T-L Photo/JANELL HUNTER U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, speaks to a group of local officials at a roundtable discussion on expanding broadband access to rural areas on Tuesday at the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce. WOODSFIELD — Access to the internet is essential in today’s society and economy, and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson said he is taking the lead in Washington, D.C., to help improve broadband internet in rural areas. Johnson, R-Ohio, hosted a roundtable discussion on expanding broadband access and services in southeastern Ohio at the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce office on Tuesday. Representatives from local broadband providers, businesses, schools and government agencies participated.
Johnson spoke about the need for expanded internet across his district because of its importance for education, business, telehealth and communication in general.
“This is a big challenge for us. I’m taking the lead on the Telecom Subcommittee in the House of Representatives … to put together a plan to roll out broadband internet across the country.We’re going to start the process because there is a lot of work that has got to be done,” Johnson said. “If you want businesses to come in, you’ve got to have internet.”
Johnson said he and others on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology — part of the Energy and Commerce Committee — will be working closely with the Federal Communications Commission as well as with private internet providers and energy utilities on this effort.
“Since 1995, tens of billions have been spent on this effort to roll out broadband internet to rural parts of the country,” said Johnson. “We are starting a discussion with providers and utilities to see the need to bridge the rural-urban divide, and both are committed to resolving the problem. We’ve got to get the FCC on board and put rules and processes in place so that everybody knows the name of the game.”
He noted that a big challenge to broadband providers coming into rural areas is a fear that they will not have enough population choosing to purchase their services to mitigate cost of the infrastructure.
“How do you convince a provider to go the extra mile without any certainty that people will subscribe to your service? A provider must be able to get a return on their service,” Johnson said. B.J. Smith, director of external affairs for AT&T, said her company recently accepted “Connect America” funds from the federal government that will help provide rural customers with internet connectivity.
Locations for the funding were determined by the FCC using Census data to designate areas with the most need. The CAF was established by the FCC in 2011 to bring broadband to unserved Americans living in rural areas.
“There will be 34,000 homes and businesses that will receive that, and most are in Appalachian Ohio,” Smith said. Andy Malinoski of Frontier Communications said that in conjunction with the Connect America fund, Frontier has been able to invest $63 million in Ohio broadband over the past few years with capital expenditures, which raised the household internet speeds for 14,300 residents who were “CAF eligible.”
“Those are the folks Congressman Johnson was speaking about — those a carrier would not normally bill to because it’s not financially feasible,” Malinoski said. “It raised in total the household speeds for 51,000 people in Ohio over the past 18 months. … We are making progress, we are making investments.”
Gary Ricer, CEO of GMN Broadband, which also provides internet in the area, said his company has been a self-sustaining, nonprofit entity that started its first network in 2003. A program administered by Guernsey-Monroe-Noble Tri-County Community Action Commission, GMN Broadband helps provide broadband to people at a low cost by obtaining federal grants. The high-speed internet service uses fixed wireless access points located on eight towers throughout Monroe County.
“We provide service to 1,000 households now,” Ricer said.
Johnson said there is a “bright spot in Washington” now, with President Trump directing the need for four major infrastructure programs. These include urban programs that incentivize the local community to get involved and “have skin in the game” using matching funds, infrastructure projects utilizing new technology, low interest rate government loans for infrastructure, and a specific funding category for rural areas.
“The fourth category would affect this area and would provide help with water and sewer, roads and bridges, energy infrastructure and broadband access,” Johnson said. Much of the roundtable discussion revolved around the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant that may be built at Dilles Bottom and the need to have infrastructure ready for manufacturers and small businesses that would be “downstream” from the economic activity of the plant. Johnson emphasized the need for local government entities and businesses to have a plan and “get out in front” to prepare for economic opportunities.
“I encourage every economic development agency, every group of county commissioners, every county ought to have a strategic plan. You ought to know where your unserved and underserved areas are. Be ready to go with your strategic requests for infrastructure projects when the president releases that strategy and Congress rolls that out and funds it,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to tell you that the federal government and the American taxpayer is going to foot the bill for all this. There is going to be a public-private engagement in all this.
That’s the way America works.”
BELLAIRE — Bellaire police have arrested a suspect in a stabbing that occurred late Saturday in the …
(TNS) — The country’s “extraordinary progress” connecting schools to affordable high-speed internet continued last year, according to a new analysis from broadband-advocacy group EducationSuperHighway1.
All told, 94 percent of school districts in the country now meet the minimum federal connectivity target, the group wrote in its new report, “2017 State of the States: Fulfilling Our Promise to America’s Students.”
That means more than 39 million students and 74,000 U.S. schools now have access to internet speeds of at least 100 kilobits per second, per student. In addition, EducationSuperHighway found that 88 percent of schools now say they have sufficient classroom access to WiFi, up from just 25 percent in 2013. Still, though, finding affordable broadband remains a challenge for schools in some pockets of the country.
“We need to keep our foot on the accelerator,” said Evan Marwell, the group’s CEO. “I’m very confident we can connect the last 6.5 million kids.”
Back in 2013, then-President Barack Obama announced a five-year plan2 to bring high-speed school broadband to 99 percent of the country’s K-12 students. To support that goal, the Democrat-led Federal Communications Commission in 2014 overhauled the E-rate3, which helps schools and libraries pay for telecommunications services. Among the key changes: Expanding the program’s annual spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion, prioritizing broadband and WiFi, increasing price transparency, and enacting new rules designed to help rural districts get access to fiber-optic cable. Many experts characterize E-rate modernization as an overwhelming success.
“It sparked really important cooperation between schools, service providers, and policymakers,” said Reg Leichty, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Consortium for School Networking, the professional association for the nation’s school-technology officers.
According to the new EducationSuperHighway report, more than 35 million students have gained access to high-speed internet since 2013. Ninety-seven percent of schools are now connected to the internet via fiber. The price of bandwidth for schools has fallen dramatically, from $22 per megabit per second in 2013 to $4.90 in 2016.
And Marwell said districts like Oklahoma’s 1,100-student Perry public schools–which recently quintupled its bandwidth, for just $60 more per month–have benefitted greatly from the ability to see what similar school systems are paying for their internet access.
“Essentially, they call up their provider and say, ‘Hey, I see you are giving this other school district more bandwidth for the same money I’m spending. How come I can’t get that deal from you, too?’ ” Marwell said. “It’s just a matter of asking.”
The majority of districts that still lack high-speed internet access could meet federal connectivity targets if they took advantage of new price transparency rules to push telecoms for better deals, EducationSuperHighway argues.
Even with all its successes, some supporters of the E-rate remain jittery4 about key aspects of the program. Shortly after he took office in January, President Donald Trump appointed Republican Ajit Pai5 to chair the Federal Communications Commission. While Pai has voiced support for the overall goals of the E-rate, he joined fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly in voting against the 2014 modernization order. Some of Pai’s early steps as chairman have caused some concern6 in the K-12 community.
The biggest ongoing problem, some critics contend, is that the Pai-led FCC has been slow-walking the applications7 of hundreds of mostly rural districts looking to use the new E-rate rules to help fund construction of new high-speed fiber-optic networks. That’s a big deal because the internet connections in such districts have long been the most difficult to upgrade. The single-school Woodman, Mont., district, for example, is stuck paying $167 each month for just 1.5 Mbps amount of bandwidth, delivered over an old copper line.
In May, the district submitted to the FCC a proposal to use both E-rate dollars and state matching funds to pay for internet carrier CenturyLink to build a new network that would deliver 100 Mbps via fiber-optic cable. But the district’s proposal, like numerous others, is stalled, leaving the project in jeopardy.
“They have red tape wrapped around these projects, and there’s really been no meaningful movement,” said John Harrington, the CEO of Funds for Learning, a consulting firm that helps thousands of districts prepare their E-rate applications each year. A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.
Harrington said he suspects the problems are in part the typical growing pains that occur when a government agency must implement new rules, and in part a reflection of the new FCC seeking to avoid federal spending that might lead to “over-building” of fiber-optic networks. Another concern for E-rate advocates is that well over $2 billion in program funds set aside to help schools upgrade their WiFi networks remain untapped. Under the new E-rate rules, each district is eligible for up to $150 per student to help pay for equipment such as routers, switchers, and wireless access points.
But that money is only available until 2020. EducationSuperHighway estimates that 52 percent of school districts have yet to tap at least half of the funding they’re eligible for, and a quarter have not accessed any of the funding.
“First and foremost, it’s a lack of knowledge,” Marwell said. “There are a lot of districts that don’t know this money is available to them.”
He expressed concern that the money could go unspent–or that the new leadership at the FCC could decide to redirect the money to other purposes, or possibly even eliminate the funds earlier than 2020. After several months of working at less than full capacity, the FCC now has its full complement of five commissioners8, including three Republicans and two Democrats.
Chairman Pai must be reconfirmed for a new term by the U.S.
Senate sometime this fall.
(C)2017 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
- ^ EducationSuperHighway (www.educationsuperhighway.org)
- ^ announced a five-year plan (www.edweek.org)
- ^ overhauled the E-rate (www.edweek.org)
- ^ remain jittery (www.edweek.org)
- ^ appointed Republican Ajit Pai (blogs.edweek.org)
- ^ caused some concern (blogs.edweek.org)
- ^ slow-walking the applications (www.edweek.org)
- ^ full complement of five commissioners (blogs.edweek.org)