broadband

OpEd: The Last Mile: Getting Fiber Broadband to Your Home or Business

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

As the pandemic continues, it’s been an eye-opener on how important access to high-speed fiber optic is in our modern life. Decades ago, our nation created infrastructure programs for electricity, telephone and highways. Today, it’s fiber broadband — fast, cheap and the future. Rhode Island’s coaxial, copper cable system is old-school. 

Rhode Island will receive over $150 million in federal funding for broadband through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that has passed the U.S Senate and is now in the U.S. House.  The bill includes 5% of federal dollars to be used for planning, GIS mapping, and strategy implementation to set up a state broadband office. Currently, Rhode Island is one of only two states without any state agency working on fiber broadband.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a broadband strategic plan, create GIS (geographic information systems) mapping that shows which areas of the state are unserved and underserved, and deploy fiber to homes and businesses instead of the coaxial, copper cable we’ve been using for decades. 

Rhode Island has a lot of fiber between R.I. Department of Transportation fiber and OSHEAN’s 48 strands. However, there are no on/off ramps to connect municipalities, residents or businesses to this fiber highway. Broadband is as important in the 21st century as electricity was in the 20th century.  

In order to access the federal funding, Rhode Island will need to develop a plan for fiber broadband deployment to homes and businesses and a plan to fix digital inequities in underserved and unserved neighborhoods.  

The new RI Broadband office, with 2 or 3 dedicated employees should begin by setting up municipal broadband and funding opportunities.

Since this is federal funding, the state will be required to use a competitive bidding process for connecting homes and businesses to broadband. Many states and municipalities already have “open access” fiber networks where several internet service providers compete to provide service, which means you have a choice. When did competition become a bad thing in Rhode Island?  

COVID has taught us how important high-speed internet access is. Incumbent cable providers sell download speeds of 175 or 200 Mbps. That’s fine if you’re only downloading a movie, but it’s upload speeds that matter. The internet is now interactive. Upload speeds of 10 or 20 Mbps are insufficient. Coaxial cable cannot provide affordable, symmetrical speeds and that’s why fiber broadband is the future, now.

Think about your own internet usage in your home — Zoom meetings, telehealth, uploading homework or the Peloton bike; that’s a lot of bandwidth. You can’t run a home on 125/10, so how do you run a business? For many people, their small business is in the home.

Block Island is building the first municipal fiber network in our state. Last summer, voters overwhelmingly approved an $8 million 20-year bond for broadband so island residents and businesses will have fast, reliable, affordable broadband. A 100/100 Mbps fiber broadband package there is expected to cost $72 a month. It’s far better than coaxial cable, which is twice the cost and is 150/20 Mbps.

 Go to www.speedtest.net and see your download and upload speeds and then check your cable bill to see what you’re actually paying for. 

Rhode Island cannot compete if the states around us are offering fast, reliable, affordable fiber broadband. I believe in the power of technology just as I believe in the future of Rhode Island. The future is now.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74- Jamestown/Middletown) is chairwoman of the House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee.

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02871, GA, broadband

LTE— Why Broadband Matters to You and Your Family

by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

COVID-19 has been the most convincing argument for Rhode Island to invest in high-speed internet, or dedicated broadband. Whether for remote working from home, distance learning or telehealth, broadband access must be reliable, fast and affordable. You wouldn’t buy a house or relocate your business without access to water or electricity. High-speed internet in a 21st economy is a necessary utility (although Rhode Island state law preempts any regulation of internet or telecoms- a story for later).

Rhode Island citizens and small businesses need high-speed, low-cost and reliable broadband service and not coaxial cable that’s shared with several hundred other homes or businesses, causing buffering and spotty coverage. Fiber-optic broadband is amazingly fast because it’s laser and doesn’t use electrical signals; so you don’t lose internet connectivity during an electrical outage.

Ten years ago, Rhode Island received $20 million in federal dollars and the state added $10 million to build out an amazing 48 strands of fiber-optic, high-speed broadband - 8,000 miles of broadband fiber running throughout this little state. Yet, only 10 strands of fiber-optic are being used for our hospitals, colleges, universities, libraries, and schools. We have a technology highway without any on/off ramps for residents, businesses, and municipalities to access.

Internet providers say, “RI has access to more broadband than any other state in the country; 98% of homes have fiber-optic broadband running outside their front door.” Yes, we do; it’s the middle mile of 48 strand of fiber. If only we could access it without paying exorbitant rates.

Lots and lots of federal funds will be flowing into every state across America for broadband infrastructure. But the federal dollars will only go to states that have a dedicated broadband coordinator or state entity that that can access, administer, and oversee the federal broadband funds.

As of this writing, Rhode Island still does not have a broadband coordinator, which means it is losing out on federal broadband dollars and has been for the past seven years. That’s why I’ve sponsored H5138, a broadband bill that needs to pass this legislative session to get our state off the bench into the technology broadband game. Rhode Island is one of only two states in the country without a broadband coordinator (Mississippi is the other).

A dedicated broadband coordinator in Commerce RI tells municipalities and the private sector that Rhode Island is serious about broadband. This broadband coordinator in my bill H5148 could access and administer federal dollars to help community-led projects like the one we’re working on for Aquidneck Island. It’s a pilot program that could be a municipal model for other local governments, business and nonprofits.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts are making a push to get people to live in those states and work remotely because they have invested in dedicated fiber-optic broadband. Here in RI, we’re losing businesses in Newport County because of the low internet speeds and high-costs of coaxial cable internet.

Community-led broadband projects (MA, NH, Utah, Hawaii, etc) are backed by revenue bonds, which are paid off by subscribers’ fees and dues- taxpayers pay nothing. A group of municipalities in Utah formed a nonprofit government entity (UTOPIA) that leases the broadband to ISPs (Cox, Verizon, Comcast, Opencape, etc) that can offer services to end users. Benefits include a GIG of service (not megabits!), creates competition from several different ISPs on the UTOPIA network making pricing affordable, and Utopia is developing in rural areas where many big profit-driven telecoms can forget about.

It’s time Rhode Island creates the on/off ramps to access the 8,000 miles of fiber-optic that’s running throughout this state. Market competition will do more for the economy than any government regulation could ever do!

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Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-73, Jamestown/Middletown) is chair of the House Committee on Innovation, Internet, Technology and she serves on House Finance Committee.

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