BBWN Bites: House divided on municipal broadband
Also in this roundup: Atlantic Broadband gets a $4.2 million grant from Virginia; Alabama passes broadband bill; BT launches service for low-income households; Eutelsat and Facebook to expand broadband in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- President Biden's broadband proposal was up for debate at a congressional hearing on Thursday, hosted by the US House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, with Republicans and Democrats demonstrating a clear partisan divide on the issue of municipal broadband. While Biden's plan includes allowing municipalities to build out broadband networks, Republican members on the panel expressed dismay at the idea, arguing that these networks are costly and inefficient with a track record for failure. Rather, they said, private ISPs should be incentivized to close the digital divide. "The Biden-esque $100 billion plan that's being proposed just doesn't work and there's numerous examples where these Biden-esque plans have failed," said Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC).
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) disputed that claim: "On this issue of municipal networks not working, you know what? I could list all the ISPs that have failed. It would be a much longer list," she said.
Democratic members of the committee overall spoke in favor of municipalities being able to build out networks. As did panelist Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, saying that municipal networks "offer some of the fastest speed and highest quality connectivity" and are known for "transparent pricing symmetrical tier service, and maintaining affordability programs for low-income residents that are not voluntary."
Further, she said, communities deserve a voice in what kind of networks they need. "Quite simply, we know that the current model is not getting to every household in our communities," said Ochillo. "So we think that it's really important ... for communities to actually be able to have choice to determine their own broadband future." (See Podcast: The Divide – Next Century Cities' Francella Ochillo on documenting local perspectives in broadband policy.)
- Atlantic Broadband has received a $4.2 million grant through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to extend its network in rural Virginia, reaching 1,200 more homes and businesses in the counties of Caroline, Mathews, Lancaster and Middlesex. In addition to funding from the state program, the four counties will contribute a combined $1.5 million; and Atlantic Broadband will commit $1.5 million as well. In a press release, Atlantic Broadband said it will begin conducting a survey of addresses, footage measurements and easement activities in each county while the VATI contract is being formalized and will announce construction and activation dates once these preliminary steps are finished. The full project is expected to take 18 months to complete.
- The Alabama state senate passed the Connect Alabama Act on Thursday with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. According to the Alabama Political Reporter, the bill will create the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA) to oversee broadband expansion and availability; develop and execute a statewide plan; and establish and distribute a "broadband accessibility grant program" to promote deployment and adoption efforts. Alabama ranks 38th in the US for broadband availability, according to Broadband Now, with an estimated 475,000 people who do not have access to 25 Mbit/s service, 226,000 residents with no wired Internet options, and 632,000 with access to just one ISP.
- BT announced this week that it will launch a Home Essentials plan for eligible customers to receive average download speeds of 36 Mbit/s for £15 a month. BT estimates this will save customers £240 a year "compared to an equivalent package." Eligible customers also have the option of subscribing to average speeds of 67 Mbit/s for £20 per month. The plan is available to those who participate in the UK government's Universal Credit program or receive "other means-tested benefits." BT's Home Essentials plan will become available in June.
- Eutelsat will provide satellite broadband across several regions in Sub-Saharan Africa with the help of Facebook's Express Wi-Fi platform. "With Express Wi-Fi, Eutelsat aims to connect thousands of people in rural and underserved communities spanning Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana and Zimbabwe," said Eutelsat in a press release today. This latest partnership is an expansion on a prior pilot effort to bring broadband to rural and underserved areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Eutelsat says it is now serving "thousands of individuals." Facebook's Express Wi-Fi is currently active in Africa, Asia and South America.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading