PRESS RELEASE: SHLB Releases New Fiber Cost Estimate and a Strategy to Connect Rural Communities February 15, 2018
For Immediate Release:
February 15, 2018
Communications Manager, SHLB Coalition
Washington, DC (February 15, 2018) - In an effort to address the rural digital divide, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition today is releasing a new cost study and broadband strategy focused on rural broadband deployment. The cost study estimates that it will cost less than $20 billion to connect all unserved schools, libraries, health providers, community colleges, and other anchor institutions (outside of Alaska) to fiber. Building off of these findings, SHLB also puts forth “To and Through Anchors: A Strategy to Connect Rural Communities.” This strategy proposes to solve the rural broadband gap by leveraging the high-capacity broadband deployed to anchor institutions and extending service to surrounding business and residential consumers using a blend of wired and wireless technologies.
“Now is the time to act. At least 19 million people still lack access to adequate broadband in rural areas,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition. “Deploying high-capacity broadband to and through community anchor institutions to their communities is a proven and successful strategy. Anchor institutions serve the public interest and advance our nation’s education, health, and economy. In essence, they are the heart of our communities.”
In the cost estimate prepared for the SHLB Coalition, CTC Technology & Energy concluded that the total cost of connecting all unserved anchors in the continental U.S. and Hawaii to fiber would be between $13 billion and $19 billion, if connected in a coordinated and timely manner. The model recognizes that different geographic regions require different infrastructure approaches. The report further concludes that connecting anchors would bring 95% of the U.S. population within the zip code of an anchor institution’s broadband.
This conclusion lays the foundation for SHLB’s rural broadband recommendation set forth in “To and Through Anchors: A Strategy to Connect Rural Communities,” a brief overview paper that the SHLB Coalition is also releasing today. According to Windhausen, “Anchor institutions can provide high-speed Internet access to populations most impacted by the digital divide (low-income families, job seekers, students, and seniors) and serve as ‘jumping off’ points to extend broadband services to surrounding residential and business customers.”
“Community colleges not only provide educational programs to their students, but also serve as vital centers of their communities at large,” said Jim Hermes, Associate Vice President, Government Relations for American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). “This is particularly true for the two-thirds of community colleges that serve a rural area. Deploying broadband to and through community colleges will help them fulfill both aspects of this mission and improve the economic, civic and cultural well-being of communities that currently lack sufficient access to broadband.”
Because each geographic location has its own unique characteristics, a combination of technologies will provide the most cost-effective solution. The best rural broadband strategy should consider a blend of wireline and wireless solutions from a variety of providers. For instance, a school could be connected via fiber or fixed wireless; that service could be then be extended to the residential community using fiber to the home or unlicensed TV WhiteSpaces spectrum.
“GeoLinks strongly supports SHLB’s proposed approach to bridge the digital divide by ensuring broadband access 'to and through' anchor institutions,” said Melissa Slawson, General Counsel and Vice President of Government Affairs and Education at GeoLinks. “As a fixed wireless provider that has predominantly focused its efforts over the past few years on connecting rural schools and libraries throughout California, we have seen first-hand the immense community benefits realized when anchor institutions have access to high speed broadband. GeoLinks believes that by deploying a combination of both fiber and fixed wireless technologies, connecting anchor institutions will dramatically reduce the digital divide in rural America."
“Libraries are currently using TV Whitespace to inexpensively expand availability for the tens of millions of users who depend on them for internet access,” said Don Means, Director, Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN). “These same resilient TVWS networks, in partnerships that link with schools and other anchor institutions as second responders, serve as backup communications systems against disasters.”
“Fiber-connected schools, libraries and health clinics across the heartland can serve as anchors to deploy TV white space connections to remote communities where laying cable is simply not an option,” said Richard Cullen, Executive Director of Connect Americans Now. “We are proud to stand with SHLB on the critical mission of expanding broadband access throughout rural America and look forward to our continued work together.”
The CTC report also concludes the cost of connecting unserved anchors would be significantly lower if there were a national coordinated effort. Accordingly, SHLB’s “To and Through Anchors” strategy puts forth several key policy recommendations, such as ensuring that sufficient TV WhiteSpace channels are available, allowing E-rate and Rural Health Care networks to be extended to the community, streamlining permitting processes, and establishing coordinated “dig once” policies. Federal infrastructure legislation has the potential to improve community broadband’s cost-effectiveness even further.
“We applaud the Trump Administration’s recognition that rural broadband is an important investment for the future of our nation,” Windhausen added. “We encourage policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels to invest in broadband technologies to and through our schools, libraries, health providers, community colleges, and other anchors to achieve digital equity for all rural communities.”
SPEAKER CONTACT INFORMATION
John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director,
Joanne Hovis, President, and Andrew Afflerbach, CEO & Director of Engineering,
CTC Technology and Energy
Jim Hermes, Associate Vice President, Government Relations,
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
Melissa Slawson, General Counsel and Vice President of Government Affairs and Education,
Don Means, Director,
Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN)
Richard Cullen, Executive Director,
Connect Americans Now