Last week we talked about broadband as infrastructure, now we’ll look at how one might facilitate broadband infrastructure.
Around the US, States and Municipalities are trying to take broadband infrastructure matters into their own hands. Alabama and others are looking at tax incentives for providers to construct infrastructure to the least served areas. Other states like Maine offer matching grants for qualifying broadband infrastructure projects. Several states, including Massachusetts, have used federal matching funds to construct dark fiber networks for providers to access in order to facilitate rural broadband infrastructure.
At the local level, several towns, Leverett, MA, Chattanooga, TE, and dozens of other US municipalities have constructed town-wide fiber to the premise (FTTP) networks. While this is one way to approach the challenge, not all towns can assemble the resources to build and operate their own networks without employing some kind of public-private partnership. Further complicating the issue is the fact that many states have existing law that precludes municipalities from using public funds in public-private partnerships.
Maine, like most rural areas of the country, lacks the connectivity needed for today’s fast-paced, and ever-growing Internet of things economy. Maine and other states with large expanses of sparsely populated rural areas face a difficult challenge as private companies have a tough time making a business case to build in rural areas due to low return on investment.
Ten years ago, Maine recognized this problem and created the ConnectME Authority to help companies and communities bring fast, reliable broadband to unserved parts of this state. But, with very little funding (about $1 million a year) progress has been slow and not keep pace with the ever-increasing demand of an Internet-dependent economy.
Four years ago the Maine Broadband Coalition was founded to provide communities, small ISPs, individuals, small businesses and local telephone companies a stronger voice toward the expansion of functional broadband in Maine. The Coalition worked with the ConnectME Authority to establish Community Planning Grants to assist municipalities in assessing existing broadband infrastructure, and more importantly, to establish goals and plans for expanding that infrastructure to meet the needs of the community.
What is the federal government doing about broadband infrastructure?
The establishment of the Universal Service Fund (USF) has been assisting with communication challenges since its inception. The surcharge levied to telephone subscribers has been distributed as subsidies to rural phone companies to offset the high cost of delivering telephone service. Recently, a change to the USF has allowed providers to subscribe to an alternate model, the Alternate Connect America Model (ACAM) that subsidizes rural broadband infrastructure. OTELCO, for example, is taking advantage of ACAM funding and is required, over a 10 year period, to connect 13,285 locations with FTTP. That sounds great until you consider that it represents 14% of current subscribers.
Obviously, There’s More That Needs To Happen
Many rural communities in Maine and around the country are taking things into their own hands. Next week, we’ll tell you about some of them. In the meantime, OTELCO is proud to be a sponsor of the Maine Broadband Coalition Conference hosted by the Island Institute on May 31. This is a great opportunity to learn about how other communities and organizations are working to facilitate the deployment of broadband infrastructure.