Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to propose a 62 percent increase in the amount of money the agency spends annually to wire schools and libraries with high-speed Internet connections, Edward Wyatt reports for The New York Times. The move would increase the FCC's annual cap on spending for school Internet from $1.5 billion to $3.9 billion. (NYT photo by Mark Holm: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler)
The move would most benefit rural areas, where "seven in 10 rural districts say none of their schools can meet high-speed Internet connectivity targets today," Wyatt writes. "Schools in affluent areas are three times more likely to meet speed targets as those in low-income areas, the FCC says."
"Libraries need upgrades too, and in low-income and rural areas, they are important because they often provide the only available Internet connection for many people," Wyatt writes. "Yet half of all public libraries report connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second. Mr. Wheeler has said 25 megabits per second should be considered “table stakes” in 21st-century communications."
"The new spending would lead to an increase of roughly 16 percent in the monthly fee on consumers’ phone bills," Wyatt writes. "The fee is used to finance the Universal Service Fund, an $8.7 billion effort that provides phone and broadband connections for low-income populations, rural areas, and schools and libraries."
"FCC officials say consumers would pay less than $2 a year in additional fees per phone line, or less than $6 extra per household, on average; currently the average household pays about $36 a year," Wyatt writes. "But the amount an individual household pays can vary widely, with fees assessed on both home and mobile service. Businesses pay into the program as well." (Read more)
Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 11/18/2014
Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers announce agreement on network throughout Kentucky to improve broadband access in mountains first
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A new public-private partnership will develop a robust, reliable, fiber “backbone” infrastructure to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to every corner of the Commonwealth – with the critical first components scheduled to be operational in less than two years.
Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced the partnership with Macquarie Capital today.
“We are on an aggressive timeline and believe that the Macquarie team’s technical capabilities and history of innovative solutions are the best fit for this important project,” said Gov. Beshear. “Kentucky’s Internet speed and accessibility have lagged behind the rest of the nation far too long. This partnership puts us on the path to propel the Commonwealth forward in education, economic development, health care, public safety and much more.”
This infrastructure project is unlike any other seen in Kentucky in the last 50 years. Broadband, now considered an essential utility service, will improve Kentucky’s dismal connectivity and slow speeds to some of the fastest and highest capacity service in the U.S. – all with the potential to lower consumer costs and improve coverage as well.
Just as important, this project will be paid for up front by leveraging private capital at no additional cost to Kentucky taxpayers.
“If we were to rely solely on state government funding to get this project off the ground, it would take years, if not decades. Those kinds of tax dollars just aren’t available,” said Gov. Beshear. “In this technology-dependent economy, we can’t afford to wait another minute. That’s why this partnership is so valuable – it ramps up this project to the speed of the private sector without any additional burden on our taxpayers.”
The first stage of the project is to build the main broadband fiber lines across the state. These major fiber lines are called the “middle mile.” The “open access” network will allow the private sector to use the fiber to deliver services into communities. Once complete, other Internet service provider companies, cities, partnerships, or other groups may then tap into those “middle mile” lines to complete the “last mile” – the lines that run to individual homes or businesses.
Where already in place, the project will take advantage of existing infrastructure, thus partnering with local telecommunications companies, municipalities and major carriers to deliver the network more quickly and reduce construction costs.
Improved cell phone coverage is anticipated as part of the initiative. Cell phone companies may choose to use the state’s “middle-mile” fiber network to add capacity and broaden coverage areas throughout the Commonwealth that have traditionally had poor cell phone reception.
When completed, the more than 3,000 miles of fiber will be in place across the state. This “middle-mile” fiber infrastructure is key to reaching much of Kentucky’s large rural population. Fiber will be available in all 120 counties, and the underserved eastern Kentucky region will be the first priority area for the project. The Center for Rural Development in Somerset will partner with the Commonwealth, focusing on communities east of Interstate 75. The Center will also host education workshops to help communities learn how to connect to the new network.
The push for reliable, accessible high-speed broadband is one recommendation that emerged from SOAR, the “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” initiative.
“We’re laying the first bricks for what could be ‘Silicon Holler.’ This new Super I-Way is the cornerstone of SOAR’s mission to diversify the economy in eastern Kentucky with improvements in business recruitment, fast-tracking telemedicine in the mountains, and adding high tech advancements in education,” said Congressman Rogers. “I commend all of our federal, state and local partners for working together on this project that will undoubtedly chart the course for a better future in the coalfields and across the Commonwealth.”
Over the past several months the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Center for Rural Development, released the request for proposal solicitation and negotiated with private sector vendors including Macquarie Capital.
Statewide fiber layout map
Macquarie Capital has assembled a team of market-leading specialists to design, develop and operate the network over the next 30 years. While the private sector partners will bear developmental and operational risks of the project, the Commonwealth will retain ownership of the network.
Macquarie will begin work immediately on phase one to design the overall statewide system and determine the project’s scale. The design and cost estimates are due by the end of February 2015 with construction of the first segments expected to begin in the summer and completed by April 2016. The total cost of the project will depend upon the ability to leverage existing infrastructure versus deploying new routes, which will be determined during the design phase. Overall, the project is estimated to cost between $250 million to $350 million, and will be supported by approximately $30 million in state bonds and $15 to $20 million in federal grants.
Work along I-75 from northern Kentucky to Williamsburg will form the “spine” of the network, with work in the priority region of southeastern Kentucky occurring simultaneously. More than 100 key facilities will be connected, including universities, state government buildings and community and technical colleges.
The initiative will be a partnership of government at all levels and the private sector. The public-private partnership – often referred to as a P3 – allows the state to leverage resources to fill service gaps. In this case, private capital will be used to build the network at no additional cost to Kentucky taxpayers. This project likely would never be undertaken with traditional state financing methods.
The state chose to use a P3 for several reasons. The P3 model is well-established and enables projects to be completed on an accelerated timetable while transferring risk to the private sector partners. These partners also bring expertise, innovation and flexibility to the project. Bringing private sector investment to build the network significantly decreases the time needed for design and construction, making broadband access available sooner for families and businesses. Finally, with the state’s oversight of the main broadband lines, consumer costs may be lowered by eliminating the need for private providers to build duplicate network infrastructure; that means Internet service providers can instead invest in cell phone service or “last-mile” service.
“Macquarie Capital and its partners are extremely excited about the opportunity to develop this network under the public-private partnership model, bringing together a team of market leading specialists focused on implementing the network as quickly as possible,” said Nick Hann, senior managing director at Macquarie Capital. “We believe that this project will be the centerpiece of Kentucky’s long-term economic infrastructure, demonstrating the core principles of value for money and risk transfer to the private sector that will translate into a successful long-term partnership with the Commonwealth.”
Macquarie’s consortium partners include First Solutions, Fujitsu Network Communications Inc., Black & Veatch, and Bowlin Group.
In today’s economy, high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury, but is as essential to a community as water or electricity.
A modern, high-capacity fiber infrastructure allows businesses to compete globally, educators to expand their use of rich teaching resources, students to access the knowledge of the world, health care entities to collaborate and first responders to communicate easily in emergency situations.
The project scope is similar to building other public utilities. Consider the broadband fiber lines to be like the main water lines in a community. The largest water lines are built in central community areas, and then smaller lines branch off the main line. Finally, someone connects the street line to an individual home or business. The broadband project will act in much the same way. The first phase of the project is to build the main broadband fiber lines across the state, then construct branches off the main line to deliver into communities. These major fiber lines are the “middle mile,” and other Internet service provider companies, cities, partnerships, or other groups may then tap into those lines to complete the “last mile” – the lines that run to individual homes or businesses.
The project will leverage state government’s existing Internet networks to build a kind of high-speed delivery line throughout the state.
One of the most important features is that the network will be truly “open access,” meaning many other Internet and cell phone service providers can lease portions of the network. More important, those leases will not be limited to one provider per county or community; several groups may lease the network, which will give consumers a choice in purchasing their broadband. By partnering with the network, providers will be able to reduce their costs when building out “last mile” service to customers. That competition should result in lower consumer costs.
Kentucky ranks 46th in broadband availability and 23 percent of rural areas in Kentucky do not have access to broadband.
Most households in the state have access to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), but that’s not the same as high-speed broadband. High-speed broadband is capable of carrying much larger amounts of information to a larger group of users at much faster speeds.
As the federal definition of broadband changes, and minimum speed increases (often in megabits per second, or MBS), Kentucky falls further behind because the service available to citizens does not meet these minimum qualifications.
Today, only about half of the state’s households use broadband service, and nearly one-quarter can’t access broadband at all.
Click here to watch video of the broadband contract announcement:
Monday morning outside West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Emerging Technology Center, Samsung Mobile set up shop in a 100-foot technology-integrated mobile classroom full of Raspberry Pies.Brandyn Potavin (left) of Gilbertsville, a visual communications major with information technology background, works on the computer systems provided by the Samsung Mobile U Tour on Monday at West Kentucky Community & Technical College' s Emerging Technology Center in Paducah.A Raspberry Pi (pronounced just like the dessert) is a low-cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. Samsung assembled a small fleet of these tiny circuit boards, connected them to a fleet of Samsung Chrome Books, and extended an open invitation for local students to use the devices and learn computation and programming skills. WKCTC was Samsung's first stop along its Samsung Mobile U Tour, an initiative designed to target community and technical college students and spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers."We do a number of STEM education support programs, but this program really stands for our vision to grow more homegrown engineers," said Cindy Chang, Samsung marketing manager."These students who graduate with engineering and technical degrees, they could ultimately become our future employees. It completes this pathway of support," she said.The mobile classroom was open Monday to all students at every skill level. The program offers three curriculum routes: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Beginners can learn more about the general nature of how computers work, as well as the basic principles of computer programming."Coding is something that, if you haven't been introduced to it, can be very intimidating," Chang said. "But it doesn't have to be."Students who take the intermediate route get to build their own program and modify the source code of existing games built in Python to change how the games work in real time. Python is an increasingly popular computer language used to build applications like Dropbox.Advanced students are given the opportunity to create a web server on the Raspberry Pi and create and host a website on that server.The national need for STEM skills is great, and is only expected to grow. Jobs in computer systems design and related industries are expected to grow by 45 percent by 2018, according to the National Math and Science Initiative.In a 2011 report exploring the economic value of various college majors, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that of their 15 college major categories, engineering led to the highest median earnings. Despite that figure, the study found that less than 20 percent of students choose a STEM path in school. "This is an exciting thing for us to have," said WKCTC President Barbara Veazey of Samsung's mobile classroom. "For our students to see that a bigger job - like a job with Samsung - is a real possibility for them is huge. This is Samsung's first time to highlight the importance of the community college and STEM education as a pathway to a great job."Veazey explained that WKCTC's Emerging Technology Center was built in hopes of remedying a very real problem - a lack of technically skilled workers."It didn't happen overnight," Veazey said. "It was a deliberate recognition of a need and a problem. We tried to address it as a community, and we did."Both Chang and Veazey said they hope the Samsung Mobile U initiative will spark more student interest in STEM career paths."It's just amazing, isn't it?" said Tammy Potter, WKCTC dean of business and computer-related technologies. "Wednesday and Thursday we have almost every time slot filled with CIT (computer information technologies) and engineering students. I know they're really excited about learning to work in Python. For our students to see this type of technology is very exciting, because it gets them out of the classroom and enables them to see something new."The Samsung Mobile U crew has prearranged class sessions with WKCTC students for Wednesday and Thursday, but said they won't turn anyone away. The mobile classroom, parked in front of the Emerging Technology Center, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAITThe Paducah Sun
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