Broadband Communities

Show Guide 2019

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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98 BROADBAND COMMUNITIES SUMMIT 2019 Show Guide Sponsor WHITE PAPER Low-Income Broadband Adoption Programs As the tables show, the lower the household income, the less likely the household is to have meaningful internet access. Most, if not all major ISPs already have a stand-alone, low-income broadband offering for qualified families. Unpublished data from CETF focus groups in the lowest income census tracts in Fresno County, California, found that of the 309 participants, 77 percent had internet in the home (via either smartphone or fixed connection). However, despite 309 households being qualified for a low-income offer, only 33 percent of those with internet subscribed to one of those plans. Yet of those 229 families who did not subscribe to an ISP's low-income offering, 76 percent wanted information about the offerings. The data clearly show there is a large gap between those who are eligible for stand-alone, low-income broadband and those who actually enroll. The data further show those who aren't enrolled want information about the programs. Given those percentages, it seems there can be big gains in adoption by informing households of available offers and assisting them with enrollment. Utility companies can help bridge the information gap. With the income eligibility criteria for CARE enrollment and the broadband/income correlation, it can easily be inferred from the data that CARE-enrolled customers lack meaningful internet access at a far greater rate than the population in general. With utility companies and regulators having a vested interest in maximizing broadband deployment and enrollment, utility companies should promote existing low-income broadband offers to their low- income customers. A recent example of this was the project CETF conducted along with the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD), the electricity provider in Sacramento County. SMUD sent letters to its Energy Assistance Program Rate (EAPR) customers notifying them that as low-income customers, they may be eligible for low-cost broadband. The letter provided information designed to raise awareness of existing low-income broadband offerings and a phone number to call for assistance. This two-year effort was completed in June of 2016 after SMUD sent out approximately 90,000 letters to its EAPR customers. CETF, San Diego Gas & Electric, and 211 San Diego recently completed a pilot project with different outreach methodologies. They also provided callers with information on community-based organizations that offer free or low-cost computing devices as well as free digital literacy training. Shared Planning and Infrastructure For rural areas, the challenge is in deploying network infrastructure. The cost of trenching hundreds of miles is prohibitive, and the numbers of households and businesses reached is often small. The economies of scale related to the infrastructure investment necessary just don't make financial sense in a competitive market with publicly traded companies. CASF was implemented to offset the costs of deployment, but there are additional steps to take. Electric and gas utilities have infrastructure that reaches many rural communities. When trenching or doing other infrastructure upgrades, electricity and gas utilities should coordinate with the regulatory commission and internet service providers to assess the cost and feasibility of deploying broadband upgrades, or even empty conduit, at the same time. This is a more efficient method of construction than having each company trench and/or deploy individually and will very likely result in closing the rural digital divide more quickly and for less cost than it otherwise would. CONCLUSIONS The future of energy policy, like so many other aspects of life in the 21st century, depends on broadband. Demand response policies, smart grid technologies and many more depend on real-time data transfer between all aspects of the grid, from customers, regulators, and power producers to power providers, grid operators, etc. But broadband deployment and adoption lag far behind what the energy system will require. Currently, it appears there has been a siloed approach to energy planning resulting in market structures, energy policies and technologies that seem to be based on the (incorrect) assumption that broadband is ubiquitously deployed and adopted. With the government and industry becoming increasingly dependent on broadband technology and meaningful internet access holding constant at 70 percent for the past eight years, new approaches will be necessary to meet the goals of policymakers and achieve technology-dependent, next-generation energy and economic efficiencies. v * * * * * A version of this article first appeared in The ICER Chronicle Edition 9 (December 2018) Former California State Assembly member Lloyd Levine is president of Filament Strategies, a public policy and public affairs consulting firm, and a senior policy fellow at the University of California Riverside's School of Public Policy. Levine is the former chair of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, where he crafted policy in the areas of telecommunications, broadband, energy efficiency and renewable energy. He was a founding board member of the California Emerging Technology Fund, a member of Governor Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force and an ex officio member of the California Energy Oversight Board. Levine currently serves on the Founding Advisory Board of the University of California, Riverside School of Public Policy, and is a co-founder of the school's Center for Technology, Society and Policy.

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