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States, Feds See High-Speed Data Infrastructure Key to Economic Growth

March 10, 2016

This week, the White House announced the ConnectAll Initiative, an effort to reform federal communications programs to focus on bringing more Americans online. The focus of this effort will be on lower-income families who often lack access to affordable service and the devices to make use of them. Under the proposed plan, low-income families could be eligible for a monthly broadband subsidy. Getting more people online is vital to the future of the American economy and to shared prosperity, according to the report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in tandem with the White House announcement. Seeing the potential economic benefits, a number of states, including New York and Alabama, have recently made their own investments in Internet accessibility.

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) is taking a number of actions in support of the broadband accessibility push. NTIA is supporting a realignment of the FCC Lifeline program to offer subsidies for Internet access in low-income households. The Lifeline program was launched in the 1980s to provide financial assistance for telephone services in underserved areas. The program was later expanded to support mobile access. Under the proposed changes, household currently using the program would also receive broadband-related assistance.

Second, NTIA is partnering with civic organizations and governments across the country to design a new comprehensive broadband assessment tool. The tool would allow community leaders to identify critical broadband needs, and connect users with the resources and expertise to address local challenges. The Community Connectivity Initiative will help communities develop effective strategic plans to bring more people online.

New York is now accepting applications for the $500 million first phase of its effort to provide universal broadband access by the end of 2018. The New NY Broadband Program uses bank settlement funds to incentivize private sector expansion into underserved areas of the state. Program awards will be given through a “reverse auction” system in each of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council areas, with funding going to the bidder that provides the largest connectivity return on the lowest level of state investment. Priority is given for projects focused on the least-served regions, libraries and schools. A 50 percent match is required from private sources.

Earlier this year, state officials approved a merger between Time-Warner Cable and Charter Communications, that entailed a number of stipulations related to broadband access. Under the terms of the state decision, Charter Communications is required to expand its service to underserved homes, with speed minimums that would make 100 Mbps speed available to most households. New pricing tiers would be established for low-income households, while maximum speeds would grow to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019. Read more…

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley recently announced the first phase of a new plan to expand high-speed data services into every part of the state, beginning with school districts. The governor launched the state’s new broadband office last year, which helped create the plan to deploy new fiber optic networks. The state will now contribute to efforts by schools and libraries to build out their own fiber networks, thereby avoiding objections to state funded Internet services. The program makes use of the FCC’s E-rate Modernization Order and federal funds. Watch the announcement…