Emergency Broadband Benefit Program helped low income households keep broadband but didn’t get as many new people online

USC Annenberg has released a study of the impact of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the low income subsidies offered to offset broadband costs near the start of the pandemic. The timing is good, as the program shifts from a temporary solution to more permanent solution – Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The quick gist is that it looks like it helped a lot of people stay online, but it spur more people to get online, which is unfortunate…

The EBB program was created to mitigate the short-term impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable households, reducing the cost burden of broadband connectivity for recipients. As the program transitions into a longer-term subsidy, it is important to take stock of its impact and adjust course as needed. Overall, the findings of this study suggest there is significant room to improve program targeting and outreach efforts, as well as to facilitate enrollment procedures for key groups of potential beneficiaries.

Critically, the findings suggest that the primary impact of the EBB program was to alleviate the cost burden for households that were already connected pre-pandemic, with only modest impact in bringing new households online. Alleviating the cost burden of broadband for vulnerable households is an important policy goal, as evidence from other studies suggests that low-income households often cut on essentials expenses (such as food and clothing) to pay for Internet service. Nonetheless, for a program that offered a subsidy level over five times higher than Lifeline, uptake fell significantly below expectations. The evidence points in particular to weak demand for residential connectivity plans, despite the fact that the $50 EBB subsidy covered about 70% of the typical cost of residential broadband in the U.S.

A key task for the new ACP program is to significantly expand coverage, particularly in areas with low residential connectivity pre-pandemic. The findings in this study suggest that renewed outreach efforts are urgently needed in rural and less populated areas, among older adults, and in communities with a large share of foreign-born residents. This is consistent with findings from recent research showing that low levels of awareness about the EBB program, as well as lack of appropriate information about eligibility and the application process, depressed participation rates among key potential beneficiaries.11 Previous research also indicates that targeted outreach efforts are likely to be more effective if channeled through organizations with strong local community ties (such as schools and senior centers), and that these organizations can also play a key role by offering technical support for onboarding those with limited digital literacy.

Leveraging enrollment in other social safety net programs with high participation rates (such as SNAP, WIC and NSLP) is another key outreach strategy, albeit one that will require cross-agency collaboration and appropriate funding. Participating providers also have an important role to play in disseminating clear information about ACP program eligibility, contract terms and service pricing, a statutory mandate that the FCC should closely monitor and enforce. Minimizing enrollment procedures is also critical, as is flexibility in the documentation required to verify eligibility.

Finally, given the level of funding and the long-term duration of the ACP program, a more robust monitoring system must be put into place to evaluate the program’s cost-effectiveness on an ongoing basis. This will require more extensive data reporting from participating providers, including information about pricing, service speeds, access technology, data usage patterns, and beneficiary location at the census tract or block group level. 13 In addition, regular surveys of existing and potential ACP beneficiaries should be conducted to better understand barriers to participation and potential adjustments to key program parameters such as subsidy level, enrollment procedures, certification rules and device offerings.

American Connection Corps Project Year End Report: Emerging leaders help bring broadband to rural areas

The American Connection Project is playing a big role in getting rural areas better broadband and mentoring emerging leaders to develop the skills to make it happen. Borrowed from their year-end report, here’s more info..

The American Connection Corps (ACC) is the nation’s largest fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide. Led by Lead for America and The American Connection Project, this initiative addresses broadband development and digital inclusion while strengthening our country’s next generation of civic leaders.

The American Connection Corps (ACC) is the nation’s largest fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide. Led by Lead for America and The American Connection Project, this initiative addresses broadband development and digital inclusion while strengthening our country’s next generation of civic leaders.

Their goals in 2021:

  • Grow awareness that the digital divide remains an urgent issue
  • Grow understanding that speed, quality, and literacy matters
  • Start a dialogue on how digital access can free every place of its limitations

The report details the outcomes of the program in its first three months. They highlighted the work of Amber Lewis, working with The Northspan Group…

Having grown up in the Iron Range of northeast Minnesota, Amber Lewis, experienced firsthand the workforce and education challenges that come with a lack of digital access. Through ACC, she has returned to serve her community throughThe Northspan Group, Inc., a nonprofit community development organization that provides services to businesses and local governments across counties in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota, and across the border into Northwest Wisconsin. Amber has spearheaded a region-wide data collection process, gathering resident surveys, feasibility reports, and other broadband data across Northeast MN, and cross-analyzing them with demographic data. This data collection process is the region’s first and most comprehensive approach to understanding demographic inequities around digital access.

Ookla speed ranks MN mobile speeds 6 and MN fixed broadband speeds 39

Ookla has just released United States Median Speeds from December 2021. You can dig into the report to see which providers seem to provide the fastest service; I mostly looked at the high level.

Mobile speed rankings: Minnesota ranks 6.

Fixed Rate. Minnesota ranks 39.

Succinct notes on Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities from Common Sense

How do you wrap up some of the largest broadband funding opportunities ever into a concise, pretty easy-to-use format? Use very small print. But thanks to the hard work from Common Sense Media and the ability to zoom in on a PDF, that information is a ton more accessible in one place. They look at the practicalities of:

  • Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
  • Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 (CA
  • Other Broadband ProgramsA21)

MN hospital reduces postpartum hemorrhages 40% after retooling EHR

It’s great when we can calculate how technology improves how we live and while I understand this doesn’t require broadband to track this info – the move to remote care for as many people as possible during COVID means that every tool we have makes staying home safer. Becker’s Health IT reports

Robbinsdale, Minn.-based North Memorial Hospital used an EHR to create a screening tool that would predict, identify and guide postpartum hemorrhages, resulting in a 40 percent reduction, according to a Jan. 10 report in EpicShare.

North Memorial’s clinical practice committee analyzed data to determine which patients were at “high-risk” of hemorrhaging. The committee found that high-risk pregnancy didn’t always equate to hemorrhaging.

The committee then created a screening tool within Epic’s EHR system that would calculate a patient’s risk based on:

  • What type of birth it is: vaginal or C-sections, as C-sections have higher rates of hemorrhaging.
  • Where the placenta is: Placenta previa, or low-lying placenta, increases hemorrhage risk.
  • Hemoglobin measurements, or a low hematocrit measurement.
  • Any pre-existing conditions such as obesity or a bleeding disorder.

North Memorial  also used Epic to create a quantitative blood loss calculator to improve response time for hemorrhages.

Fiber Broadband Enters Largest Investment Cycle Ever

The Fiber Association reports…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today announced the results of its 2021 Fiber Provider Study that reveals fiber broadband is strong and entering the largest investment cycle ever. The research, performed by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), shows that fiber broadband now passes over 60.5 million homes in the U.S. alone—a 12% growth in 2021. The increase in deployments can be attributed to the fact that fiber continues to score higher than any other broadband technology—such as cable, satellite or wireless—in terms of capacity, reliability, latency and customer satisfaction. These benefits have created competition among more diverse sizes and types of service providers that are now racing to reach more subscribers with fiber. The Study suggests that if all federal infrastructure funding is directed at fiber, there could be more fiber deployed in the next five years than all the fiber deployed to-date, enabling the initial U.S. FTTH build to be nearing completion by the end of this decade.

“It is through research like the Fiber Provider Study that we’re able to educate the industry on the benefits of fiber and the positive impact fiber can have on local communities. When every community can leverage fiber optics for its critical infrastructure, we’ll open endless possibilities for prosperity,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO at the Fiber Broadband Association. “The private sector is increasing its understanding of the importance of fiber and government efforts to close the digital divide have never been greater. This momentum is exciting and sets the stage for our industry to finally deliver digital equity to everyone regardless of where they live, work or play.”

The Study revealed that 43% of U.S. households and 60% of Canadian households now have access to fiber. Larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-fourths (72%) of overall fiber broadband access, with Tier 2 regional operators like Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated and TDS making up 10% of the growth. Unique to the U.S., over 1,200 Tier 3 market players with smaller projects ranging from a single state to three or four states compose the other 17% to 18% of the build. This group includes a mix of rural telcos, private competitive carriers, rural electric companies, smaller cable companies and municipalities.

While there is currently a steady increase in fiber deployments, there are several challenges that the industry will have to overcome before it can complete FTTH builds within this decade. Supply chain and labor shortages were the greatest perceived concern of mid-size and small providers. The FBA has welcomed several supply chain speakers on recent episodes of its Fiber for Breakfast series to offer guidance on how to navigate through the challenges. To address labor concerns, the FBA created its Optical Telecom Installation Certification (OpTIC) Program to design expert fiber broadband curriculum, fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.

Fiber providers are also concerned about how to ensure that the vast majority of federal funding goes to fiber. The FBA continues to conduct research and provide evidence that investing federal money in non-fiber broadband is irresponsible because fiber-based broadband performance metrics measure the highest for download and upload speed, latency and reliability. Additionally, the FBA is working with the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to publish a Broadband Infrastructure Playbook to assist State governments in best leveraging infrastructure funding. The Playbook will outline the benefits for consumers and communities of directing funds towards reliable future-proof fiber networks, recommendations for best structuring State broadband programs, templates for funding applications and more.

 

Daily Yonder looks how how states are poised to handle influx of broadband funding – MN has veteran standing

The Daily Yonder reports

The recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes significant funding to expand broadband access, to help households pay for their monthly broadband connections and to help people learn how to productively use those connections. This legislation represents Congress’ first formal recognition of the essential nature of high-speed internet.

Historically, broadband funding has been distributed from federal entities like the Federal Communications Commission or U.S. Department of Agriculture directly to internet providers. The Government Accountability Office, which monitors and audits government operations, has been critical of these efforts.

This time, however, states are at the center of the funding that is coming down the pipeline. The US$42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, known as BEAD, requires each state to generate a five-year action plan laying out how it will use the funds, including a process for prioritizing locations that are classified as “unserved” or “underserved.”

Similarly, the $2.7 billion Digital Equity Act requires each state to establish an organization responsible for developing a digital equity plan, which will help to disburse subgrants. Digital equity means ensuring that every community has adequate access to the technologies and skills needed to fully participate in society.

They take a look at how each state is poised to handle the funding. When it comes to years in the field, Minnesota is looking pretty good…

Starlink speeds flattening as new customers are added

Tom’s Guide reports

Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet company, seems to be hitting a speed plateau, according to data collected by one of the biggest speed test websites on the internet.

Ookla, known for running SpeedTest.net, says that Starlink speeds didn’t increase during the third quarter of this year. In some areas, speeds began to wane.

According to Ookla, median speeds between Q2 to Q3 2021 saw a decrease from 97.23 to 87.25 Mbps. Ookla speculates that this could be a symptom of Starlink adding new customers to its satellite network, which may eat away at available bandwidth.

Survey of Rural Broadband providers show half of collective customer base can get Gig service

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) surveys their members (850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states) annually. You can learn a lot from the results. I was focused on recognizing how many independent rural telcos have grown into full service FTTH providers. Especially as the MN Broadband Task Force looks at how to get better broadband to the far corners of the state, this survey is a reminder that is can be done. That lots of providers are doing this – we just need to support the ones that are making the connections for the future!

For example, it’s great to see the download and upload speed averages. More than half of the customers can get gig access down or up; while less than 4 percent are stuck with 10 Mbps down and less than 9 percent stuck with 3 Mbps up. A critical mass is being reached, which means we can start to set expectations higher.

With respect to downstream service availability, on average, respondents reported that the following percentages of their customer base can receive maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 55.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 20.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 25 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 10.6%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 25 Mbps: 10.1%
  • Less than 10 Mbps: 3.7%

With respect to upstream service availability, respondents indicated the following percentages of their customer base can receive, on average, maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 52.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 21.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 20 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 6.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 20 Mbps: 5.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 3 Mbps but less than 10 Mbps: 6.2%
  • Less than 3 Mbps: 8.5%

So the next question is – how can we help the providers that want to extend fiber? As the graphic below indicates, cost is still the major barrier and the public sector is poised to help dole out unprecedented funds in the upcoming years.

The next step is looking at adoption to ensure that demand will meet growing supplies…

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Report

The folks who manage Universal Service and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) programs just published a report on EBB, the fund established during the COVID pandemic to subsidize broadband access to make it more affordable to households that needed that help. In Minnesota, 76,301 households have signed up for EBB.

Here are some of the other stats…

Minnesota has a Broadband Office, Task Force, Agency and Fund

Pew has recently updated their database of which states have a broadband office, task force, agency and/or fund. Minnesota remains in a good position having all four. I appreciate the effort it takes to keep current on this info and it’s a good reminder that the source is there and a nice pat of the MN back that we’re in good standing.

Latest FBA Research Underscores Fiber is the Superior Broadband Technology

As the industry is looking at literally billions of dollars to invest in broadband, it’s nice to get a glimpse at the ongoing costs of various modes of broadband like fiber. This report is from the Fiber Broadband Association and they have a clear agenda, but numbers are compelling…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today released its 2021 Broadband Consumer Study that reveals fiber is the clear superior technology to meet broadband needs. The research, conducted by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), concludes that when compared to other broadband technology—including cable, DSL/FTTN, satellite, mobile wireless and fixed wireless—fiber has stronger reliability, the highest satisfaction rates and lowest cost per Mbps.

RVA consumer broadband studies have been conducted for the FBA since 2006. The data for the latest study was collected from 4,300 surveys of U.S. and Canadian broadband consumers in May 2021. This annual research provides a snapshot of the current broadband market. It includes the latest broadband technology deployment numbers, satisfaction rates and market growth rates. The FBA leverages the results to set strategic initiatives, and FBA members utilize this data to guide current and future fiber deployment plans.

“We’re experiencing a defining moment in building broadband infrastructure, and our research will help influence public policy to ensure that the remaining 20 – 40 million Americans without broadband access can finally realize digital equality,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “We know that when broadband capacity is unlimited, our communities’ potential is limitless. This research underscores the fact that fiber is the superior broadband technology because of its ability to reliably connect families and businesses to new opportunities.”

This year’s survey revealed several key findings that note fiber has the:

  • Highest Satisfaction Rating
    • Fiber has an average net promoter score of 20% (scores of other broadband types range from -5% to -45%).
  • Highest Reliability based on reported outages
  • Highest Speeds and Lowest Latency based on random speed tests.
  • Lowest Cost per Mbps at $0.66
    • Other technologies range from $1.00 – $6.00 per Mbps.
  • Increase in value to Real Estate
    • Increasing the value of homes by 3.4%, apartment rental prices by 8.1% and apartment operating income by 15%.

Even food needs better broadband – well farmers need to growing food efficiently and sustainably

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has just released an important look at The Future of American Farming Demands Broadband. They start by making the case that farmers need broadband is to be more efficient and the environment needs it to support sustainability. I suspect most readers here understand (or live) that, so I’ll cut to some of the answers they provide based on various facets of farming…

The Farm Office
How do we ensure that farmers get reliable, symmetrical broadband service?

● Establish future-proof performance standards: To meet the growing demand among farmers for both upstream and downstream speeds, networks must be capable of 100/100 Mbps service.

● Clarify rules around easements and rights of way: State governments can address legal uncertainty around easements and rights of way, which can slow deployment and increase costs, particularly for electric cooperatives.

Incentivize build-out to the operations center: Broadband funding programs can reward applicants that deploy broadband to the operations center of the farm and other critical farm buildings.

● Support open-access, middle-mile networks: Middle-mile deployment can pack a powerful punch by bringing scalable, fiber-based connections deep into rural communities while also lowering the cost of last-mile deployment for private providers.

The Field
How can we address the special connectivity demands of farms?
● Adopt high-performance standards: Performance standards for upload speeds and latency should reflect the changing needs of farmers for precision agriculture.
● Encourage deep fiber build-out: Fiber build-out in rural America, even if not directly to the farm, will be needed to support capable wireless connections for higher-bandwidth applications in the field.
● Address gaps in mapping on farmland: Broadband maps should include mobile coverage on agricultural lands. The underlying data that informs these maps must be available to the public.
● Advocate for interoperability and privacy standards: Without better coordination about interoperability and privacy standards, farmers may be less willing to adopt precision agriculture technologies.
● Adjust spectrum award mechanisms to reward farmland coverage: Spectrum auctions can adopt geographic coverage requirements in some rural agricultural areas to encourage deployment on farmland.

The Community
How do we connect the communities that farms rely upon?
● Adopt comprehensive state broadband plans: State plans that encompass all aspects of a broadband strategy—including deployment, competition, and digital equity—are best suited to meeting states’ regional economic development and other goals.
● Support digital equity programs at the state and local levels: Digital equity programs led by state and local governments and backed by federal funding can work with communities to help people make full use of broadband connections.
● Encourage local planning and capacity building: Federal and state funding can encourage local planning and capacity building, which may include developing local or regional broadband strategies and applying for federal broadband grants.
● Implement accountability measures: Federal funding programs for broadband deployment that include strong accountability measures ensure that providers hit their deployment goals.
● Encourage local, community-oriented providers: Federal programs that support broadband can encourage entry from more broadband providers, including cooperative and community[1]based solutions.
● Facilitate federal, tribal, state, and local coordination: All levels of government should work together as partners to create opportunities for collaboration.
● Coordinate efforts of federal agencies: A coordinated effort between federal agencies will allow those agencies to synergize their respective expertise and meet the distinct needs of farmers.

I appreciate the collection of statistics and the frontline stories that give a clear picture of what life is like for farmers in rural America. Each town, farm and person’s perspective may be different based on where they are, what they are doing and even season or time of day but it’s very likely that whatever they are experiencing is different that what folks in urban areas experience. Through examples, theygive some quick lessons on fixed-wireless (pg 9), middle mile (pg 11), cooperatives (pg 12), Starlink (pg 14) and more.

They even give a nice nod to what’s happening in Minnesota and Blandin’s role in the success…

Public and private leadership working in tandem in Minnesota
One of the earliest state grant programs, Minnesota’s Border-to[1]Border Broadband Development Grant Program, was created in 2014 to assist localities, private providers, nonprofits, and cooperatives in building out broadband infrastructure in Greater Minnesota. The program funds up to 50 percent of the cost of a last-mile or middle[1]mile broadband project, including planning, permitting, construction, and installation costs. Since its inception, Border-to-Border has connected more than 56,000 homes, businesses, and anchor institutions to broadband. The eventual goal of the program is universal, “border-to[1]border” broadband coverage across Minnesota. The state plans to achieve universal 25/3 Mbps coverage by the end of 2022 and universal 100/20 Mbps coverage by the end of 2026.

Working in tandem with state broadband efforts, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to building healthy, inclusive rural communities in Minnesota, has partnered with dozens of rural communities to help them get and use better broadband. Participating communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals and measure current levels of broadband access and use. They receive technical assistance and grant funding to implement projects that help close the digital divide and take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of a broadband-enabled economy.

Communities that have participated in the Blandin Broadband Communities program have earned themselves a seat at the table of broadband planning. Having done the work of assessing what they have, what they want, and what they are willing to contribute to a possible project, they have a voice in what broadband solution is “good enough” for their communities.

Nearly half of the network feasibility studies commissioned by Blandin community partners and funded by the foundation have been either fully or partially built. Participating communities have dramatically increased the presence of free, publicly available internet access in libraries, public parks, downtown areas, and township halls, and have distributed more than 2,300 refurbished computers to income[1]qualifying residents in participating rural communities across Minnesota. Communities also have implemented a variety of digital literacy programs for local residents and businesses. They have spurred more sophisticated use of technology through education, training, community events, learning circles, and innovative partnerships—a total of 292 projects that address community technology goals.
Local governments and other entities across the state have endorsed and adopted Minnesota’s Broadband Vision, first articulated at a 2015 Blandin Broadband conference: “Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.” This vision inspired the creation of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, which unites dozens of broadband champions from across the state to sustain broad, bipartisan support for Minnesota’s broadband grant program.
Blandin’s work in Minnesota illustrates the benefits of public and private leadership working in tandem. Investing in the capacity of communities to name and claim their own broadband vision helps to maximize public benefit from public investments such as state grant programs.

Is the digital divide sexist? Spoiler alert – yes!

The Alliance for Affordable Internet takes a look at the economic consequences of the digital gender gap noting that…

Men are 21% more likely to be online than women globally, rising to 52% in Least Developed Countries.

Here are their high level findings:

  • There is a substantial digital gender gap — and it’s not getting better. In the 32 countries we studied, just over a third of women were connected to the internet compared to almost half of men. Since 2011, the gender gap has only dropped half a percentage point, from 30.9% to 30.4%.
  • Countries have missed out on $1 trillion USD in GDP as a result of women’s exclusion from the digital world. In 2020, the loss to GDP was $126 billion USD.
  • This economic hit means billions in lost taxes that could be invested to improve education, health, and housing. This lost productivity translates to a missing $24 billion in tax revenues annually for these governments, based on current tax-to-GDP ratios
  • Governments are not adopting the policies they need to bridge the digital gender gap. Of all the policy areas covered by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) in its annual Affordability Drivers Index, gender consistently receives the lowest scores. In the 2020 Affordability Report, over 40% of countries studied had no meaningful policies or programs to expand women’s access to the internet.
  • Policymakers have a $500 billion+ economic opportunity. Closing the digital gender gap in these countries would deliver an estimated $524 billion increase in economic activity by 2025.

Here are some of the contributing factors:

  • Affordability
  • Device gaps
  • Wage gaps
  • Privacy/security
  • Cumulative effect
  • Literacy and skills

They offer a range of more inclusive policy recommendations (in image at right).

Initiative Foundation funds Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Satellite Broadband Study

St Cloud Times reports

The Initiative Foundation and its partner funds provided grants worth more than $314,000 during the second quarter of 2021, with a focus on childhood education.

One grant went for a broadband study…

Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures – Mille Lacs Tribal Economy Satellite Broadband Study: $6,670 goes toward a 12-month case study on broadband services and experiences among the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe districts.

I am looking forward to the results.