and businesses and acting as the retail service provider. 2,200 of those receiving Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections will be existing customers of PGEC, with the other 4,500 customers of Dominion. In total, the project is projected to cost between $16 and $18 million. 

“This partnership brings rural Surry County into the modern communications age, bridging a vital utility gap through reliable high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses, essential to Surry’s social and economic prosperity,” said Surry’s Acting County Administrator Melissa Rollins in a press release.

The second project, announced at the end of July, will take place in the Northern Neck region and include King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. Currently, those living on the southern shore of the peninsula are worst off,...

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Posted August 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Granite Staters with poor Internet access in rural areas should soon realize the benefit of HB 1111, which just passed the state legislature and was signed into law by the governor. The measure provides for the establishment of communications districts to pursue Internet infrastructure projects in New Hampshire. In addition, the law makes it easier for municipalities to determine which areas under their purview are unserved in order to target broadband expansion efforts and expand access to all. 

Removing Barriers, Providing New Tools 

Two years ago SB 170 passed the legislature, allowing communities in the state to bond to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure for the first time. The bill, however, made such moves contingent upon proving that the proposed areas were “unserved” by a connection of 25/3 megabits per second (Mbps). To do so local governments were required to issue an RFI to the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP). At the time we anticipated trouble with existing providers who had a history of claiming service to large areas when the reality was that many were unserved, and it turns out that worry was well-founded: communities reported that ISPs were ignoring requests for information, making it difficult for them to make progress. 

HB 1111 changes that. If an RFI to a provider goes unanswered for 60 days, it is assumed the latter is unable to deliver broadband. Municipalities can then come together and form communications districts which have the authority to use general obligation bonds to fund an overbuild of the area and seek out public-private partnerships to provide new service.

“Access to consistent broadband and high-speed internet was a problem long before this crisis and the remote learning, work, and health care environment has only exacerbated those inequities,” State Senator Jay Kahn told news outlets. “As we prepare for the possibility of a second wave, we must take steps that efficiently use public funds to leverage private investment to deliver high-...

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Posted July 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Yesterday, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act, a bill which ends the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) practice of selling wireless spectrum rights on the lands of Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and grants ownership, management, and governance of all spectrum to those groups in perpetuity. The bill also calls for the creation of an FCC fund to support broadband efforts, an advisory team to provide regulatory and technical assistance, and a data collection program to support future connectivity efforts in those communities. It represents a dramatic new approach to addressing the digital divide in Tribal communities, which remain among the least well-connected of all across the United States today.

Breaking Down the Bill

The Deploying the Internet by Guaranteeing Indian Tribes Autonomy over Licensing on Reservations Act [pdf] offers significant investment in a multi-pronged approach. It’s driven by twin impulses. From the bill

To date, the [Federal Communications] Commission has failed to implement nationwide spectrum opportunities or uniform licensing for Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to make spectrum available over their Tribal lands or account for the unmet needs of native Nations in compliance with the Federal trust responsibility.

The Commission’s actions parallel failed Federal Reservation Era policy that divided Indian land holdings and created systemic barriers to Indian Tribes’ economic development and legal jurisdictional complications on Tribal lands that continue to disadvantage Tribal communities today.

The bill takes significant steps in outlining the new ownership framework. If enacted, it eliminates future spectrum auctions over Tribal and Native Hawaiian lands. To address existing partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the bill also provides a process to ensure that existing third-party licensees “build or divest”...

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Posted July 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Maine’s High-Speed Internet Infrastructure Bond Issue, which we first wrote about a month ago, has passed. 76% of voters said yes to Maine Question 1, which authorizes the issuance of $15 million in general obligation bonds to fund projects which will expand broadband access for residents in underserved and unserved areas. Underserved areas are those where less than 20% of the households have speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Unserved areas are those where broadband service isn’t offered by provider. The northern and eastern parts of the state suffer from particularly poor connectivity options. The money will join $30 million in additional federal, local, and private money, for a total of $45 million to be invested in the near future.

Where We Go From Here

The ConnectME Authority will administer the grants. It’s a significant injection of funds for the broadband authority, which has given out slightly more than a million dollars a year over the last ten years to build mostly last-mile connections and bridge the broadband gap. Passing the measure makes Maine the first state to bond to fund broadband projects, serving as an example to other states looking for avenues to do the same. 

As it stands, somewhere around 83,000 households lack access, though this doesn’t include those families who can’t afford to subscribe. The impact of this digital divide has become even more starkly outlined over the last six months, and since the future of telework relies on affordable, reliable, high-speed connections, states that don’t commit resources to the problem will fall further behind. 

A Concerted Effort

As we wrote about in June, the measure was supported by a host of advocacy groups, business interests, and individuals. More than three dozen public and private groups signed on to support the Vote Yes on 1 for Better...

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Posted July 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society,” wrote the New York Times Editorial Board in an opinion article published on Sunday. Yet, tens of millions of Americans still lack reliable access to broadband connectivity.

The Times editorial echoed the concerns of many digital equity advocates, who have been ringing alarm bells ever since the Covid-19 pandemic moved most aspects of everyday life online, cutting off anyone without a home Internet connection.

To help bridge the gap, many states and localities have deployed free Wi-Fi hotspots to schools, libraries, and other public spaces. But, as the Times points out, this is not enough — the federal government must do more to connect our communities. “[T]he coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service,” argued the editorial, pointing to legislation that would make an impact, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act.

Digital Divides Threaten Students’ Education

Inadequate Internet access isn’t only a problem in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure isn’t always available. Many city residents also lack home connectivity, due to the high cost of a subscription. The Times explained:

In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable Internet service disproportionately affects minorities. The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without Internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute.

In our transition to online everything, many people without broadband access have been left behind. This is particularly true for disconnected students, who must search out public Wi-Fi or forgo their...

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Posted July 10, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In an attempt to hasten broadband expansion in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, politicians in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have now introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act. The bipartisan legislation — introduced in the House in late May and in the Senate just last week — would direct the federal government to speed up the disbursement of $20.4 billion in funding for rural broadband access, in order to connect communities that have been further isolated by the public health crisis.

We wrote previously about a push from electric cooperatives, led by consultant Conexon, calling for expedited rural broadband funds. Having quicker access to the planned subsidies, they argued, would allow the co-ops to connect the unserved rural Americans who are desperately in need of better connectivity to work remotely, attend online school, and participate in telehealth appointments during the pandemic.

Beyond electric cooperatives, the current legislation also has support from advocates and businesses that promote high-quality, often fiber-based broadband networks, but some have raised concerns that the funding process would be reliant on inaccurate federal broadband data.

A Bill in Two Acts

In the U.S. House, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, HR 7022, back in May. The two legislators have since been joined by a bipartisan group of more than 30 cosponsors.

Last week, a similarly bipartisan set of senators introduced a version of the legislation, SR 4201, in their chamber as well. The cosponsors in the Senate are Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mike Braun of Indiana, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

The proposed bills direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to more quickly hand out monies from the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)...

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Posted June 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Earlier this week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, a sweeping bill that would take major steps toward closing the digital divide.

We reported on the legislation yesterday, but today we want to take a closer look at the bill text [pdf]. Below, we examine some details of how the act would fund broadband deployment and affordable connections for Americans across the country.

Grand Plans to Build Broadband, Connect the Unconnected

Among the investments proposed in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, the largest is $80 billion to fund the construction of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas. That amount dwarfs the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

Like RDOF, the legislation calls for a competitive bidding process to distribute the funds. In 2018, the FCC used a bidding process in the Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction. Compared to earlier subsidies granted under that program, which largely went to large monopolies to deploy slow, outdated DSL...

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Posted June 25, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Yesterday, representatives in the U.S. House introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which calls for the federal government to invest $100 billion to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality Internet access — a need that has been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The proposed legislation would fund broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and provide affordable home Internet access, among other measures meant to reduce the digital divide in both rural and urban communities. It would also remove state restrictions on community-owned broadband networks.

“This bill is an historic effort to address all the causes of our persistent digital divide,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, in a statement.

Contact your House representative this week to ask them to support the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and to sign on as a cosponsor. Find your representative and their contact information using this online search tool. Keep reading for more details on the legislation and a short example of what you can say to your representative.

"A Major Leap" Toward Connecting Everyone

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of...

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Posted June 16, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

In less than a month Maine will hold a Special Referendum election which includes a measure with significant ramifications for Internet access in the state. On July 14, Mainers will be asked to vote Yes or No on Question 1, a $15 million Internet Infrastructure Bond Issue designed to bring high-speed service to the approximately 85,000 households in unserved or underserved areas.

The $15 million in general obligation bonds would go to the ConnectME Broadband Authority, which administers the state's broadband grants, to provide funding for projects with an emphasis on connecting unserved or underserved areas. This new funding would leverage an additional $30 million in matching federal, private, and local investments.

If voters approve the referendum, Maine will become one of few states (if not the first) to bond to fund broadband deployment, taking advantage of current historically low interest rates.

Meeting a Need

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Maine fall short of even the slowest upload and download speeds defined by the FCC as modern broadband. Those in the northern two-thirds of the 35,000-square-mile state deal with particularly poor conditions, with either no connectivity options or maximum download and upload speeds of 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). The ConnectME authority has given out $12 million over the last decade to fund projects, with an emphasis on last-mile connections, but broadband gaps still remain.

Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, told WABI:

We know that access to high speed internet is critical for students to access education, even when they're at home. And for all of us to access medical care through tele-health. Investments in broadband are also critical to growing the economy and creating jobs, particularly in rural areas.

Mainers Weigh In

More than three dozen public and private groups have signed on to support the Vote Yes on 1 for Better Internet campaign. Supporters range from broadband advocates and providers, such as...

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