Comment: Federal Broadband Act and Ohio’s “Kill Municipal Internet” Bill Go against the grain

There is good news! Three US Senators introduced the BRIDGE Act, which would establish a $ 40 billion broadband grant program to give schools, libraries, healthcare facilities and other anchor institutions gigabit broadband network and digital technologies. Half of the funds must go to institutions located in rural and urban areas in economic difficulty.

But then there’s the bad news. At the same time as the federal government is considering a move to create broadband opportunities for more Americans, the Ohio lawmaker, making the Charter Spectrum tender, is trying to cancel any municipal broadband. The change would dramatically reduce broadband accessibility in the state by eliminating Internet service providers that are operated under the auspices of a municipal government if there is a private provider available. Consumers will be harmed and businesses will benefit.

As the forces of good take bold steps to bridge the digital divide with the BRIDGE Act, so much the infamous Ohio business leaders and legislators prepare to burn down the house rather than allow cities and counties to donate voters what they want and need – fast, reliable and affordable broadband. As Ohio lawmakers prepare to sell their audiences, a group of Republican members of Congress have implemented yet another bill to eliminate municipal broadband nationwide.

BRIDGE Act Fuels Institutions

With this new effort to inject funds through the Broadband Reform and Investment to Spur Economic Growth Act (BRIDGE), the stage is set for telehealth centers to tackle the “Health care divide”, this very real divide between those who have access to affordable services. , quality health care and those who do not.

Anchor institutions are essential elements in the design of community broadband networks. In part because pillar tenants can help finance (through fees) the construction of many networks. But one of the main reasons is that anchor tenants motivate or facilitate network use and subscriptions.

Telehealth is not the silver bullet for public health care, but it can move people from the wrong side of the health care gap to better health care, especially rural residents, residents downtown low-income or no-income, the elderly, immigrants, the unemployed, and the working poor.

There are 4 million homes without broadband, and you can’t have telehealth without robust and fast broadband. The BRIDGE Act creates the Broadband Access Fund, which will boost the capacity of anchor institutions to lead residents to telehealth. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages the fund.

Even small libraries and institutions should benefit from gigabit broadband speed. The fund will also fund programs to make telehealth and broadband affordable, train people in the use of technology, and fix technology when it goes down. If you don’t have these helper programs, people won’t use the Internet or computers even though they are free.

Telehealth centers

Institutions need a plan to guide all of these adoption activities. NTIA has experience with huge broadband adoption grants and knows how to support broadband adoption. However, many communities could have problems with the adoption of telehealth. They might need to partner with the Federal Communications Commission, US Health and Human Services, and others. If institutions believe that all they need to adopt telehealth is a video screen and Zoom, problems are on the horizon.

The essence of broadband adoption is 1) daily internet access at the speeds, quality, and capacity needed to accomplish common tasks, 2) the digital skills to participate fully online, 3) on a personal device and a convenient and secure network. By replacing “fair” with “daily” we now have a definition of telehealth adoption.

Jean Polster, CEO of Neighborhood Family Practice in Cleveland, has seven offices that primarily serve low-income populations. She was one of the first organizations to land an FCC telehealth grant in 2020 that saw her go from 0% to 80% telehealth services in a month or two. Despite all the money and equipment she received, she could not serve her patients who did not have internet access at home.

“If you look at the person who has a chronic illness and who is older, that is also the one who is least likely to be tech-savvy,” says Polster. “They are also the ones who are least likely to have broadband access. How can we access the Internet to these patients? Are we able to teach them how to use technology? “

Getting help to keep apps running smoothly is another need.

“What if there is no technical support when someone, a doctor or a patient, has a problem with an app? Asked Peter Caplan, management consultant for New York-based eHealth Systems & Solutions. “Who trains patients what to do if the Net has a problem? During Covid, many doctors did not fully understand how to properly conduct a virtual medical consultation. ”

That’s why we can’t have beautiful things

While broadband advocates everywhere praise the BRIDGE Act, Ohio lawmakers, at the behest of the Charter, are heading in a dangerous and harmful direction.

Charter and their pocket lawmakers are trying to do away with – and without public debate – any type of community broadband, even if it is totally funded by federal money. Without any protection against technology obsolescence, lawmakers in Ohio are taking their constituents back to the technological dark ages when AOL was at the forefront of technology. The legislators who are pushing this movement are not representatives, they are corporate jacks.

This law Project would have ban any local government ownership or partnership to a broadband network that provides retail or wholesale access to any area that already has wired or wireless internet service at speeds of 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. This apparently applies to all local “subdivisions” of the state, including cities, counties, townships, school districts, port authorities, and so on.

“The ‘government network amendment’ is obviously intended to put the handful of Ohio municipal broadband service providers, like Fairlawngig and Bryan Municipal Utilities Internet service, bankrupt, ”says Bill Callahan, director of Connect Your Community. “This will prevent the emergence of new projects thanks to federal infrastructure funds.” But it could disrupt the ability of communities to promote Internet access, adoption and equity at many other levels.

The Ohio bill could have devastating consequences, giving disproportionate power to the very corporations that have proven time and time again they don’t care about the communities they serve. They care about the outcome.

Municipal broadband offers an efficient alternative to communities where private sector companies do not meet the demand for fast and affordable broadband. The BRIDGE Act will do good for underserved communities. Defeating the Ohio bill and others like it will, too.

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