Small Cell Broadband Legislation Has Robust Committee Hearing

The Chamber supports SB 213 to help enhance community broadband capacity and speed with the implementation of small cell towers.

The technology is changing and to get to 5G and increased mobile broadband speeds, the small towers have to be located with coverage in mind. These are not your grandfather’s big cell towers but are smaller and are often disguised and co-located with light poles and other utility poles. There was some concern raised by a couple of communities that wanted the ability to say where the towers should go. Ultimately, it is an engineering solution that must prevail based on the coverage area.

The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee will consider amendments in the coming week or so, and then hopefully the bill will be voted out for further consideration on the Senate floor.

A Welcome Move: State’s Telecom Agreement With Agile Networks Denied

The state’s controversial proposed lease of its cell phone towers, fiber and public rights of way to Ohio-based Agile Networks officially won’t happen.

Governor Eric Holcomb put an end to it in an announcement Thursday. The Indiana Chamber applauds his decision and had been advocating for such a resolution.

Funds from the proposed $50 million lease were earmarked for bicentennial construction projects, with the Agile agreement promoted as a way to bring greater connectivity to rural areas.

Beginning last September, after learning in more detail about the agreement, the Chamber voiced significant concerns and objections on behalf of the state’s telecommunications industry.

Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar had numerous discussions with the Indiana Finance Authority and State Budget Committee members – the groups needing to approve the deal. The Chamber made a clear request that the agreement not proceed.

Therefore, we are very pleased that Gov. Eric Holcomb shared our belief that this deal was bad for Indiana.

In his statement, the Governor said: “I have asked the Office of Management and Budget to assess how best to move forward and to develop alternatives we might pursue. Enhancing broadband availability in rural parts of our state will be an important part of my consideration.”

The Chamber believes that’s the correct approach.

Our board-approved position supports free market competition in the delivery of advanced telecommunications services. Yet this deal went too far and essentially suppressed this important principle. Not to mention, good Hoosier companies inexplicably were not even given equal opportunity to bid for the project.

Additionally, all industry players and competing technologies should be on a level playing field. However, this proposed deal would have only served to pit the state against private providers.

Getting better broadband access to rural areas of the state should be a priority. That was unlikely to happen with the now-defunct deal, which would have done nothing to drive Agile Networks to serve our rural areas. The company’s publicized plans were to build in the state’s largest cities – Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis – where cable and broadband services and competitive choices already exist.

Looking ahead, the Chamber pledges to work with state government in any way it can to advance the effort to truly bring connectivity to rural parts of the state. These areas must be brought up to date technologically to help reverse their downward population and economic trends.

Legislative Testimony: Expanding Broadband Capabilities

The Indiana Chamber’s Cam Carter testified today in support of House Bill 1101 – Broadband Ready Communities, authored by Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford).

This legislation seeks to coordinate and streamline administrative procedures for the deployment of next generation broadband technologies.

The Indiana Chamber supports this effort. It should result in more competition and vital, more robust telecommunications services for Hoosier businesses and consumers.

Broadband in America: Alternatives to GONs Needed

Widespread broadband access is a noble goal. The question comes down to how expansion of current networks takes place. The Coalition for the New Economy wants to make sure such investments are both effective and efficient.

Read its latest study, released earlier this week. The group’s press release is below:

The Coalition for the New Economy today (Monday) released a study by Dr. Joseph P. Fuhr, Professor of Economics at Widener University in Chester, PA. The study outlines the complex and problematic history of government-owned broadband networks (GONs) and looks for alternatives for achieving universal broadband access.

“Policymakers around the country are hurriedly trying to find ways to extend high-speed broadband access to all Americans,” said Fuhr, “This is a noble goal, but in their haste some local lawmakers have made bad business decisions, opting to build public networks that often leave taxpayers deep in the red.”

The report cites several case studies that show GONs:

  • Do not meet their stated goal of universal service;

  • Fail financially because they lack clear, sustainable business plans, based on realistic cost-benefit analyses;

  • Are often duplicative;

  • Create an unfair playing field between the public and private sector; and

  • Are so costly they crowd out spending on other essential social services, including law enforcement, healthcare and education, as well as stifling innovation.

Fuhr says, “At a time of declining local revenues and rising budget deficits, taxpayers have the right to scrutinize how their local leaders are spending precious tax dollars. They deserve to know GONs are simply not the best, fairest or most cost-efficient way to achieve universal broadband access.”

In his study, Fuhr outlines a more effective way to extend broadband access, advising municipalities to explore public-private solutions. “For example, reducing the tax and regulatory burden on private telecommunications firms could be enough to compel these companies to invest in, and bring jobs to, underserved areas,” Fuhr says.

The Coalition for the New Economy (CNE), which commissioned Fuhr’s study, is dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to innovative technologies and that policies are fair, fiscally responsible and will allow for increased access and adoption.

Tennessee Battles for Top Billing in Internet Speeds

Hearing a dial-up computer tone today is a little like listening to the crackling sound of a phonograph from the early 20th century. It’s out of place and just a little creepy.

In Indiana, we’ve come a long way from the days of waiting for our computers to connect to the Internet. Some of the most rural areas now have access to broadband capabilities and advanced mobile services.

Much of that is due to the Telecom and Video Reform Act (HEA 1279) that the Indiana General Assembly passed and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed in 2006. The act deregulated the telecommunications industry and put Indiana on the map as a leader in expanding broadband services. The capabilities have also attracted investments from a number of entities.

Now, it looks like another quasi-Midwestern state is gaining attention in the world of broadband. Chattanooga’s city-owned electrical utility has started offering an Internet service that is among the fastest in the world.

The Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s new Fiber Optics network will provide a 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service. The utility said the service is more than 200 times faster than the average national download speed today.

At a cost of $350 a month, it’s also much more expensive than the typical residential plan. Harold DePriest, the Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s president and CEO, said residential customers don’t really need that fast a service, but businesses might.

He said the high-speed service won’t be costly for EPB to operate, yet it should put the Chattanooga community at the forefront of attracting businesses – possibly Internet providers – that can benefit from having it.

“Chattanooga represents the next frontier in communications technology, with limitless potential for new applications for education, entertainment, health care, industrial development, and more,” DePriest said in a statement.

The article goes on to quote Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield saying the announcement has put the city “on the short list of progressive communities in the world.” A New York Times article says that only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer such fast services and that Chattanooga will be the first in the United States to do so.

Fast, but not cheap. Would you pay $350 a month for this kind of capability?

Broad Reach for Broadband?

By a 53 percent to 41 percent margin, Americans say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government issue. After an extended period of sustained growth, there was little change this year in the adoption of broadband service across the United States. A new survey from Pew Internet has these results and more:

Americans have decidedly mixed views about the problems non-broadband users suffer due to their lack of a high-speed connection. There is no major issue on which a majority of Americans think that lack of broadband access is a major disadvantage.

  • Job opportunities and career skills: 43% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to finding out about job opportunities or gaining new career skills. Some 23% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 28% think it is “not a disadvantage.” 
  • Health information: 34% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to getting health information. Some 28% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 35% think it is “not a disadvantage.”
  • Learning new things to improve and enrich life: 31% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to learning new things that might enrich or improve their lives. Some 31% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 32% think it is “not a disadvantage.”
  • Government services: 29% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to using government services. Some 27% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 37% think it is “not a disadvantage.”
  • Keeping up with news and information: 23% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to keeping up with news and information. Some 27% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 47% think it is “not a disadvantage.”
  • Keeping up with what is happening in their communities: 19% of Americans believe that lack of broadband is a “major disadvantage” when it comes to finding out about their local community. Some 32% think lack of access is a “minor disadvantage” and 45% think it is “not a disadvantage.”

A fifth of American adults (21%) do not use the internet. Many non-users think online content is not relevant to their lives and they are not confident they could use computers and navigate the web on their own.

In the Cards: Ball State Thrives with Smartphone Technology

Indiana is truly blessed to have the many esteemed public institutions of higher learning that it does. Thanks to efforts from Indiana schools, men have walked on the moon, more people now survive cancer (ask Lance Armstrong) and our food is grown incredibly efficiently. But lest we not forget, the fine folks in Muncie are considered a national leader in the world of technology. Here is just one example:

Under the direction of computer science professor Paul Gestwicki students spent an entire semester developing several dozens applications for Google Android. The new smart phone operating system was launched in 2009 and quickly is proving popular with consumers as potential rival to the BlackBerry and the iPhone.

When they were done in fall 2009, 18 students with no computer programming experience had created a bird-watching program, several games, an English-to-Spanish tutoring system, math flashcards, and a Dungeons and Dragons character generator with Web-based database storage capability.

"This was an incredible experience because it opened new doors and new ways of thinking for all of us," says Travis Cawthorn, ’12, of Frankton, Indiana, majoring in accounting. "I created a game that should be fun to play with for hours. Let’s be honest, many students my age use smart phones for entertainment."

The class was part of an experimental partnership between Google and several technology-centered universities including Ball State, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Colorado, and University of Michigan.

Google provided the class with 20 G1 developer phones loaded with Google’s Android operating system and gave them access to the new App Inventor for Android, which makes it possible for users with no programming experience to create mobile applications.

And stay tuned for our September/October edition of BizVoice for my article on Ball State’s WiMAX test bed. The school’s work is helping America’s top companies perfect their wireless broadband technologies and rendering Ball State an archetype in the field.

Remote Areas to See Broadband Uptick

Stateline.org recently examined state and federal initiatives to bring broadband service to America’s rural areas:

Maine gives out about $1 million about every 10 months to help its residents get high-speed Internet connections. In July, it approved nine projects costing the state almost $800,000 to get 5,000 families hooked up.

States across the country have pursued similar efforts toward creating statewide broadband policies and better access for their residents. But their scale pales in comparison to the $7.2 billion in stimulus money the federal government has committed over the next two years to improve high-speed Internet connections around the country.

Every state is supposed to get a share, and every governor will get a chance to weigh in on how the funds are spent. In this wash of new money, state officials are scurrying to identify the states’ greatest needs, coaching providers applying for stimulus money and developing overarching plans for how to roll out expanded service.

Most of the stimulus money will go toward building out high-speed connections to people in hard-to-reach places. Larry Landis, an Indiana Utility Commissioner active in national broadband efforts, says states have an “obligation to address those who are currently unserved” by broadband.

“What we need is a broadband consensus which nurtures state initiatives to build out to serve the least, the last and the lost,” he said.

The “least,” he says, are the working poor who haven’t been able to afford broadband. The “last” are those “currently on the fringes of the infrastructure to deliver on the promise of broadband.” The “lost” are consumers who could buy broadband but don’t.

Currently, 63 percent of adults have broadband at home, compared to just 7 percent who use dial-up connections, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which, like Stateline.org, is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Half of the U.S. adults who don’t have broadband at home say they don’t see the need for it, the study said. One in five respondents said they didn’t get a high-speed connection because it was too costly.

Also, take a look at how a Noblesville company is working to help Alabama with its broadband efforts in the May/June BizVoice.