Should we change the definition of rural?

Fierce Telecom reports…

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small warned changing the definition of what counts as “rural” broadband could negatively impact programs like the agency’s ReConnect initiative, resulting in a greater disparity between available funding and requests than already exists today.

The comments from Torres Small came during a Congressional hearing on Thursday in response to a call from Congressman Jimmy Panetta for the federal government to adopt a single definition of the word. He noted the federal government currently has more than a dozen different definitions for what counts as rural, and pressed for unification around a single, more inclusive standard.

“The complexity of those definitions can lead to wasted time for our local leaders who are seeking…funds for these types of programs,” Panetta said, noting eligibility for ReConnect and other funding sources is based on whether or not an area is considered rural.

One issue is that rural, suburban and urban are all subjective and comparative. And populations change. The hope often is that broadband will encourage population and commercial growth for an area.

Digital Divide Index show readiness for impacts of COVID quarantines: Most MN counties ready but not all

Back in 2017, Roberto Gallardo was one of the keynote speaker at a Minnesota Broadband conference. He found a way to formulate a Digital Divide Index for each county in Minnesota based on a range of data point especially organized in two categories broadband adoption/infrastructure and socioeconomic factors. He’s done it again looking at county-level data across the United States. The map below will give you an idea of how Minnesota compares. (The brighter the color, the brighter the digital equity outlook.)

We can also see a marked urban/rural divide as he points out…

These groups were then utilized to analyze a host of other variables to better understand this issue. Figure 1 shows a map of U.S. counties by DDI groups. Of the 1,031 counties with a low digital divide, 747 or 72% were considered urban (population living in urban areas 2 was more than 50%). On the other hand, of the 1,063 counties with a high digital divide, only 187 or 17.5% were urban.

Roberto looks at a number of aspects that touch on the digital divide; one that struck me was workforce situations – especially given that the data used was from 2020. It really highlights the divide between those who were ready, willing and able to work online during the early stage of the pandemic and those who weren’t.

Digital divide may not be the only issue in these areas but it’s definitely an exacerbating factor…

The digital divide is holding back counties from participating fully in the digital economy. Again, it is not clear if this would have been the case regardless of the digital divide, but nonetheless it is placing communities at a disadvantage. As shown, counties with a high digital divide lost jobs between 2010 and 2020 while counties with a low digital divide saw an 11 percent increase. Likewise, the share of occupations requiring high digital skills was larger in counties with a low digital divide. Lastly, microbusiness density and activity were also lower in counties with a high digital divide. However, regarding microbusiness activity, the issue seems to be more about sophisticated online presence rather than infrastructure and number of businesses online.

Wondering how your county did – check the list below. Only two counties were in the danger area: Aitkin and Mahnomen. Looking at how they rank in terms of access, Aitkin 79 and Mahnomen is 61.

Name  
Aitkin County High
Anoka County Low
Becker County Low
Beltrami County Low
Benton County Low
Big Stone County Moderate
Blue Earth County Low
Brown County Low
Carlton County Moderate
Carver County Low
Cass County Moderate
Chippewa County Moderate
Chisago County Low
Clay County Low
Clearwater County Moderate
Cook County Moderate
Cottonwood County Moderate
Crow Wing County Low
Dakota County Low
Dodge County Low
Douglas County Low
Faribault County Moderate
Fillmore County Low
Freeborn County Moderate
Goodhue County Low
Grant County Moderate
Hennepin County Low
Houston County Low
Hubbard County Low
Isanti County Low
Itasca County Moderate
Jackson County Low
Kanabec County Moderate
Kandiyohi County Low
Kittson County Moderate
Koochiching County Moderate
Lac qui Parle County Moderate
Lake County Moderate
Lake of the Woods County Moderate
Le Sueur County Low
Lincoln County Moderate
Lyon County Low
Mahnomen County High
Marshall County Moderate
Martin County Moderate
McLeod County Low
Meeker County Low
Mille Lacs County Moderate
Morrison County Moderate
Mower County Moderate
Murray County Moderate
Nicollet County Low
Nobles County Moderate
Norman County Moderate
Olmsted County Low
Otter Tail County Moderate
Pennington County Low
Pine County Moderate
Pipestone County Moderate
Polk County Low
Pope County Moderate
Ramsey County Low
Red Lake County Moderate
Redwood County Moderate
Renville County Moderate
Rice County Low
Rock County Low
Roseau County Low
Scott County Low
Sherburne County Low
Sibley County Low
St. Louis County Moderate
Stearns County Low
Steele County Low
Stevens County Low
Swift County Moderate
Todd County Moderate
Traverse County Moderate
Wabasha County Low
Wadena County Moderate
Waseca County Low
Washington County Low
Watonwan County Moderate
Wilkin County Moderate
Winona County Low
Wright County Low
Yellow Medicine County Moderate

RESOURCE: Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society shares…

This week, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society released a new guidebook for communities that want to create their own broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area.

Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program a collaboration of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and Blandin Foundation. Blandin originally designed the Accelerate Program for Minnesota, creating many of the tools shared in this guidebook. The Benton Institute is implementing the Accelerate Program in Illinois and other states with the support of Heartland Forward and its Connecting the Heartland initiative.

Guidebook author Bill Coleman provides an intro to the publication at https://www.benton.org/blog/helping-communities-prepare-broadband-opportunity

Find the new publication at https://www.benton.org/publications/Accelerate

The FCC looks at increasing broadband speed goals for rural fund areas

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to seek comment on a proposal to provide additional universal service support to certain rural carriers in exchange for increasing deployment to more locations at higher speeds.  The proposal would make changes to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program, with the goal of achieving widespread deployment of faster 100/20 Mbps broadband service throughout the rural areas served by rural carriers currently receiving A-CAM support.

The ACAM Broadband Coalition submitted a proposal to create an Enhanced A-CAM program, which is the impetus for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted today.  Enhanced A-CAM, as proposed, would raise the broadband speeds required by the A-CAM programs to those generally required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, while minimizing duplicative support across different federal broadband programs.  The Notice also proposes targeted modifications to the high-cost program rules to improve efficiency and efficacy in the program, including further streamlining of the annual reporting rules.

The Notice seeks comment on whether and how the Commission could:

 

  • Offer additional A-CAM support in exchange for increased broadband deployment obligations to additional locations and at higher speeds under an Enhanced A-CAM program.
  • Use the new Broadband DATA Act maps to determine any new deployment obligations.
  • Calculate support for an Enhanced A-CAM program, including whether the existing A-CAM framework continues to be appropriate.
  • Align specific proposals with Congressional intent, as well as programs at other agencies.
  • Improve the administration of the high-cost program and better safeguard the Universal Service Fund.

FCC decides not to cut USF support

Fierce Telecom reports…

Rural broadband providers breathed a sigh of relief this week, after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would waive steep cuts to Universal Service Fund (USF) support which were set to take effect in July.

In an order formalizing the waiver, the FCC said it determined “current circumstances pose significant burdens on legacy carriers, which would be exacerbated should there be a significant reduction in support, at a time when they are facing insufficient cash flow and increased expenses.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement pointed specifically to inflation as a key source of pressure for small, rural operators. “The dollars they need to extend their networks and connect Americans are not going nearly as far today as they did a short while ago. So, today’s decision makes eminent sense,” he said.

The cuts in question would have reduced the support rural operators receive from two USF programs: Connect America Fund Broadband Loop Support and High Cost Loop Support. Both are subject to a budget control mechanism implemented in 2016 which is designed to systematically lower the monthly per-line subsidy operators receive over the course of several years.

Farmers Bureau looks at broadband as a necessity, not a luxury

American Farm Bureau Federation  has a chat that focuses on rural broadband being a necessity, not a luxury. Here’s their high level description…

The American Connection Project’s goal is to bridge the rural digital divide. We discuss the importance of broadband access to rural America and the vital role it plays in supporting and sustaining those communities around the country with Patrick Garry, an American Connection Corps Fellow, and Bruce Tiffany, a Minnesota Farmer and Lead for Minnesota Board Member.

They talk about role of broadband in maintaining safety and stability especially on farms.

Community Conversation in Chisago County with Ben Winchester

Last week I attended a great session in Lindstrom Minnesota (Chicago County) where Ben Winchester was keynote. Here’s the official description of the event …

MN rural sociologist Ben Winchester presents his “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” keynote speech at Chisago Lakes Performing Arts Center in Lindstrom, MN. Prefaced by Chisago Lakes Chamber Exec Director Katie Malchow and her description of local Blandin Foundation grant programs, Ben leads the audience through a fascinating dose of rural reality, unveiling all the media and anecdotal misinformation that gives rural Minnesota a bad rap. Speech followed by a panel discussion with 3 local newcomers and what it’s like to move out to the Chisago Lakes area. Video by Jack Doepke, Chisago Lakes Public TV.

[at the speaker’s request, this video may be taken down in 30 days – so late April 2022]

Ben is always an engaging speaker. He has more statistics than Carter’s got pills, he’s on the frontlines and he is able to make connections clear. His mission last week seemed to be to remind attendees that rural areas are not dying. As he said, how can rural areas be dying and yet, it’s so hard to find a house to buy in a small town?

The rural/urban/suburban population numbers get skewed because once a town grows too much – it slips into a new category. So the biggish small town suddenly becomes suburban or metro.

Rural folks have to help change the narrative that rural is dying. Recognize that your town isn’t in the middle or nowhere – especially with broadband – you’re suddenly in the middle of everywhere. On tactic is to think regionally, not hyper-locally. Your hometown may include you’re the towns of your home, school, work and hobbies.

Ben’s talk is inspiration and it’s fun to hear from the panel of transplants to Chisago County too.

From no telehealth visits to 3,500 per day within weeks at Essentia (Baxter MN)

Duluth News Tribune reports on telehealth at local at Essentia in Baxter…

Prior to March 2020, Essentia reported it had never conducted a virtual visit. But in a robust response to the pandemic, the health care provider was performing more than 3,500 per day within weeks. Two years later, they had about 645,000 telehealth visits.

The article goes on to give a nice glimpse of what that looks like for different patients. For folks with substance use disorders, depression and anxiety…

Staff at Essentia Health’s clinic in Baxter, Minnesota, said they were initially working with their technology services to add telehealth for patients who had substance use disorders, depression and anxiety. The goal was to disrupt their lives as little as possible while working with them to improve their health and their lives.

Then the pandemic hit and those telehealth visits expanded exponentially as a way to reduce exposure to the virus. The Baxter facility went from two rooms for virtual visits to six in the family practice clinic. Patients across the board are able to schedule virtual visits, or video appointments, and speak directly to their doctor using computers, tablets or smartphones.

For Nutritionists …

Nutritionists could see what people had to work with at home. Those who were working from home, with children at home or other family to care for, could still connect for a needed appointment. Older residents didn’t have to make the trip or feel they had to find someone to take them to an appointment. Those who may have had trouble getting time off from work could still do a check-in and consult with their primary care provider.

Senator Smith Introduces Bill to Increase Rural Broadband Access

Fox21 reports

Minnesota Senator Tina Smith is continuing her push to make high speed internet access available to everyone.

She joined three other Senators in introducing a bipartisan bill this month that would focus Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program funds to communities in greatest need to establish broadband services.

“The federal government is investing billions of dollars in expanding broadband,” says Senator Smith.  “Working with local communities and local telecoms, and we want to make sure that those dollars are being coordinated and getting out where they need to go as best as possible.  And honestly that is not happening right now.  This is something we have to work on, and that’s a big part of what I want to get accomplished.”

Smith says thousands across the state would see an improvement to their everyday lives, allowing them to work and attend school from home, and compares this effort to rural electrification done a century ago.

“We said every American needs to be able to turn the lights on and have electric power,” says Senator Smith, “and the same is true today when it comes to broadband access.”

The bill also focuses on preventing federal funds from overbuilding the broadband network as new lines and hotspots are established.

Broadband funding makes MinnPost top rural issues list

MinnPost reports

Looking back, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most memorable developments in Greater Minnesota in 2021.

Broadband makes the list…

3. Cash came rolling in for child care and broadband

Between state COVID-19 relief money, the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan stimulus package and a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden, a lot of government money has flowed this year to help with issues caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for things like hospital capacity and rent assistance.
While many things critical to Greater Minnesota have received money over the last year, broadband infrastructure and child care are among two of the more important. Minnesota stands to get at least $170 million for subsidizing construction of broadband infrastructure from Minnesota’s share of the ARP and the federal infrastructure bill. That would be more money than the state spent since 2014 in its own broadband grant program. The state could potentially be in line for $280 million or more for high-speed internet.

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…

When your grandma lives in a rural community and the power goes out

Some of you will know this story – or one very similar well – if you do, you should take a minute to tell your story to someone who can make a difference. Like your local representative, senator or county commissioner. This story is a wake-up or reminder for folks who don’t spend time in rural areas or worrying about loved ones in rural areas.

My friend’s grandma lives in rural Wisconsin. For folks outside of the Midwest – we’ve had had some weather this week: 50+ degrees on Wednesday (in MN in December!), 12 degrees the next morning with a couple of tornadoes in between. So grandma’s power is out. And so is her phone. I point out that if she has DSL that the phone needs electricity and won’t work. (We want to make sure it’s a tech issue not a billing issue.) The provider is a telephone company. So I figure it’s DSL. Nope, actually grandma doesn’t have internet access at all.

The power is back on, according to the electric company but my friend still can’t get through by phone. Only getting the busy signal. My friend will spend the day trying to get some tech out there or seeing if she can reach a neighbor or calling a high school friend to check on her grandma.

I suggested that maybe grandma should get a prepaid cell phone (burner phone) for Christmas. Well, that won’t work because there’s no cell coverage where she lives.

That’s a glimpse of communications – broadband, internet, phone, whatever – as lifeline. Something I forget from my home in St Paul. Something I hope we all remember when we’re spending down the federal dollars for infrastructure – let’s invest in these areas and invest in a way that doesn’t leave grandmas a generation behind the times in five to ten years and something that doesn’t leave grandmas out in the cold when the weather gets bad.

USDA specific funds for Tribal and Rural communities

Public Knowledge reports

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced more than $1 billion in funding to promote meaningful broadband access in rural, Tribal, and socially vulnerable communities. This program has the potential to deliver robust, affordable broadband to rural and Tribal communities that is essential to their civic, economic, and educational livelihoods. The program will offer eligible recipients a mix of grants, grants and loans combined, and just loans to deploy truly robust broadband networks (capable of 100/100 Mbps upload/download broadband speeds) to eligible communities. Much of what is in the ReConnect program is consistent with Public Knowledge’s advocacy on the infrastructure bill pending before Congress, so we are excited to see the USDA’s RUS step up to deliver meaningful broadband access to rural and tribal communities.

What do we love about this program? There is a lot to love here. Specifically, in order to ensure that our most vulnerable communities, including Tribal areas, are able to benefit from this opportunity, the RUS has set aside $350 million in grant funding for Tribal governments and “socially vulnerable communities” to build 100/100 Mbps networks to their communities.

The scoring is particularly interesting…

Moreover, Public Knowledge is very excited about the evaluation criteria that will be used to award funding. Projects will be ranked and awarded funding based on criteria that includes points for addressing affordability (20 points), serving higher poverty areas (20 points), committing to net neutrality (10 points), and offering wholesale broadband service (10 points).

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.

Should content providers chip in for broadband networks?

GNC reports on a report from Roslyn Layton on getting content providers to help chip in for broadband networks…

Roslyn Layton, a vice president at Strand Consult, researched four rural broadband providers and found that 75% of downstream network traffic comes from five companies: Amazon Prime, Disney+/Hulu, Microsoft Xbox, Netflix and YouTube, according to her report, “Middle Mile Economics: How streaming video entertainment undermines the business model for broadband.” The traffic from those companies drives about 90% of the net new network costs for the four rural providers.

The remaining 25% of traffic is what she terms “socially valuable” because it comes from sources such as government entities, public safety, education, health care and news sources. They account for about 10% of the network costs.

The author offers some options…

In the paper Layton presents several policy solutions. “The easiest things to do would be for the streamers to recognize that they have to contribute,” Layton said. Fees would be based on agreed thresholds and could reflect periods of peak usage — a tactic she likened to the postage Netflix used to pay to the U.S. Postal Service for mailing DVDs.

Another way to go about this is to incorporate the streaming companies into FCC’s Universal Service Fund by levying a tax on them. Created by the Communications Act of 1934 and expanded by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to include the internet, the fund seeks to ensure that everyone has access to communications, which is paid for by contributions from telecommunications providers – a percentage of their end-user revenues. Or, Layton said, FCC could calculate an amount that internet companies must pay per terabyte of data they send into the middle mile.

Another solution is to charge end users. The problem with that, she said, is that two-third of Americans who subscribe to the internet are watching movies, but one-third isn’t, so those who aren’t streaming entertainment end up paying more for services than they should. “It’s a little bit unfair,” Layton said.

A final option is taxes. The report cites a December 2020 proposal from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society that suggests using federal and state funding to build government-owned networks that are leased to private providers under the term “Open Access Middle Mile.”