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Mapping and Deploying High-Speed Broadband


Despite claims by the Bush administration that most Americans now have access to affordable broadband, many people might disagree and would probably argue that their Internet access is to slow and to expensive.  Most analysts are nowhere near as optimistic as Bush's "Networked Nation: Broadband in America." These analysts highlight that the U.S. has fallen to 15th in world rankings for broadband connectivity and that Americans pay much higher fees for much slower speeds than most of the industrial nations in the world.  Misguided regulatory policies and substandard infrastructure have helped create a sub-par broadband network in the United States.  

As we have discussed in the past, broadband is an essential component of economic development, long-term energy savings and health care cost containment.  With studies showing economic growth happening disproportionately in communities with strong broadband deployment, the lack of affordable and accessible broadband Internet in much of the United States is unacceptable.   

Since federal broadband policy is not working, states have taken steps to determine which areas and residents are under-served and created policies to make affordable and reliable broadband Internet a reality for their citizens. For example, CaliforniaIllinoisKentuckyMaine,MarylandMichiganNew YorkNorth Carolina,OhioSouth Carolina, and Vermont have created new bodies to focus on broadband.  On the other hand, some states have adopted "state video franchising" legislation that has undercut local protections without creating the needed state regulations to bridge the digital divide. This Stateside Dispatch will highlight new state initiatives that are addressing these challenges of mapping broadband access, increasing broadband deployment in the states, and what standards video franchising bills should meet to maintain essential consumer protections. 

Resources:

Progressive States - Broadband for Economic Growth & Energy Savings

Progressive States - Universal and Affordable Broadband in the States

Free Press - State Policy Tracker

Communication Workers of America - SpeedMatters: Affordable High Speed Internet for All (October 2006)

Free Press - Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America, Broadband Reality Check II: The Truth Behind America's Digital Decline (September 2006)

US Dept. of Commerce - "Measuring Broadband's Economic Impact" (2006)

 

 

 

 

Broadband Mapping

Bold US Map with Abriviations

 

Today, there is a digital divide between people who do and people who do not have access to - and the capability to use - broadband Internet. Too many Americans, especially those in rural areas or low-income households, do not have any Internet access. Since the federal government's data on who has Internet access is notoriously incomplete, the first step to providing broadband Internet to under-served residents is for states to create broadband maps, to track broadband penetration levels, and determine where broadband Internet access is lacking.

Only a handful of states have attempted to map broadband service.  The most publicized model for bringing broadband connectivity to rural and under-served areas is ConnectKentuckyAccording to comments by the CWA, "ConnectKentucky produced the first comprehensive Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based county-by-county inventory of existing broadband infrastructure and service availability." ConnectKentucky has now rebranded itself as Connected Nation and implementing its Kentucky model in multiple states. States such as Maine, Arizona, Illinois, TennesseWashington, and West Virginia, have or are considering utilizing the Connect Nations model.

Some criticisms of the ConnectKentucky model include that it has overstated results, that the data it produces is not fully in the public domain, and the measurements of "broadband access" do not fully distinguish between fast broadband and bare minimum broadband. To address these concerns and to counteract the fact that broadband providers exercise large degrees of control over the mapping, state legislatures need to create clear regulatory guidelines in new legislation to assure that carriers give more detailed information and that the public has access to the data collected.  

Other states have improved upon Kentucky's model and utilized more granular data to map broadband infrastructure.  This more granular data provides a more accurate picture of who has broadband access in their states and how fast that access really is:

Broadband Deployment

Once under-served populations are determined, states must deploy broadband Internet to these individuals. Despite the fact that the Internet has become a standard medium for everyday communication and transactions, most states do not have strong broadband infrastructures and service providers are hesitant to expand their networks to non-traditional sectors that may not be as profitable. 

The Electronic Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Act (ETOPIA), is a model of broadband Internet deployment that garnered a lot of attention when proposed in West Virginia.  The state legislature passed the ETOPIA bill, Senate Bill 748, but the Governor vetoed the legislation.  If enacted, the bill would have created a think-tank to explore the best-practices for creating public-private broadband partnerships. The state would then implement these partnerships for the benefit of the its citizens and the economy. The bill emphasized how a strong broadband infrastructure would lead to advancements in telemedicine and e-learning. Additionally, the bill would have given local governments the necessary authority to create public-private partnerships to provide broadband network services. The state would issue bonds to initially fund the technology infrastructure, and it seems a long-term goal of the ETOPIA legislation is for the infrastructure to become a revenue stream and therefore the infrastructure will not have to be maintained by state tax dollars.

This legislative session Representative Rice of Rhode Island, proposed H 7120, which is similar to the ETOPIA model seen in West Virginia. The bill proposes to create an "Innovation Center" to encourage the development and implementation of technology infrastructure for use throughout the state.  The Center would study technology within the state and recommend upgrades, options, and strategies for encouraging technology partnerships among state government, local government, private business, and institutions of higher education. This bill, if enacted, would be an essential component to ensuring that all Rhode Island residents have access to affordable and reliable broadband Internet

State legislators are not the only actors focusing on expanding broadband Internet on a state level. Some governors have taken steps to address the digital divide, issuing executive orders focused on creating affordable and accessible broadband Internet for all state residents. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger created the Broadband Task Force to "implement proposals to bridge the digital divide"; Illinois Governor Blagojevich created a Broadband Deployment Council; Ohio Governor Strickland signed an executive order to "coordinate and expand access to the state's broadband data network," and to establish the Ohio Broadband Council and the Broadband Ohio Network; and New York Governor Spitzer recently announced the importance that he places on developing statewide broadband. With Governors making broadband deployment a priority and establishing funding to address the digital divide, there is plenty of room for state legislators to make real inroads in expanding broadband infrastructure and capitalizing upon emerging technology. 

Resources: 

A Blueprint for Big Broadband

Center for Policy Alternative - Municipal Wireless Internet

Ars Technica - WV Gov't May Experiment with Broadband Service as a Public Utility

Rice Bill Would Make R.I. First State to Go Fully 'Wi-Fi'

States Consider Options in Extending Broadband Access 

 

 

Funding Mapping and Deployment

Recently, states have come to see the Internet as a necessary utility like water and electricity or as critical infrastructure like roads and ports.  Just like any other form of infrastructure, a broadband infrastructure will require funding.  

The most comprehensive state funding plan, to date, was suggested by the California Broadband Task Force.  The plan included bond, grant, and tax-incentive initiatives  as well increased use of rights-of-way.   The need for continued commitment to research and development of broadband and associated applications was also highlighted.   Additionally, California has an Emerging Technology Fund, a non-profit corporation established through state telecommunication merger requirements, whose objective is to combat the digital divide by deploying services to under-served populations.

Some states, those with less available resources than California, have successfully enacted broadband mapping and deployment programs, by appropriating money from both general state funds and from penalties levied on telecommunication carriers/providers for state law infringements.  

Other states have utilized matching funds as a way to spur investment in broadband. For example, in 2006 Idaho created a $5 million matching fund to encourage broadband deployment. 

Resources:

A Blueprint for Big Broadband 

Illinois Bill Writes in Digital Divide

Technology for Humanity

Annual Report on the Activities of  the ConnectME Authority

A Blueprint for Big Broadband 

Illinois Bill Writes in Digital Divide

Technology for Humanity

Annual Report on the Activities of  the ConnectME Authority

Public Knowledge and Art Brodsky - Connect Kentucky Provides Uncertain Model for Federal Legislation

 

 

 

 

 

Regulatory Standards for Video Franchise Legislation

 

In theory, statewide video franchises, which create a single statewide simplified process of offering video services, could have benefits for the public, such as increasing competition.  Unfortunately, however, the legislation enacted so far does not include strong enough consumer protections or broadband deployment requirements.  The public services lost by state video franchising bills, outweigh any potential gains that might result due to increased competition. 

Under state video franchises, providers need to secure only one permit instead of a permit for each individual community. Therefore, state video franchising takes control away from the local municipalities, reduces consumer protections, and undermines local deployment requirements.  In the past, municipalities have leveraged permits for cable companies to use public rights-of-way, as a means to demand carriers supply certain public interest services. States have not taken the same initiative to negotiate franchise agreements which protect necessary public services that are in the public interest. At the close of the 2007 legislative session approximately 15 states had enacted some form of video franchising bills. While some of these bills offered limited PEG (public access and government channels) or build-out requirements, all fell short of adequately protecting the public interest.

The major public interest elements that should be included in any video franchising bill are protection of PEG channels; broadband access provided for certain public institutions, like schools; strong build-out requirements; and ongoing regulation of the industry by state authorities to ensure that the entire community, not just the wealthy are offered service. If states must consider state franchising bills, they should set higher consumer protections standards in the legislation.  

The best model video franchise bill proposed so far is New York's AO1423, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky,  has adequate build-out standards, requiring companies receiving statewide franchises to make service available to large communities across New York within 3 years and to small communities within 6 years.  The bill would also protect certain municipal regulatory powers, strong local franchise fees, a set number of PEG channels, provide other high-speed Internet services for local communities, and establish network neutrality provisions. 

Resources:

Free Press - Video Franchising

Wisconsin Technology Network

 

 

Conclusion

After years of neglect by federal leaders, states are taking action on broadband policy but they need to leverage opportunities for success: mandatory mapping of what broadband services are really available to their citizens, requiring real build-out requirements in any video franchising laws, and creating comprehensive state plans for broadband expansion.