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Broadband in WNC Digital Citizenship Digital Divide E-Learning Education

Online Learning – Help is Needed

Digital gaps are across our communities. When broadband, smartphones, computers are are available, there is a digital divide for not only students, but parents and elderly populations. How do they learn to apply computer hardware and software for today’s real-world needs.

Digital Literacy Education

The top skills need for using a computer and the internet today include:

  • Using email
  • Searching the web
  • Virtually printing without a printer
  • Sharing online content
  • Conferencing online with video or audio only

Providing internet access and equipment is only a portion of the real infrastructure needed for those below the digital divide.

30% of the parents in homes that tried online learning said that it was somewhat or very difficult to use technology and the Internet needed to take classes from home.

Low-income homes were twice as prone to struggling with the technology, with 36% of low-income homes reporting the problem.

CCGConsulting

Help your community steward digital literacy by supporting the WNC Broadband advocacy goals. Contact a member of our leadership team with any questions.


CCGConsulting. 2021. “Pew Investigates Pandemic Homework Gap.” POTs and PANs. December 17, 2021. https://potsandpansbyccg.com/2021/12/17/pew-investigates-pandemic-homework-gap/.

Categories
Broadband access Digital Literacy Leslie Boney NC State IEI Randy Woodson Susan Mims

Digital Inclusion Plans To Take Advantage Of Broadband Connection Opportunities

What do North Carolina leaders have to say about upcoming broadband opportunities?

Ensuring that communities across the state have proper access to broadband and have a deeper understanding of the benefits of adopting digital technologies are essential components of our economic vitality.

Randy Woodson, NC State Chancellor

The new project will focus on development of formal, sustainable digital inclusion plans. IEI will work closely with regional councils of government (COGs) to help lead development of community-level plans to increase broadband adoption rates among all citizens, then provide counties startup funding to begin implementing the plans.

This grant is a terrific opportunity for western North Carolina communities to lead the way nationally in digital inclusion. Research shows that greater adoption of broadband in homes leads to better health outcomes, stronger economic development and better educational opportunity.

Leslie Boney, IEI Director

Broadband access is a key factor for achieving a fulfilled and healthy life, and is critical if we are to realize our vision of creating a Western North Carolina where every generation can live, learn, earn and thrive – with no exceptions.

Programs like BAND-NC help our neighbors and communities overcome the connectivity hurdles presented by geography or poverty to ensure that everyone has equitable access to this vital service.

We look forward to seeing the digital inclusion plans that our communities develop to help their residents take advantage of the opportunities broadband connections provide.

Dr. Susan Mims, Interim CEO of Dogwood Health Trust

“Dogwood Health Trust Pledges $2 Million to Support the Institute for Emerging Issues’ Effort to Increase Digital Literacy and Access across North Carolina.” 2021. Institute for Emerging Issues. December 14, 2021. https://iei.ncsu.edu/2021/dogwood-health-trust-pledges-2-million-to-support-the-institute-for-emerging-issues-effort-to-increase-digital-literacy-and-access-across-north-carolina/.

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Advocacy Broadband access Broadband funding Broadband in WNC Ester Manheimer Matt Ballance William Sederburg

WLOS Coverage: Broadband Funding for WNC

WNC Broadband Media Press Collage

With WLOS, Matt Ballance, Chair of North Carolina’s District 11 Democratic Party, Asheville Mayor Ester Manheimer, and the WNC Broadband Project Chair William A. Sederburg… there is continued education on the non-partisan investment of our infrastructure: broadband funding for WNC.

With funding coming, building broadband networks in Western North Carolina will start with improved FCC and North Carolina map data.

Playlist on WNC Broadband

More about WNC Broadband at this playlist: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL599dXMoV2SCuGjF2loyojTVXorLm9fQ0

Aguirre K. Broadband expansion plans draw praise from WNC leaders. WLOS. Published December 9, 2021. Accessed December 10, 2021. https://wlos.com/news/local/broadband-expansion-plans-draw-praise-from-western-north-carolina-leaders-infrastructure-package

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Broadband as a Utility Digital Inclusion NC BIO

State of NC Broadband Resources

Broadband has historically been classified as a private utility instead of a public utility and the NC BIO or Broadband Infrastructure Office and the Office of Digital Equity and Inclusion are both state resources to move forward with broadband in our Western North Carolina region.

Dr. William A. Sederburg tells us more about NC broadband resources.

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ACB - Affordability Connectivity Benefit Digital Discrimination Digital Equity Act (DEA) Digital Policy Dogwood Trust Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) Middle Mile NDIA Policy Tribal Connectivity Program

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021

William Sederburg, Chair of the WNC Broadband Project
Kennedy Young, UNC-Asheville Student

On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This action by the federal government funds a major expansion in broadband infrastructure and internet accessibility across the nation. Of the $1.2 trillion appropriated by the IIJA, more than $65 billion will go to improve broadband access and affordability, particularly in rural low-income areas. These funds will help to bridge the equity divide to create digital inclusion in the 21st century. The IIJA is very significant for Western North Carolina (WNC.)

Breakdown of Broadband Funding Provisions Impacting WNC:
The IIJA provides $65 billion for broadband. $42.45 billion will be available to the states for broadband projects ranging from network deployment to data collection. Each state will get at least $100 million. The rest of the $42.5 billion will be given to the states based on a formula. The formula for distributing the money will be written by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). According to Nate Denny, Deputy Secretary of the NC Broadband and Digital Equity Office, NC is expected to receive nearly $1 billion from this fund (from comments during a zoom webinar.)

The availability of additional funds for building out the infrastructure will be of great interest to local Internet Service Providers and the general citizenry. However, before the funds can be allocated, an accurate map of served and unserved areas of the state needs to be completed by the FCC and state/federal regulations need to be coordinated. Implementation will be slowed down due to lack of fiber and a trained workforce. WNC faces an additional challenge in in assuring the formulas reflect the act cost of laying fiber, which in WNC is significantly higher than elsewhere due to rocky soil, mountainous terrain and a dispersed population.

Over the past two years, our region has been heavily engaged in mapping served and unserved geographic areas. WNC Broadband, through a partnership with UNCA’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) provided recommendations to the FCC about mapping procedures and has produced a map for Buncombe County. The map shows how served/unserved areas form a “swiss cheese” land scape filled with pockets of poor or missing service. The Land of Sky Regional Council and the Southwest Commission, with funds from the Dogwood Trust have led the regional effort to get people to participate in the state’s mapping survey and speed test.

In addition to grants for infrastructure, other areas of IIJA will help meet the needs of Western North Carolina. One billion is to be used to enhance “middle mile infrastructure”, which connects local providers to larger Internet access points. The “middle mile” funds may be of particular interest to ERC broadband which presently provides middle mile connections to local non-profit and educational institutions in WNC.

$600 million is appropriated for tax free “Private Activity Bonds” that local governments can use to help finance internet service providers who extend service to rural areas. The NTIA will provide details of how these funds are to be used within the next few months. It is unclear at this time if any part of WNC will qualify for the use of these funds and if the state will allow local governments to avail themselves of this program.

$14 billion of the Infrastructure Bill is appropriated for a continuation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB.) The EBB helps low-income people pay for internet services by providing a financial discount from their provider. The bill reduces their monthly benefit from $50 per month to $30 per month. However, it replaces a temporary program with the more permanent “Affordability Connectivity Benefit” and requires internet service providers that receive federal money to accept the supplement for their customers. Currently, it is optional for providers.

The Affordability Connectivity Benefit is significant to our region and provides an opportunity for WNC to partner with the state in promoting the program. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance estimates that up to 3.2 million North Carolina residents will be eligible for the benefit. Currently, only 276,000 North Carolinians receive discounted internet prices via the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Assuming our region is 7% of the total state’s population, we may have over 200,000 people who may qualify for all or part of the subsidy. Expanding the number of people accessing high speed service is critical for WNC. A 2020 survey of students in WNC public schools found 13% of local students did not have internet service and 28% of the households did not subscribe to an internet service.

To help close the digital divide, the IIJA incorporates the “Digital Equity Act of 2021” (DEA). Within the DEA, $2.75 billion is allocated for two grant programs: State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant. The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant includes $60 million for states to complete their own digital equity plans. It then allocates $1.44 billion over the next five years for implementation of the state plan which is likely to include local inclusion plans. WNC is ahead of other parts of the state in creating digital inclusion plans. The NC Institute of Emerging Issues and the Dogwood Health Trust have been instrumental in financing local plans. The regional planning councils have pioneered in this effort.

The second aspect of great interest in the DEA is $1.25 billion for the Dept. of Commerce to distribute money to local governments, non-profit organizations, and “anchor institutions” to improve digital equity. The details of this grant program are not yet available. The grant will provide opportunities for anchor institutions such as universities and local governments to be creative in closing the digital divide.

Policy Areas of Importance

Currently, the FCC defines high speed broadband as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) in download speed (coming from the internet to the computer) and 3 Mbps upload speed (computer to the internet.) In the new infrastructure bill, applications for funds from broadband companies must target deployment of broadband to achieve internet speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. The new speed preferences are significant in emphasizing fiber connectivity over older copper technology and some wireless delivery systems. It will also push the FCC to set 100/20 as the new national standard.

The infrastructure act allows cities and counties to use the new federal money to “fill in” geographical areas not being served. This is important for WNC due to our terrain. However, given state law, the funds will be of limited value for use by local governments as matching dollars for state programs such as the NC Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants Since the funds are distributed through the state and not directly to counties, it is unclear how much freedom will be given to local units of government, particularly counties in the use of IIJA funds. The NTIA and the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office will provide more guidance over the next few months about how the federal money (passed through the state Broadband Infrastructure office) can be used by local governments. WNC will benefit significantly if the state allows flexibility in the use of federal funds.

Summary

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will greatly assist WNC. As of this date (Dec. 7, 2021) there are many details yet to be established. There are also provisions in the IIJA that we haven’t reported here. There is no doubt that the act will help our residents be part of the high-speed digital age. It provides a wonderful challenge for local organizations to access these funds to make this future a reality in WNC.


Overview from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance

https://www.digitalinclusion.org/blog/2021/08/10/infrastructure-bill/

Funding Provisions of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Broadband Grants for States, DC, Puerto Rico & Territories: $42.5 billion

● This is a new grant program the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will manage. The deployment funds will be issued as block grants to states with rules defined by the NTIA.
● In addition to deployment, states can use funds from these grants for digital equity uses, including:
○ To deploy affordable networks in low-income, multi-family buildings
○ To promote broadband adoption
○ Deployment grant recipients (ISPs) must offer a ‘low-cost’ or affordable plan for consumers.

Broadband Benefit: $14.2 billion

● Extends and amends the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, including changing the name to the “Affordable Connectivity Program,” paving the way for a permanent program
● All internet service plans are required to be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program
● The program benefit is reduced to $30/month
● Eligibility for the program is increased from 135% of the poverty line to 200% of the poverty line

Tribal Connectivity Program: $2 billion

● Extends the Tribal Connectivity Program created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA)

Middle Mile Connectivity: $1 billion

● Creates a grant program at NTIA for expanding middle mile access, which will help connect unserved anchor institutions and make last-mile buildout to unserved households easier and cheaper.

Digital Equity Act: $2.75 billion (over 5 years)

● $60 million for state planning grants
● $1.44 billion for state implementation grants
● $1.25 billion ($250 million a year for 5 years) for the competitive grant program

Digital Discrimination

● The bill text outlines “digital discrimination” (a softened definition of digital redlining) and charges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with creating rules to enforce

Categories
ACP - Affordable Connectivity Program Broadband funding Digital Discrimination Digital Equity Act (DEA) Digital Redlining Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) NEMAC Tribal Connectivity Program UNCA

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021

William Sederburg, Chair of the WNC Broadband Project
Kennedy Young, University of North Carolina Asheville Student
Listen to the text to speech conversion on SoundCloud

On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This action by the federal government funds a major expansion in broadband infrastructure and internet accessibility across the nation. Of the $1.2 trillion appropriated by the IIJA, more than $65 billion is allotted to improve broadband access and affordability, particularly in rural low-income areas. These funds will help to bridge the equity divide to create digital inclusion in the 21st century. The IIJA is very significant for Western North Carolina (WNC).

Breakdown of Broadband Funding Provisions Impacting WNC:
The IIJA provides $65 billion for broadband. $42.45 billion will be available to the states for broadband projects ranging from network deployment to data collection. Each state will get at least $100 million. The rest of the $42.5 billion will be given to the states based on a formula. The formula for distributing the money will be written by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). According to Nate Denny, Deputy Secretary of the NC Broadband and Digital Equity Office, NC is expected to receive nearly $1 billion from this fund (from comments during a zoom webinar.)

The availability of additional funds for building out the infrastructure will be of great interest to local Internet Service Providers and the general citizenry. However, before the funds can be allocated, an accurate map of served and unserved areas of the state needs to be completed by the FCC, and state/federal regulations need to be coordinated. Implementation will be slowed down due to a lack of fiber and a trained workforce. WNC faces an additional challenge in assuring the formulas reflect the act cost of laying fiber, which in WNC is significantly higher than elsewhere due to rocky soil, mountainous terrain, and a dispersed population.

Over the past two years, our region has been heavily engaged in mapping served and unserved geographic areas. WNC Broadband, through a partnership with University of North Carolina Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC), provided recommendations to the FCC about mapping procedures and has produced a map for Buncombe County. The map shows how served/unserved areas form a “swiss cheese” landscape filled with poor or missing service pockets. With funds from the Dogwood Trust, the Land of Sky Regional Council, and the Southwest Commission have led the regional effort to get people to participate in the state’s mapping survey and speed test.

Buncombe Swiss Cheese Broadband
Buncombe Swiss Cheese Broadband

In addition to grants for infrastructure, other areas of IIJA will help meet the needs of Western North Carolina. One billion is to be used to enhance “middle mile infrastructure,” which connects local providers to larger Internet access points. The “middle mile” funds may be of particular interest to ERC broadband which presently provides middle-mile connections to local non-profit and educational institutions in WNC.

$600 million is appropriated for tax-free “Private Activity Bonds” that local governments can use to help finance internet service providers who extend service to rural areas. The NTIA will provide details of how these funds are to be used within the next few months. It is unclear at this time if any part of WNC will qualify for the use of these funds and if the state will allow local governments to avail themselves of this program.

$14 billion of the Infrastructure Bill is appropriated for a continuation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). The EBB helps low-income people pay for internet services by providing a financial discount from their provider. The bill reduces their monthly benefit from $50 to $30 per month. However, it replaces a temporary program with the more permanent “Affordability Connectivity Benefit” and requires internet service providers that receive federal money to accept the supplement for their customers. Currently, it is optional for providers.

The Affordability Connectivity Benefit is significant to our region and provides an opportunity for WNC to partner with the state in promoting the program. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance estimates that up to 3.2 million North Carolina residents will be eligible for the benefit. Currently, only 276,000 North Carolinians receive discounted internet prices via the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Assuming our region is 7% of the entire state’s population, we may have over 200,000 people who may qualify for all or part of the subsidy. Expanding the number of people accessing high-speed service is critical for WNC. A 2020 survey of students in WNC public schools found that 13% of local students did not have internet service, and 28% of the households did not subscribe to an internet service.

To help close the digital divide, the IIJA incorporates the “Digital Equity Act of 2021” (DEA). Within the DEA, $2.75 billion is allocated for two grant programs: State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant. The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant includes $60 million for states to complete their digital equity plans. Further, it allocates $1.44 billion over the next five years to implement the state equity plan; this is likely to include local inclusion plans. WNC is ahead of other parts of the state in creating digital inclusion plans. The NC Institute of Emerging Issues and the Dogwood Health Trust have been instrumental in financing local plans. The regional planning councils have pioneered this effort.

The second aspect of great interest in the DEA is $1.25 billion for the Dept. of Commerce to distribute money to local governments, non-profit organizations, and “anchor institutions” to improve digital equity. The details of this grant program are not yet available. The grant will provide opportunities for anchor institutions such as universities and local governments to be creative in closing the digital divide.

Policy Areas of Importance

Currently, the FCC defines high-speed broadband as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) in download speed (coming from the internet to the computer) and 3 Mbps upload speed (computer to the internet.) In the new infrastructure bill, applications for funds from broadband companies must target the broadband deployment to achieve internet speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. The new speed preferences are significant because they emphasize fiber connectivity over older copper technology and some wireless delivery systems. It will also push the FCC to set 100/20 as the new national standard.

The Infrastructure Act allows cities and counties to use the new federal money to “fill in” geographical areas not being served. This ability is important for WNC due to missing connectivity caused, in part, by our terrain. Currently, though, it is unclear how much freedom will be given to local units of government–particularly counties– in the use of IIJA funds since Matching dollars for state programs (such as the NC Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants) are distributed through the state and not directly to counties. The NTIA and the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office will provide more guidance over the next few months about how local governments can use the federal money (passed through the state Broadband Infrastructure office). WNC will benefit significantly if the state allows flexibility in the use of federal funds.

Summary

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will significantly assist WNC. It has the potential to connect WNC in ways that previously would not have been possible due to the cost and geographical burdens presented by our mountain terrain. As of this date (Dec. 7, 2021), many details are yet to be established. Moreover, it is important to note that there are also provisions in the IIJA that we have not reported here. The Act, though, will undoubtedly help our residents be part of the high-speed digital age. The provisions set forth by the IIJA will provide an excellent challenge for local organizations to access funds to make an accessible digital future a reality for all Western North Carolina residents.

Funding Provisions of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act *

Broadband Grants for States, DC, Puerto Rico & Territories: $42.5 billion


● This is a new grant program the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will manage. The deployment funds will be issued as block grants to states with rules defined by the NTIA.
● In addition to deployment, states can use funds from these grants for digital equity uses, including:
○ To deploy affordable networks in low-income, multi-family buildings
○ To promote broadband adoption
○ Deployment grant recipients (ISPs) must offer a ‘low-cost’ or affordable plan for consumers.

Broadband Benefit: $14.2 billion

● Extends and amends the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, including changing the name to the “Affordable Connectivity Program,” paving the way for a permanent program
● All internet service plans are required to be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program
● The program benefit is reduced to $30/month
● Eligibility for the program is increased from 135% of the poverty line to 200% of the poverty line


Tribal Connectivity Program: $2 billion

● Extends the Tribal Connectivity Program created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA)
Middle Mile Connectivity: $1 billion
● Creates a grant program at NTIA for expanding middle mile access, which will help connect unserved anchor institutions and make last-mile buildout to unserved households easier and cheaper.


Digital Equity Act: $2.75 billion (over 5 years)

● $60 million for state planning grants
● $1.44 billion for state implementation grants
● $1.25 billion ($250 million a year for 5 years) for the competitive grant program

Digital Discrimination

● The bill text outlines “digital discrimination” (a softened definition of digital redlining) and charges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with creating rules to enforce


*Overview from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (https://www.digitalinclusion.org/blog/2021/08/10/infrastructure-bill/)


Read the article text while listening to the audio conversion in YouTube
Categories
Infrastructure Middle Mile Telco

Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure

In the broadband Internet industry, the “middle mile” is the segment of a telecommunications network linking a network operator’s core network to the local network plant, typically situated in the incumbent telco’s central office that provides access to the local loop, or in the case of cable television operators, the local cable modem termination system.

This includes both the backhaul network to the nearest aggregation point, and any other parts of the network needed to connect the aggregation point to the nearest point of presence on the operator’s core network.

The term middle mile arose to distinguish this part of the network from the last mile, which means the local links which provide service to the retail customer or end user, such as the local telephone lines from the telephone exchange or the coaxial cables from which connect to the customer’s equipment.

Middle-mile provision is a major issue in reducing the price of broadband Internet provision by non-incumbent operators. Internet bandwidth is relatively inexpensive to purchase in bulk at the major Internet peering points, and access to end-customer ports in the incumbent operator’s local distribution plant (typically where local loop unbundling is mandated by a telecom regulator) are also relatively inexpensive relative to typical broadband subscription costs.

However, middle-mile access, where bought from the incumbent operator, is often much more expensive than either, and typically forms the major expense of non-incumbent broadband ISPs. The alternative, building out their own fibre networks, is capital-intensive, and thus unavailable to most new operators. For this reason, many proposals for government broadband stimulus initiatives are directed at building out the middle mile.

Open access initiatives such as duct sharing, utility pole sharing, and fiber unbundling are also being tried by regulators as mechanisms to ease the middle mile problem by reducing costs to non-incumbents.

Wikipedia Contributors. 2021. “Middle Mile.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. April 29, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_mile.

Categories
Broadband funding FCC NC BIO State Efforts

Broadband Funding Working on Next Steps

What are the next steps for broadband funding in our nation, state, and communities?

Dr. William A. Sederburg has insights in the video below that include:

  • FCC to redo national mapping
  • Federal, State coordination of laws
  • Bidding processes
  • Funding distribution process
  • End of 2022 timing
  • Labor shortage considerations
  • Fiber cable worldwide demand, shortage