Episode 123

Christopher Ali: Deconstructing the Broadband Crisis

Dr. Christopher Ali is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include communication policy and regulation, rural broadband, critical political economy, critical geography, media localism, and local news.

Christopher’s work has been published in The New York Times, The Hill, and Realtor Magazine is a frequent commentator on the subjects of broadband, media policy, and local news, with interviews in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNET, CBC, Bloomberg, and other major national and international news outlets.

Christopher’s current research focuses on broadband policy and deployment in the US, specifically in rural areas. His recently released book, Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity examines the complicated terrain of rural broadband policy in the US. Farm Fresh unpacks the politics of broadband policy, asking why millions of rural Americans lack broadband access and why the federal government, and large providers, are not doing more to connect the unconnected.

Buy His Book Here

View UVA Presentation

Transcript
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Welcome to the business Samurai podcast.

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I'm your host.

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John Barker got a special guest today that I met.

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I forget several years ago, pre COVID pre everything back in when my

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Colepepper days when I was working on the broadband steering committee,

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trying to assist them is Dr.

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Christopher Ali.

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He's associate professor at the department of media studies.

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I need my hold on a second.

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I'm going to need my glasses because I realized I have degraded since.

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So Dr.

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Christopher Lee is an associate professor in the department of media

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studies at the university of Virginia.

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He holds a PhD in communication studies from the university of Pennsylvania.

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His research interests include communication policy and regulator.

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Rural broad brand critical political economy, critical geography, media,

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localism, and local news Christopher's work has been published in the New York

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times, the hill and realtor magazine.

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And there's a freaking commentator on the subjects of broadband media policy

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and local news with interviews in the Washington post Los Angeles times NPR.

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CBC Bloomberg and a whole bunch of other major national and

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international news outlets.

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Christopher's current research focuses on broadband policy and the

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deployment in the United States, specifically in rural areas.

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His recently released book farm-fresh broadband, the politics

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of rural connectivity examines, the complicated terrain of role Bob

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broadband policy in the United States.

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Farm-fresh unpacks the politics of broadband policy asking why millions of

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rural Americans lack broadband access.

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And while the federal government and large providers are not doing

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more to connect the unconnected.

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And I felt like that was a mouthful as I was saying that,

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but that is extremely impressive.

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Christopher, thanks for taking the time to be here.

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Thanks for having me.

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No, this is awesome.

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And because I have had that experience working in a local community and trying

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to get some inroads, and it's been some time since we've got connected.

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And of course there's some stuff in the infrastructure bill that's

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been released, wanting to cover.

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Lay the groundwork or where things are having watched a recent

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presentation you did at UVA.

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It looks like some of the stuff still a little stuck, but maybe there's a

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little light at the end of the tunnel.

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Yeah.

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There is a lot going on.

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And a lot of buzz, obviously around broadband.

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The highlight here is the infrastructure package and the infrastructure package

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allocated $65 billion for broadband 42 billion of which will go to deployment

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and then 14 billion of which will go to.

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Affordability called the the affordable connectivity program.

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And then another 3 billion will go towards digital equity and inclusion projects.

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So this is amazing.

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This is the largest public investment and telecommunication.

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In the country's history.

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And and so it's going to take a while to get down the pipes, right?

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So the national telecommunications and information administration, the NTIA

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has jurisdiction over all of this money.

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So right now it's crafting the rules around how states will be able to access

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the money cause what's going to happen.

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NTA holds the piggy bank.

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Then it gives money the states and then it will be up to the states to decide who

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gets that money for broadband deployment.

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So all eyes we'll of course, beyond Virginia.

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And one of the really interesting things I should say Virginia

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eyes will be on Virginia.

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But one of the really interesting things that the infrastructure bill

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requires is it requires every state to work with localities and regional

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entities to create a statewide broadband.

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And this is going to be really important.

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I Here in Virginia, we've had one.

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It's the Commonwealth connect.

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But a lot of states don't have them and it's going to force even us to, to revamp.

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And re-imagine our broadband priorities for the next five years.

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So I think this is going to be really important.

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And every state's going to craft these plans differently.

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For those who are interested in the role of counties, for instance, in broadband,

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which is something that I'm really interested in, I think we're going to

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see counties play a tremendous role.

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In the allocation of this money and even getting some of this money to do

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some really great broadband projects.

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So really exciting stuff to be following right now in the broadband policy.

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No, that's as good to hear.

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And I wanted to figure out a flow to the conversation.

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So it makes sense, but integrate my experience, having worked with

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representatives of the county, some contractors that have come

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in back in, in years past as well as making sure everybody comes

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into this conversation going, Hey, I live in this rural community.

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We don't have.

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Why not?

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And I think probably the best starting point is, let's set up what you did

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with the study, for the book and on your road trip, trying to turn to

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get your hands wrapped around that and really defining what, when people

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say broadband, what do they mean?

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Yeah, okay so let's start with the second question first, just

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to lay the land a little bit.

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What is broadband?

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Okay.

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In, in, in lay speak in everyday, broadband is simply.

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High-speed internet.

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Internet access that will allow you to do, for instance, what we're doing here.

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A two-way video conversation that's broadband.

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If we start to get technical the federal communications commission

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defines broadband as an always on internet connection of 25

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megabits per second, download three megabits per second, upload David

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And it's often depicted for those of you watching the.

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Slash three, you'll see this number a lot, and it is absolutely an outdated speed.

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So at twenty-five three, if this is a service you're legitimately getting,

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not this, not what you're paying for, but if you're actually getting

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25, 3, someone living on their own, probably won't have a problem streaming

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Netflix or playing some games or, doing this to a video conversation.

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The problem becomes what happens when you don't live alone.

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What happens when you've got your family, your partner?

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You've got kids you're living in an apartment building.

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You're living in a sorority you're living in right when you've got

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multiple users on the network.

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Twenty-five three will collapse pretty quickly.

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And this is what we saw, particularly during the pandemic.

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Everyone was thinking, oh, we paid for good broadband.

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So we won't have a problem working or studying from home.

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And then, in our case, my husband and I get on a zoom call, a two different

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zoom calls in the house and we're buffering, even though we're paying in.

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Our broadband was not good enough for what the pandemic forced us to do.

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So that's broadband right.

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In, in, in the way in which we're having this debate around speed

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and I, for one, I'm a big fan of what's called symmetric speeds.

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So that upload and download should match because as it was described to

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me, and I love this idea that download speeds are, is about consumption, right?

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It's about bingeing Netflix.

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It's about pulling content to you.

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Upload is about production.

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Upload is about conversations like we're having right now.

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Upload is about business.

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Upload is about credit card swipes and doctors records and massive

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amounts of data being uploaded.

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This is what influencers I reached.

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Influencers got more into broadband because they're

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uploading data all the time.

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So we need to think about high capacity upload networks.

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And the big push right now is for 100, 100, 100 megabits per second.

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Download 100 megabits.

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Second upload.

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And that's a big political fight right now at Congress.

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And that's something I had not heard that specific number because I know over years.

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So I paid for a business, Comcast internet healer.

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So it's it's four times as much as your normal home connection,

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but I get a couple of things that are supposed to be guaranteed.

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But the upload service, as you just mentioned is ops absolutely atrocious.

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And they keep saying, they're going to.

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It's I met 200 and 200 down 30 up.

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Wow.

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And it's, and, but 30 for Comcast, if you're on a coaxial, non

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fiber connected lines seems to be the best that they've done.

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And it's been stuck there, or I forget how many years, a decade, but anyway,

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and part of that is when you raise a really good point here, John, which

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is that in the infrastructure package.

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The buildup, the lowest amount that, that if you got money, if you're an

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ISP like Comcast, I'd say you got money from the infrastructure package.

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You're expected to build out networks that can meet 120, not a hundred hundred

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w why that particular number 120.

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My gut says, cause that's what coaxial cable.

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So we're making sure that these kinds of outdated technologies remain in

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this in in, in this eligibility for billions and billions of dollars.

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And I think this is a good segue into the research I've done for my book.

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So I'm a policy scholar.

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And so I started off this book, reading a ton of policy reading, a ton of

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broadband policy around, obviously what is broadband and some of the debates.

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And why is it that we've been.

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A funding broadband, the federal government has been funding broadband

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for the past decade and a half.

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And yet, or yes, it's about yeah, 2000, 2009.

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Why hasn't the rural, urban digital divide shrank.

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Why haven't we gotten further in this and.

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What I found in this kind of this policy analysis is that it's because we favored

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the largest providers, always favoring the largest providers who are deploying

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rather outdated technologies, right?

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Who are the ones pushing for that 25, 3 definition?

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Because that means that digital subscriber lines still counts.

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It means that.

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Satellite still counts.

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And obviously it means that cable still counts.

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So the lobbying efforts, there were huge, but one thing I found in the book

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about halfway through my research is that maybe my readers will not find broadband

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policy is absolutely captivating as I do.

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And maybe, maybe I need to spice it up a little bit.

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Basically, maybe I need to humanize it.

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And this is something I realized that wasn't also happening on Capitol hill.

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No one was talking about people, right?

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We were talking about dollars and we were talking about technologies

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and fiber versus six wireless.

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And we're talking about numbers like 25, 50 or a hundred,

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but no one was talking to.

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And so in, in the summer of 2018, my hound, dog tuna, and I drove 3,600 miles

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across the Midwest talking to folks about broadband and getting stories.

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And what it allow me to do was all of this technical and technological jargon.

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That is filled broadband policy, right?

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Because broadband policy isn't written for you and I, it's not written for boards

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of supervisors is written for lawyers at T and T and or Verizon or whoever.

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So it allowed me to humanize and tell the stories of how these

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policy decisions are actually.

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On the ground throughout, throughout the Midwest and had to, so there's

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a whole chapter in my book.

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Chapter four is all around this one community rock county in Minnesota

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and how they deployed a lot of local solutions to broadband.

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And I'm a spoiler alert for the book.

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I'm a big fan of local broadband providers.

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Cooperative provider is a local investor owned Providers utility

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providers, because these are the ones, these are the companies.

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These are the entities that are trusted, they're accountable.

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And they're the ones who are actually deploying those high speed and

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affordable broadband networks in rural.

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With that.

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And now you're starting to get into and appreciate the backstory cause

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that, that helps set you up as obviously the expert in the field.

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And then me coming into it from a very narrow scope.

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When I worked within Colepepper county.

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How much of it, when you start talking about the local municipalities

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getting in there was it, the lobbying is trying to shut that stuff down

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because I used to read, I used to read news stories and again, I'm sure.

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I'm probably going to get some facts wrong, but I think the sentiment will

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be correct, just because it has been a little bit of time that, North Carolina

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would come in there, they would build up these public infrastructures for broadband

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high speeds affordable for people.

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And I do want you to touch on that being an, also an issue with the

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affordability of what you saw, not just lack of infrastructure, right?

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But I want to say in Virginia, it was like they got it somehow in through Virginia.

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No, if you start talking about that, you're shut down.

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Yeah.

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Is that a little bit of what you saw as well?

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Yeah.

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So right now, 18 states either prohibit or inhibit municipalities from funding

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owning and operating broadband networks.

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And why is this important?

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It's important because of.

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For a lot of these communities, the private market has failed in broadband.

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If there was an active private market, we wouldn't need to think about a public.

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We wouldn't need to think about public investment.

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First of all, we wouldn't need to think about a private network.

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But they're either the incumbent is not doing.

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Or there's just no incumbent because the, the, maybe the community's too

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small maybe it's too low income.

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Maybe it's too spread out and it's too expensive.

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So there, the, these private companies are not seeing the return on investment.

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And so about about 20 years ago, you started to see these towns, municipalities

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and counties say, Hey, you know what, Comcast isn't coming to us anytime soon,

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we're going to figure out a way to.

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Network by ourselves.

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And immediately from there on, in you saw massive lobbying by telecommunications

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companies by cable companies to state legislature saying, this is a bad idea.

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This is a quote unquote distortion of the free market.

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That municipalities don't know what they're doing or counties

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don't know what they're doing.

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It's going to waste money and it's going to put taxpayers on the hook.

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And unfortunately, this was bought by a lot of state legislatures.

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In Virginia, Virginia is one of those states that doesn't prohibit it, but

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inhibits, it makes it very difficult for for a public entity, like a municipality

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or a county to provide broadband.

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So one of the things, for instance, it does, it says.

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You have to match the prices of the incumbent, which is ridiculous because

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how are you supposed to get subscribers?

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One thing we know with municipal networks is that it does drive competition.

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It lowers prices and it raises speeds because oftentimes

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municipalities will be deploying.

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Whereas the incumbent maybe was relying on DSL or coaxial cable,

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which is cable, cable networks.

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If you have extended but no one wants competition, no one,

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the incumbents don't want.

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The competition.

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And one of the big goes against free market.

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Absolutely.

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Competition should be the base of this, except, something somewhere

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around only 30% of this fact could be a little bit off, but there's

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only a small portion of the American population that actually have a choice.

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In broadband provider in rural America, it's about 19%, only 19%

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of rural Americans have a choice in broadband providers, legitimate choice.

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So yeah, we might have a couple of companies at the national level

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doing this stuff, but at the local level, there's usually only one

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or two and dollars to donuts.

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If it's a local company they're doing better than if it's a national.

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Oh, no question.

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And I think what's interesting that a lot of people don't realize is

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how they go about some of those measurements to see if an area is

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served or not based on census blocks.

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And I've seen the map.

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I saw that.

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And on top of it being used by census blocks where and you can correct me if I

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get this off, but I want to say it's, if Comcast is in a census block and they have

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one house out of the 200 that are there.

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Yeah, we're good.

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Check mark.

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Check mark on us.

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But they were also on the map that I saw.

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It was literally a Gestapo style setup where if Comcast was the one on that

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map, serving it, Verizon could not, and would not go in there to go get the

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other ones served even if they wanted to.

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So there's often handshake agreements that go on.

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So Comcast gets one town, Verizon gods gets another charter, gets another right.

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Or sometimes you just get entire state, right?

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Comcast is from Philadelphia.

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So you can't, it's very difficult to buy a Verizon product in Philadelphia.

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You would think that this would violate antitrust regulations, but

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somehow it hasn't and it's about a larger conversation about how we

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define antitrust in this country, but yeah, you're absolutely right.

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Handshake agreement and not written down.

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So you're right.

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If there is an incumbent, another big carrier probably will not move

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into try and drive up competition.

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The other thing you mentioned about mapping, so yeah, it is ridiculous.

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One building in a census block has served the entire census block.

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A hundred percent of that census plugs considered served two

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other problems with this one that building doesn't have to be served.

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It just has the potential of being served within 10 business.

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It would mean that maybe you're not even maybe a Comcast or century link isn't

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even in the century or in the census block, but so long as they can claim

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that a building can be served within 10 business days, they can say that census

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block is a hundred percent served.

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The other thing that when we talk about service, we're not

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talking about actual speed.

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We're talking about advertising.

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And that's a big difference, and I bet you dollars to donuts that a lot

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of people on this call are not happy because they're not getting the speeds

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they're paying for because ISP is internet service providers do not have

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to publicize their, the actual speed.

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You will get only the hypothetical maximum of the network.

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So yeah, if it's two o'clock in the morning and you're on a digital

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subscriber line, To, you're two houses away from the D slam, which

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is the neighborhood node then yeah.

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You might be able to get what you're paying for, but if it's

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the middle of the day and a lot of people are using the network you're

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going to be a Sol so to speak.

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So that, that kind of advertised speeds and the census blocks that's

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really been detrimental and it's meant.

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The federal communications commission has drastically overestimated the

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number of connected households in this country, upwards of about 50%.

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And the other problem is, if you're in a census block that is considered

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a hundred percent served, right?

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That one building means you're a hundred percent served.

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You are ineligible for federal.

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So you're, if you're miscounted on the broadband map now in the

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FCCS credit, they are redoing it.

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But it's going to take another year.

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We'll see a new broadband map in about in summer 2023.

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You're going to be ineligible for money.

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So these maps are absolutely crucial to the success of the infrastructure plan.

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And we just have to hope that history does not repeat itself in this.

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So the one thing that I found interesting, you talking about maps.

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When I first started out working on the broadband committee and I

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actually found they've taken this off of the website, cause this

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was, we did this in 20 15, 20 16.

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And if you're happened to be watching this or listening to this, I've got

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our, the cold Pepper's broadband study report, which is public information.

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And if you go to page three, you will actually see my name in the bottom.

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But we also found it interesting that when you were trying in the early stage,

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That even the broadband that's or the fiber that's buried in the area in a lot

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of cases was considered private IP and they didn't have to publicly disclose it.

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So when you were going out there trying to map going, Hey, guess what?

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This section of the county on the west side, across the streets, but you couldn't

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gauge the level of effort in the level of money necessary because you didn't know

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accurately what was already in the ground.

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And is that across the country from what you saw or is that just a Virginia thing?

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No, it is across the country.

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ISP is, are under no obligation to report their fiber optic lines.

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And this is why, so we don't have a good nationwide map of fiber deployment

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because there's also a tremendous amount of what's called dark fiber fiber

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that may have been laid in the ground.

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But with abandoned, we've been laying fiber since the 1980s, right?

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There's a ton of fiber in the ground.

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The problem is we don't know where, like you said, we don't

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know where a lot of it is.

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And so oftentimes people will be surprised that there's a fiber optic line running

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down the street, but not to the house.

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And that obviously is causing a lot of frustration, but no ISP is, are under no

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obligation to report their deployment.

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In terms of technology, in terms of the actual wires in the ground

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are strung up on those tellers.

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So there's no public pressure or with some of the infrastructure

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bill that's coming new.

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Is that going to mean that these guys may be willing to play and maybe some

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of the dark fiber that's not turned on, be lit up finally for expansion with

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this, that they may have an economic interest in turning some of this on.

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If they think they're going to get free hands out.

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Yeah.

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We're not really sure.

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One of the interesting things that is in the infrastructure package and

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the FCC is just rolling out now is.

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Yeah, like a nutrition, they call it a nutritional guide for broadband.

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So that now when you subscribe to broadband, you will actually get a rundown

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of actual speeds and different times.

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And you'll actually get a cost breakdown for the first time, because

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that's the other thing I see is we're not required to declare prices.

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And Americans pay the most out of any developed nation

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in the world for broadband.

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So they're calling it and an informational guide.

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Like you would look at the box of a, the back of a box of cereal, and you'd see the

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nutritional values and period you'll have how the network is actually performing.

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So that's going to be huge.

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We have to make sure that with that there is consumer education

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around what these numbers actually.

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To make sure that consumers are empowered to make the right

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choices for their household.

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If, of course they have a choice.

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But yeah and then with regards to dark fiber I am hoping that

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one of the things that the infrastructure bill does do is it.

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Allows new stakeholders to come out of the woodwork.

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And I think that's a result of the pandemic.

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Certainly we saw a number of organizations and industries who hadn't really gotten

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involved in the broadband fight, realize no, holy smokes, we all need broadband.

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We need broadband for work.

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Our employees need broadband, so have you and and they might be.

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Fiber optics.

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So they don't even realize.

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I'm seeing a lot of, there's a lot of coalition building around this.

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And so hopefully we will be seeing some of the mobilization and mapping of some

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of this dark fiber or underused fiber.

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That's that's been just sitting here.

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I know in Virginia there's a tremendous amount.

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'cause, we've got so many server farms here as well.

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There's a tremendous amount of unlit fiber running through the

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high, running up and down highways.

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We knew there was a bunch around, in Virginia, in Colepepper is located

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around route 29, which outside of.

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Yeah, up and down, because you've got that, they call it the outside

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that for anybody not familiar outside the blast zone of DC.

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So they want to be able to be able to move operations.

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It's one of the reasons why library of Congress has one of their facilities

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and Colepepper for protection, but it was, we, when we first started, we

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were like, we know it's here, but we don't exactly know where it's here.

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And we also don't know if that.

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What the intention of it right.

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Is here.

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And I'm going to say, you probably also didn't know who owns it.

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Which is the other thing there's so much fiber that, that we don't

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know who's in control of this.

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So then even when you want to tap into it, you're not exactly, especially if

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the fiber has been abandoned, you have no idea who actually owns those lines.

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So the other thing I'm gonna stick to the budgeting thing is piece, because this was

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another thing I ran into as we farther got further along in the process and talking

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with members of the board of supervisors and even beyond when the kind of our group

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disbanded, but I was keeping tabs, for a period of time, until I realized it was.

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Yeah, to be honest with you.

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Yeah.

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My first initial meetings were the local board, at least in

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our area was a very aging board.

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And I don't want to sit there and, so technical competency was probably not

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at the forefront, to be honest with you.

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On top of that, they looked at it as a, a free enterprise solution.

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Magic fairies are going to come and sprinkle internets on us.

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It was a thing, I don't remember my exact conversation.

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One of them was actually in my yard and I just remember being able to find.

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Whatever he said to me, back on him in five seconds and it made him pause.

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It did not make any change, but it made him pause.

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And I, I just remembered the effect that had but some of the grants that

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have been out there previously, again, not knowing the details of the new

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infrastructure bill required a skin in the game, component from the counties.

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The Colepepper at the time was not willing to put some skin in the game.

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So how much is it, how much does that affect when you've got those

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communities that think free enterprise is going to come save the day?

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They can't do a public option because.

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They can't draw them up with the support.

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And yet you're still stuck in this lack of broadband because

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of lack of vision structure.

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That's a great, that's a great question.

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And what I see, as I like how you said, like the sprinkle, the internets

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around it and what my concern kind of piggybacking off of that is when I talked

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to counties and they say 5g is just around the corner or we hear Starling.

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And so we're going to DePaul, or we don't need to think about this,

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or we don't need to, we're going to pause our broadband deployment plans.

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And this is things that keep me up at night because this is the hype, right?

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The new and the next and the largest and allowed us but to be 5g, at least the

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5g that would replace a home internet connection is not going to come to

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rural America anytime soon, if at all just because of the infrastructure

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required to deploy that type of network.

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Starlink is also picking and choosing.

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House by house who they're going to serve.

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In 2018, yeah.

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Elon Musk says I'm going to connect this world.

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Then a few years later, he's saying I'm going to connect rural America.

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And now he's saying I'm going to connect just a couple of houses here.

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And the buy in of course is also very expensive for Starling.

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And the network connection is uncertain.

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It's certainly been dialed down.

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Originally it was promised they would compete with fiber optics

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and 5g, and now it's looking more like it will compete with cable.

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So not bad if you've been living off satellite internet

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he's going to push start.

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I got two clients now that need it horribly, but they, it just keeps.

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So there are options for the correct score, right?

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There are options on the ground right now.

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And this is I think, where we need to be encouraging our

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boards of supervisors to look at.

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And then you bring up the point that yes, a lot of these programs, especially from

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USDA require collateral or a matching component sometimes 25%, but this is

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where we're actually seeing some really great use of cares act money every estate.

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Buckets of money from cares act.

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And then county's got a lot of money.

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And so for a lot of these grants Nelson county for instance, was able to use

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the cares act money at God as that down payment to receive other loans and grants.

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So that's why we saw here in central Virginia, we're seeing the massive

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deployment of Firefly broadband with the central Virginia electric

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cooperative is because Nelson county was really able to parlay its COVID

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money into kind of championed.

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This one provider, which I think is which I think is really great.

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And there's a lot of counties who have used, cares, act money in this way

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to use it as the matching component.

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It's awful that it took a pandemic with colossal loss of life for us

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to realize that this is not a luxury and that it's not just about getting

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some broadband or some internet out to people, but it's about those

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high-speed affordable networks.

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And hopefully that energy and that commitment to connectivity will

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extend to this next round of federal.

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No.

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And it's crazy.

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You mentioned that because after having went through this pretty, pretty close

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with some people, in, in Colepepper my wife is a assistant principal in

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Stafford and when the pandemic started I remember her, they send everybody

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home and then her first thing was, I don't know how we're gonna function.

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Yeah.

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And then I heard through the grapevine.

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About the, the technology director of the county kind of going, I've

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got to figure out how to solve the broadband internet issue for everyone.

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And it's I did not know him.

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I still don't know him.

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I hope to meet him soon.

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And I shot him a note back then.

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I said, God, man, I live with this.

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Do not try to do this on your own.

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You are going to break yourself in half and you need to go get

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every political person involved to try to figure out some resources.

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So then you get the mobile hotspot thing that's going around there.

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But to me.

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That's a stop gap solution where they have to spend a little

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dime versus a long-term thing.

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And I just don't see anything else having changed at least dramatically aside from

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a national shortage of hotspots now.

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So you're absolutely right.

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These are definitely stopped gaps, so that particularly school

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children could get something right.

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Now the question is what types of technologies are we

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going to be looking to deploy?

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When the president first announced the infrastructure package, he used

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this term future-proof and he said we wanted future-proof networks.

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And typically the word future-proof is a metaphor for a five-year-old.

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And I have to admit that, when I wrote my book, I was like, everybody needs fiber.

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I've softened a little bit on that and I'm not, I vote certainly I'm not endorsing

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DSL or coaxial cable, but I am seeing particularly for agricultural communities,

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the value of fixed wireless so long as, and with fixed wireless is sorry.

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I should back up.

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Is that when you receive your home internet wirelessly from

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a tower that might service your neighborhood or even your entire town.

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So long as that tower is connected to a fiber optic network on the backend.

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Consumers are going to get some pretty good speeds.

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It's going to be comparable to cable which is going to, which could be a game

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changer for a lot of these agricultural communities, which are incredibly

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spread out where fiber to the home is going to get incredibly expensive.

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And so what I'm seeing a lot of communities do is let's say

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you'll, they'll do fiber to the curb, maybe five or to the.

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And then set up a ring of fixed wireless for residential.

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And that's a good stop gap as you look to deploy further fiber into the community.

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And so I'm, I guess I'm softening in my old age about that, the fact

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that we also need to make sure that communities are making the best

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choices for themselves because fiber is expensive between $27,900,000 a mile.

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If you're a super spread out camp, You know that it's going to run

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you tens of millions of dollars, whereas a fixed wireless network.

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So long as you have a good line of sight, and there are no pine trees on

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the way you it will be a good stock gap.

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And I'm hoping that, and I think this backup and say, this is part

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of the job that folks like you and I can play, which is to make sure that

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communities have the right information to make the right choices for them.

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Rather than at and T or Verizon or Comcast driving up with a briefing

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book to a board of supervisors saying here, we'll do it for you.

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Cause that's the stuff that keeps me up at night.

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I wanna, I want to tell you one thing and I'm not supposed to know this, but

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this is something I saw as things had dropped down is a difference in public

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and private positions from some of the big telecoms where you'll read a news story.

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Hey, guess what?

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One of these guys were going to partner up and we're going to make this happen.

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We're behind you.

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We know you need this to happen.

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And.

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Then the next day you get a cease and desist letter from

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pretty much the same people.

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Is that pretty prevalent for them?

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I don't.

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And I don't understand.

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I, the, particularly if you're getting grant money or federal

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funding, so it's not completely on the telecom itself, we go, all right,

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you're gonna scale of economies.

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You're gonna make some money off this long one.

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You don't, you're not putting the.

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Why do that.

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And then I don't think people realize that either.

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And I didn't, until I say, I think that what we see a lot of times is, yeah,

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there'll be some grant money and a large incumbent will come in, they'll end up

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connecting just the highly populated area.

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Probably usually the county seat and then nothing else.

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And because again, there's not that return on investment.

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They didn't apply for money.

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And this is a step that's really worrisome or on the flip side.

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And I've seen this happen with multiple counties in Virginia,

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that they've got grant money.

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They can't find a public or private partner because no one wants to

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come into these counties at all.

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They'll might come around and kick the tires.

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And this is why we need to, in those situations, why not encourage a public

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option, if there's literally the absence of a private market because no one

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wants to come in and connect that rural.

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Do you see this in any point in this?

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Some I've kicked around for years at some point.

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Classified as a legit utility like water and, I think yes and no.

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And I think one of the things that poisoned the water around the world

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utility was it often gets attached to the other political issue in

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broadband, which is net neutrality.

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And, you want to make the internet and utility.

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First of all, I'm a big proponent of network neutrality, but I've noticed that

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in the net neutrality debates, the word utility has dropped off because it like

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just, we weren't getting any traction with calling this a utility Ohio had a really

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interesting case recently where they tried to classify Google as a utility.

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Didn't go anywhere, but they made a really interesting argument

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in their legal memorandum.

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So it's going to be up to states, right?

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To determine.

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If broadband, oftentimes it's regulated by the utility commission

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or at least it that's maybe where the broadband office is housed.

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But whether or not a state will go so far as to say, we are going to call

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this a utility and therefore do things.

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I rate regulation, you're going to get into a battle with the federal

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communications commission and this.

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Does have something to do with network neutrality because it's under

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the 1996 telecommunications act.

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And are you title one or title two?

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Are you an information service where you have no regulation or

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are you a telecommunication service for there's more regulation?

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So we need, if it's going to happen, we need to see an effort between

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states and the FCC to make it happen.

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And I'm not sure, I think it works very well in politics, but I'm not sure if

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there's a lot of political appetite.

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Among states to really make the push for it being a utility.

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I'm all for it.

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I would love to see rate regulation because we pay too much as it is.

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But I just don't think that there's a political appetite either amongst

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states or at the FCC to fight that fight, which is important.

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Yeah cause my concern and it's probably one that you share too.

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If we don't solve the broadband issue, you're besides having a

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generation of people that won't be in touch with truly what's going

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on, you're going to lose their creativity, their educational aspects.

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You're also going to start getting pushed away from the role environments where in

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my mind, you're going to have a little bit of a population migration into.

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The places that have internet.

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When we were starting this out, your husband's a realtor years

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ago, the first question asked was not how good are the schools?

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Not what is the crime rate?

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Hey, does this house got high-speed has Comcast here in here?

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Number one question and probably number two questions.

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Yeah.

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And if we don't fix this, we're going to see this, the slow migration to

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the two more population centers.

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And I think we saw the inverse of this during the pandemic where we saw

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out migration and urban areas, but people were not asking that question.

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Cause there was this presumption of connecting.

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So Ben, my husband certainly saw and he obviously knows the

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broadband conversation in and out.

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He's, he often has to volunteer some of this information and say let's talk

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about how the, what the internet is.

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What do you need in terms of your internet connectivity?

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Are you for instance, in the tech sector and you're looking to remote

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commute, that's going to really limit the places for instance, in rural

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Virginia that you can actually move to.

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Again you're probably gonna end up in Nelson county because

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Firefly's almost everywhere now.

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But it's, but how do we make sure every county is like that?

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How do we make sure that you could move anywhere in

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Virginia and still do your job?

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That I think is so crucial.

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So we like to say that, in, in real estate, it's it used to be location.

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Now is location.

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But yeah, I do agree if we don't get this right, if we waste this $65 billion,

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folks are going to go to where we've learned how to work from home, we've

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learned how to work from coffee shops.

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We've learned how to not be in an office.

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And so there's going to be, there's a moment right now for rural communities to

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attract investment, to attract business, to attract education, to attract young

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people or to keep young people there.

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But.

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Internet connectivity is a crucial factor in making, I'm not

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saying it's the decisive factor.

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I'm also not saying, just because there's a wire on the ground, it means it's going

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to be so much better, but it's a crucial factor and rural economic development.

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And we need to make sure that the counties and communities

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really understand that point.

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How with reading tea leaves.

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Do you think we're going to get it right or fall into the traps of all

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behavior, where we're going to just start giving these places money that

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they're going to misappropriate misuse, and then nobody's actually going

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to actually hold them accountable.

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So I think there is hope in that Congress gave the money

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to the NTIA and not the FCC.

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The FCC has proven to be.

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To have not done its due diligence with a lot of grant money.

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And we saw this particular with the rural digital opportunity fund that is going

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through some kind of colossal hiccups right now when like parking lots got

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funded and traffic circles got funded.

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Because just because of a lack of due diligence.

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So I think there's.

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There's potential for NTA to right.

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These wrongs.

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Now the question we need to make sure is MTA staffed enough?

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It's a small office and it's the on the executive side.

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So it's in the presidential side.

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Is it staffed well enough to be able to write these worlds, to work with states?

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And that's the other thing we need to make sure every state needs

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to have a well-staffed broadband office because of states don't.

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Have the capacity to access the NTAA money, the 65 billion then other entities

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can start bypassing the state and just apply on the state's behalf and

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that's going to be really problematic.

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So we need to make sure that states are well equipped that these offices

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are well equipped and well-staffed to be able to handle, what's at

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a minimum going to be a hundred million dollars per state, but it's

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probably going to go a whole lot more.

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When you're doling out 42 billion it's, what does that.

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Less than a billion of state, but not that far off.

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Virginia, for instance, squeeze to get a lot of money, we need to make

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sure that we are positioned to access it or history will repeat itself.

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And the incumbents will just come in and say, trust us, we'll do it.

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Sounds good.

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As we wrap up, what would you advise those that know there's

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an issue within their community?

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Want to start trying to make an impact or start making this a higher priority issue?

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Where would you recommend them go?

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Boards of supervisors?

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I think boards of supervisors have a tremendous amount

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of untapped power in this.

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So if your county doesn't have a broadband plan, if your town doesn't

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have a broadband plan, you should be talking at the local level because

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this is going to be crucial then to access state money and federal.

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You need to start with that broadband plan.

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You need to get your boards of supervisors on board, and it often starts with

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just you need one digital champion.

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Who's going to try and champion this through.

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But as you said, you need to get the other elected officials on board.

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And to me, that's board of supervisors, at least.

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And in Virginia, obviously this in cities are different.

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Like you'll need to get, if you're in a city or municipality, you'll need

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to get your local officials there.

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But I think.

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That is going to be absolutely crucial to develop a concrete broadband plan so

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that when the Commonwealth of Virginia saying, Hey, we've got whatever, a

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billion dollars in broadband funding, the communities and counties will be equipped

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and ready to apply for that money.

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So that's what I say.

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The local?

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No, absolutely.

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And I would throw in if you're an elected official happened to be listening to this

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that find some other technical resources within your community that are already

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other business owners to get involved.

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I saw that lacking.

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I was the only one on the entire rural broadband committee for Colepepper.

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Any technology experience.

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And I appreciate it.

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Don't get me wrong.

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I really appreciated having other people going, Hey, this was a problem.

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I kid you not every single other one was a real estate agent.

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And in the case that I was in, because it's deaf, it's directly

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impacted what they did lately.

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We have, this is a, we've got to build our stakeholder coalitions, right?

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Everybody, every business is a stakeholder, so if you're doing credit

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card transactions, you have a stake in broadband deployment in your community.

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So let's mobilize all of these apps.

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To make sure that everybody is connected.

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Absolutely.

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If anybody wants to reach out to you connect, I'm going to have all the

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links to your previous presentations.

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If you want all of the facts and figures the links to the book in the show note,

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but if they may wants to reach out to you directly, what's the best place.

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So two places, one might email C a L i@virginia.edu.

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And you can also find me on Twitter at Allie underscore.

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Awesome.

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And yes, and this is you can see pictures of his dogs and everything else broadband.

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No, I appreciate the time.

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This is great catching up.

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Thanks for having it.

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This has been great.

Speaker:

Yeah, no, appreciate it.

About the Podcast

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The Business Samurai
Skills and Stories to be a Well-Rounded Leader in Business & Technology

About your host

Profile picture for John Barker

John Barker

20+ years of technology, cybersecurity, and project management experience. Improving business operations to create a culture of better cybersecurity and technology practices. John is the Founder of Barker Management Consulting and the creator of the Business Samurai Program.

MBA, PMP, CISSP