State Legislature Takes Significant Steps To Improve Broadband Service In State

Hawaii Public Radio
by CASEY HARLOW

Nearly 3,000 bills were proposed this past legislative session. But only a few hundred were passed by both the House and Senate last week. Among those that were approved, are measures that could improve the state’s broadband infrastructure.

The 2021 legislative session adjourned last week, ending a four-month period when state lawmakres considered thousands of proposals to address new and ongoing challenges in the islands. Some of the larger topics legislators had to contend with were the state budget in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, education, and economic recovery efforts.

But there were a couple of items that were approved, that could have a great impact on everyday life in the islands.

One is House Bill 1191, which could help improve internet service in the state.

It establishes the broadband and digital equity office at the department of business, economic development and tourism. This new office would be in charge of developing and implementing strategies to improve broadband service in the state — especially in rural areas that have limited or no internet connection.

The office would also oversee broadband infrastructure in schools throughout the state.

The measure also establishes a grant program to incentivize the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure in underserved or unserved areas.

“That was quite significant,” said state broadband strategy officer, and host of HPR’s Bytemarks Cafe, Burt Lum.

“I think it’s a recognition by the legislature that it’s important to have a central clearinghouse for all things broadband and digital equity.”

Another big step the legisltaure took is approving a line item in the state budget. It allocates $10 million, in mostly federal funds, to begin work on developing facilities to house transpacific fiber optic cables.

The state depends on these underwater cables to provide internet service. But the challenge is that it takes a lot of investment to build the facilities for them to land here.

Lum says although there is still a lot of capacity on the current cables, it’s always good to have more.

“With all the new technologies that leverage digital technologies — all the applications, all the big data, all the AI machine learning — that’s going to all need more data,” he said.

“What we need to build is, not only the ability to lower the barrier to allow transpacific fiber optic cable landings here, we also need to look at how do we build diverse routes and create rings that allow redundancy and resilience.”

Lum says creating facilities to host transpacific fiber optic cables are one part of improving the state’s broadband infrastructure. He says improving internet service in the islands are just as important.

“When you are looking at building brandband infrastructure, and you want to connect the islands, it’s not just to connect the islands. It’s to continue to close the gap between rural communitites and communities of need. And we look at the interest of things like distance learning, telework, telehealth, you need to have broadband connection.”

Both the state budget and HB 1191 were passed by the state House and Senate, and are being considered by Governor David Ige for final approval.

Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Affordable High-Speed Internet

Costal Curry Pilot

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Ron Wyden recently introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation that would expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. –

“In my town halls across Oregon, I’ve seen first-hand how reliable broadband can lift up rural towns. And I’ve seen how rural and lower-income communities without first-class infrastructure are being left behind,” Wyden said. “Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Clyburn’s legislation is a strong package that would ensure all Americans can depend on broadband for critical access to work, education, healthcare and everything else. I’m also pleased they included an additional $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit I helped craft, to keep working Americans online.”

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will invest over $94 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and ensure Americans have internet connectivity to learn and work from home, access telehealth services, and stay connected to loved ones.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act was introduced by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. Along with Wyden, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is cosponsored by Senators Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jacky Rosen, D-N.V., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Warner, D-Va., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. In the House, Majority Whip Clyburn was joined by members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, the Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Leadership Conference, Access Now, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“This pandemic has made clear that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have for everyone, everywhere,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting FCC Chairwoman. “Kudos to the Rural Broadband Task Force for recognizing this fundamental truth and developing a plan to connect us all. Working together we can solve the digital divide and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success.”

“The nation’s libraries – 117,000 strong – have long been an essential strand in our country’s digital safety net,” said Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., President of the American Library Association. “Every day libraries see the repercussions of a persistent digital divide and provide millions of Americans not only access to the internet, but also help develop the skills to navigate increasingly sophisticated online services and resources. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act tackles all sides of the digital divide: access, affordability, and adoption, and digital skills. The American Library Association looks forward to working with Rep. Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force to move forward the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.”

USDA Invests $42 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure to Improve Education and Health Outcome

U.S. Department Of Agriculture –

Investments Will Benefit 5 Million Rural Residents –

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities (PDF, 255 KB). Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires a historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”

A recent report (PDF, 214 KB) by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS – Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

Hawaiian Telcom receives FCC grant to expand high-speed internet coverage

West Hawaii Today

Hawaiian Telcom received a $24 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission to expand high-speed internet coverage throughout rural areas in the state.

Through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Hawaiian Telcom intends to expand its high-speed internet services to more than 8,000 locations in the state by the end of 2027, including several places on the Big Island.

Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman Ann Nishida Fry said the company is targeting sites all around the Big Island, including many communities in Puna and along the Hamakua Coast. The telecommunications company will reach out to customers when their locations are brought online.

The RDOF is a $20 billion project launched by the FCC last year to connect underserved areas with broadband internet.

A statement from Hawaiian Telcom indicates that it will provide rural areas access to 1 gigabit download speeds, which is 100 times faster than the average U.S. internet speeds, with 500 megabit upload speeds.

Fry added that the RDOF grant will not cover all of Hawaiian Telcom’s expansion costs, and the provider will be investing millions of its own funds as well.

The RDOF expansion is also separate from the Connect America Fund, a separate FCC project similarly expanding broadband services throughout the country. Fry said Hawaiian Telcom is midway through a six-year CAF project to enable service to more than 5,000 locations on the Big Island.

STAKEHOLDER ANNOUNCEMENT – USDA Seeks Applications for Loans and Grants to Support Rural Microenterprises

USDA Rural Development

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand today invited applications for loan and grants to support rural microenterprises.

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).

RMAP provides loans and grants to a non-profit entity, tribe or institution of higher education as a Microenterprise Development Organization (MDO) to establish revolving loan funds to provide loans to rural microloan borrowers and micro entrepreneurs, or to provide training and technical assistance to micro entrepreneurs. To be eligible for a loan from an MDO, an ultimate recipient must be a business with 10 or fewer full-time employees and be located in a non-metropolitan rural area with a population of 50,000 or less.

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB) to help improve life in rural America. Applications are being accepted in the Rural Development State Office where the project is located in either a paper or electronic format.

Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments. Key strategies include:
• Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America
• Developing the Rural Economy
• Harnessing Technological Innovation
• Supporting a Rural Workforce
• Improving Quality of Life

USDA Rural Development: A Portfolio with a Purpose Fiscal Year 2020 Funding

USDA Rural Development

Committed to growing the economy and preserving quality of life, USDA Rural Development (RD) is rural America’s steadfast partner in building prosperity. In Fiscal Year 2020, RD invested nearly $40 billion in more than 177,000 housing, business, and infrastructure projects in rural communities. The Agency invested more than $1.5 billion in telecommunication/e-connectivity loan and grant funding to support 2951 projects across the country. With a total loan portfolio of $234.4 billion, this Agency not only delivers affordable housing, access to capital for local businesses, and infrastructure in rural communities, it also creates opportunities for them to grow and attract high-quality jobs and commerce, because RD believes when rural America thrives, all America thrives.

Innovations connecting rural Nebraska

Good Job Senator Schatz for Reaching Across the Isle to get Rural Hawaii High Speed Internet Access!!!

Innovations connecting rural Nebraska

By Sen. Deb Fischer
The Grand Island Independent

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of connectivity. From virtual learning to telehealth, remaining connected is critical to keeping all communities — especially rural communities — safe, healthy, and in touch. A key component of achieving this connectivity is Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which uses embedded sensors in devices and everyday objects to enable the transmission of data between devices and to the internet.

Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have kept grocery store shelves stocked throughout this pandemic, and many have relied on IoT-based precision agriculture to increase yields, lower costs, and conserve resources. This includes using IoT technology to identify pests, crop diseases, and nutrient deficiencies in real-time, monitor soil condition and irrigation, and remotely control their equipment for more efficient data-driven insights. Nebraska agriculture is central to our state’s economy, with the industry contributing over $21 billion annually. Precision agriculture brings major benefits to our state’s economic engine.

There is an exciting partnership going on in Arnold that highlights exactly how this technology can benefit our state. Global company Paige Electric recently established Paige Wireless, based in Columbus. The company launched a pilot project of its low-power, wide-area network in Arnold in conjunction with other local organizations such as the Custer Public Power District, Great Plains Communications and its existing fiber network, as well as through a co-op with wireless internet service providers.

The co-op has brought great benefits to the community. It provides both residential and commercial internet service at speeds comparable to service in urban areas of the state. The network also supports the community through precision ag connectivity. For example, the Smith Farm outside of Arnold had traditional DSL internet in their home, but were unable to connect at the barn—their place of business. Through the co-op’s network, the farm now has access to “walk around WIFI” at their barn that enables real-time data management such as video analytics to test for crop nutrient deficiencies. Further, Arnold Public Schools have been able to expand career exploration activities for students using cropland-focused network technology. In another example, the Twin Platte Natural Resources Department formed a public-private partnership with Paige to deploy 350 sensors across the district, allowing producers to track water supply in real-time.

These are exciting developments, and they highlight why I have long been an advocate for using IoT technology to increase rural connectivity. This January, the Senate passed the DIGIT Act, bipartisan legislation I introduced along with Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill would create a working group of experts, including agriculture stakeholders, to provide recommendations to Congress on how to facilitate the development of IoT technology and maximize deployment of the technology within the United States. I look forward to this legislation passing the House and making its way to President Trump’s desk.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity in our lives, Nebraska is serving as a role model for other states when it comes to forging innovative public-private communications and technology partnerships. I will continue to be a voice for Nebraska and work to make sure that all of our communities have the connectivity they need.

Deb Fischer

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., serves as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Commerce Committee.