News from the Rural Telecommunications Congress

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Reps. Huffman, Pocan, and Nolan Introduce New Deal Rural Broadband Act to Close Digital Divide in Rural America

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2017 – Congressmen Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Rick Nolan, D-Minnesota, introduced the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, an ambitious plan to connect every American home, business, and school to high-speed, reliable broadband internet that is based on Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model. The legislation would expand access to broadband internet in rural communities in Huffman’s North Coast congressional district, and across the nation, through increased investments in broadband infrastructure, improved programs to support tribal communities in broadband development, and the establishment of a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to better coordinate all Federal rural broadband deployment programs.

In 2016, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 39% of rural America and 41% of those living on Tribal land lacked access to advanced broadband, defined as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. By comparison, only 10% of the country as a whole lack access to advanced broadband.

“The longer we allow the digital divide to persist in rural America and Indian country, the more Americans will be left behind,” said Rep. Huffman. “The New Deal Broadband Act is an ambitious blueprint to connect every home, school, and business in America to high-speed, reliable broadband so we can all compete in the world economy. All Americans deserve the benefits of improved economic development, as well as expanded public safety, health, and education services. Our new legislation builds on the legacy and success of FDR’s New Deal to bring broadband access in rural America into the 21st century.”

“Rural America has waited long enough for high-speed broadband,”  Rep. Nolan said. “It’s a necessity required to start new businesses, create new good-paying jobs, help our small town rural economy grow, and modernize the education and health care services so essential to quality of life. I’m proud to join my colleague in introducing this legislation to connect tens

“Across our country, many people still lack basic and reliable access to the internet. Congress must work together to address the connectivity gap and ensure that communities, especially in rural America, are able to stay connected to the 21st Century economy,” said Rep. Pocan. “The New Deal Broadband Act is a comprehensive plan to address broadband connectivity across our nation and I am proud to introduce this bill with my colleagues Reps. Huffman and Nolan.”

“Current federal rural broadband policy is not favorable to California,” said Connie Stewart, Executive Director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University. “Of the more than 110 federally recognized tribes in the state, 84 do not qualify for RUS grant funding. We would like to thank Congress Huffman for his leadership in bringing a comprehensive federal rural broadband policy to life”

“The lack of access to broadband in rural America remains a major challenge. Incumbents have not really acted fast enough to closed the digital divide. Unless we solve this need, we create an even larger urban-rural economic gap. an even larger urban-rural economic gap,” said Tom West, Manager of the North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium. “ Rep. Huffman’s proposed broadband infrastructure investment would create new opportunities on the North Coast to ensure all homes, schools, and businesses have access to high-speed, reliable broadband.”

In January, Senate Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that included $20 billion in broadband infrastructure investment.

The New Deal Rural Broadband Act would:

  •          Establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to coordinate and centralize all Federal rural broadband programs;
  •          Authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure focused on rural communities and those without adequate access;
  •          Authorize a new Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to support tribal communities in broadband deployment;
  •          Improve and modernize the Telecommunications Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to increase eligibility, allow greater flexibility, and break down federal agency broadband “silos”;
  •          Authorize the Rural Utility Service (RUS) to offer broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees to provide small communities with the seed funds needed to compete in loan applications or develop commercially attractive proposals and increase overall (RUS) broadband investment from $25 million to $50 million annually; and
  •          Establish an inventory of Federal and State assets on which a broadband facility could be constructed and;
  •          Provide land management agencies with cooperative agreement and fee retention authority for telecommunications rights-of-way to leverage public lands for broadband deployment.

Source: Reps. Huffman, Pocan, and Nolan Introduce New Deal Rural Broadband Act to Close Digital Divide in Rural America | Congressman Jared Huffman

Rural Telecommunications Congress Attends Big Sky Broadband Workshop

NTIA hosted an afternoon and morning of panels and events where Montanans and national experts presented opportunities for technical assistance FTF as well as case studies on the rapidly changing landscape of community broadband opportunities. The workshop followed a meeting of the MT telecom Assoc, where Montana telcos stated concern about unnecessary muni overbuilds by communities.


A tribal breakfast roundtable was held, and leaders from the Blackfeet tribe stated their preference for being in control over their own community broadband, and a kerfuffle ensued with their regional telco, which resulted literally in the two entities sitting down at the same table to talk about solutions. Public private partnership success stories were a prevailing theme throughout the conference.

The event invited those who consider themselves as broadband stakeholders, and the conference packet had many robust resources and reports, with a new Stakeholders Guide being announced at the conference. The panels were excellent, and far-ranging in topics. The CCI two hour event the morning of the second day invited everyone to participate in the codesign of a growing community assessment tool, and over 8 webinars are planned to supplement the process through the end of 2016.
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From Mignon Clyburn's Blog: Tackling the Connectivity Challenges of Rural America

Access to robust, affordable advanced telecommunications services, ought to be available to everyone — no matter who they are, no matter where they live. That is not only the core tenet of the #ConnectingCommunities tour I launched in April, it is one of the ‘prime directives’ of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

An invitation from Congressman Ben Ray Luján and Senator Tom Udall brought me to New Mexico earlier this week, where I engaged in in-depth discussions about the successes and challenges that New Mexico and Navajo Nation face as they bring connectivity to their communities.


A roundtable session with the Senator, Congressman, State legislators, State commissioners in NMA roundtable session with the Senator, Congressman, State legislators, State commissioners, and more than two dozen telephone companies and rural cooperatives that serve the hardest-to-reach places in the Southwest, was the first of several enlightening meetings during the two-day visit. We discussed how costly it is to deploy broadband and other services, particularly on Native lands, and how even in places where broadband is deployed, the lack of internal infrastructure even amongst anchor tenants like an area school, can make it inaccessible to needy populations.

I travelled from Albuquerque for about an hour and a half to Torreon, NM, with Congressman Luján leading the way, to observe a Lifeline signup event, and participate in a discussion hosted by the Torreon Chapter President, David Rico. Cellular One serves this part of Navajo Nation, and plans to upgrade the 2G service they currently offer in Torreon to 3G by the fall, and hopefully to 4G sometime next year. You may not be aware that it takes six microwave hops from the Torreon tower (86 miles) just to reach fiber backhaul.


A roundtable session with the Senator, Congressman, State legislators, State commissioners in NM

The Digital Age and Rural Communities, or a 'Responsive Countryside'


Note from RTC President Drew Clark: This piece is by Associate Extension Professor & Leader Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., at the Mississippi State University Extension and Intelligent Community Institute. He is the author of The Responsive CountrysideThis piece is published by permission.

Technology has always been a critical factor in human development. It has pushed humanity through at least three major revolutions—cognitive, agricultural, and scientific—and is once more influencing humanity’s transition to a new revolution: the digital age. Some call this new age the information age and argue that its main characteristic is that information is transferred quickly.

However, I believe the digital age is much more than transferring information quickly. To me, the digital age allows for digital technologies and applications to be invented and adopted transforming our current social and economic landscape. Though an agreed-upon definition of the digital age is still in the works, it is showing certain characteristics that are important to understand.

The first characteristic is that it is exponential. Exponential refers to something that starts really slow and then moves a lot faster. The hardware components and in some cases the adoption rate of digital technologies have shown an exponential rate.

For example, your smartphone has more computing power today than NASA did back in 1969. Also, consider that it took the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million users while it took Instagram 2 years to reach the same amount of users. The main implication of this exponential rate is that digital devices are becoming smaller, more powerful, and cheaper causing digital platforms and applications to spread faster.

The second characteristic is that it is digital. In other words, everything is being converted into 1s and 0s. This digital information can then be sent or accessed quickly from anywhere. At the forefront of this digitization of our physical world is something called the Internet of Everything (IoE)— also called the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoE consists of people (interacting through apps and social media), things (smartphones and billions of sensors), data (vast amounts generated from social media posts to real-time measurement of manufacturing processes, car performance, etc.), and processes (ability to streamline, gather, and analyze data generated). Thanks to IoE, our physical world can be monitored, measured, and optimized like never before.

The previous two characteristics of exponential and digital lead to the third characteristic: combinatorial. The digital age allows ideas to be combined and recombined and identify patterns and behaviors we did not know existed. Unfortunately, our ability to digitize and generate information has surpassed our ability to analyze and extract the information we want at the time it is needed. In other words, we have been great at putting information in but not so good at getting useful and relevant information out. Some researchers call this the “technology lag.”

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Minnesota Launches $35 Million Broadband Fund

July 13, 2016 - The Institute for Local Self Reliance has posted this item announcing broadband funding in Minnesota:

The Land of 10,000 Lakes wants to become The Land of 10,000 Lakes With High-Speed Internet Access. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will begin taking applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program on July 22, 2016. The program offers a total of $35 million in funding for projects in unserved and underserved areas. The application submission period closes on October 3, 2016.

The Grant Program

The Border-to-Border program will pay for up to 50 percent of project development costs, awarding a maximum of $5 million per grant. This round of funding sets aside $5 million specifically for underserved areas, and $500,000 will be set aside for areas that contain a significant proportion of low-income households. Officials estimate this year's $35 million in funding will impact an additional 2,000 Minnesotans.

Since May 2014, the Border-to-Border program has provided over $30 million in assistance to over 30 projects throughout Minnesota. This latest funding opportunity brings the total funding up to $65.4 million. It is the largest funding appropriation for the program to date. [more...]

Senate Broadband Caucus Launches with Focus on Rural Broadband

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2016 - The Senate Broadband Caucus launched on Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill with a focus on the need to ensure that all parts of the United States have access to good-quality broadband.

Led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and joined by Sen. Angus King, D-Maine, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Boozman, R-Ark., each of the senators spoke at the launch and touted the need to ensure that broadband is available and well-used by residents of rural as well as urban areas.

In the release announcing the launch of the caucus, the five senators declared:

Broadband is critical to the viability of our economy and the future of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It has become the very foundation for invention and a necessary backbone that communities - both urban and rural - across the country need to succeed. Broadband access will also maximize children's educational opportunities at school and at home, modernize our healthcare system with telehealth, and help educate those who aspire to gain access to new skills to compete in the 21st century workforce.

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The Extraordinary Open Access Network in Ammon, Idaho

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently published this video about the open-access network in Ammon, Idaho. Better than anything that I've seen recently, this video captures the essence of the potential behind open-access networks.

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USDA Announces Telemedicine Funding to Address Opioid Epidemic in Appalachia

ABINGDON, Virginia, June 30, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced five Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant awards to help provide treatment for the growing opioid epidemic in rural central Appalachia. Vilsack made the announcement as he hosted a town hall in Abingdon to address the opioid crisis in rural America, the first in a series. In January, President Obama tasked Secretary Vilsack, who is chair of the White House Rural Council, with leading a federal interagency effort focused on rural opioid use.

"Because addiction treatment is often out of reach for many in rural America, expanding access to telemedicine is an important step towards making sure rural communities have the tools they need to fight the opioid epidemic," Vilsack said. "USDA is committed to provide the critical resources rural areas need to reduce the staggering increase in opioid overdose deaths that is driving up health care costs and devastating communities."

Today's announcement is the first part of a new round of DLT projects that are to be announced this summer and includes nearly $1.4 million for five projects in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to help rural areas address the opioid epidemic.

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Broadband Communities Summit Opens in Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, April 5, 2016 - The Broadband Communities Summit opened on Tuesday with a remembrance of Scott DeGarmo, the former CEO of the company that hosts the conference, and which has blossomed into a celebration of the impact of broadband on the lives of everyday citizens. 

Kicking off the conference was a panel discussion about the role of "Internet of Things" and its impact on urban and rural communities. Led by a presentation made by Florence Hudson of Internet2, the discussion focused heavily upon the benefits -- and risks -- of the Internet of Things.


The Rural Telecommunications Congress' track of panels in the programs begins at 3 p.m. in the Wedgewood Room, with a Session on "Ensuring State Involvement in Broadband Development: A Blue Ribbon Panel of State Broadband Leaders."

Moderating the event will be Michael Curri, president of the Strategic Networks Group, and a member of the board of the RTC, with panelists from the states of Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

On Tuesday, RTC and SNG released the results of a survey of state broadband offices. The report is titled "The 50 States of Broadband: A state-by-state study of the state of broadband investment and activity in each American state."

Of the 48 states responding the survey, 25 of them have a state broadband office. But only 28 percent surveyed said the state had annual funding to support broadband initiatives. However, only nine states are funding planning and support activities going forward.

Following the blue ribbon panel will be a session on "Extending Middle-Mile Fiber Networks to Last-Mile Homes in Rural Areas."

Moderated by Joel Muler of ex2 Technologies and a member of the RTC Board, it will include, as panelists, Sandeep Taxali of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Chief Technology Officer Rob Henry of the City of Davenport, Iowa; Chris Janson, a board member of OpenCape and the RTC; and Brad Moline of Allo Communications.

Rural Telecommunications Congress Releases Report on State Broadband Offices

AUSTIN, April 5, 2016 - The Rural Telecommunications Congress and the Strategic Networks Group released the results from a survey of 48 state broadband offices. The report is titled "The 50 States of Broadband: A state-by-state study of the state of broadband investment and activity in each American state," and will be released on Wednesday.

Of the 48 states responding the survey, 25 of them have a state broadband office. But only 28 percent surveyed said the state had annual funding to support broadband initiatives. However, only nine states are funding planning and support activities going forward.

The full report will be released on Wednesday.


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