Episode 140

How to get High Speed Internet In Rural America with Dr. Christopher Ali

How to get High-Speed Internet in Rural America has been a major issue for years. Dr. Ali and I discuss the challenges to get a faster adoption rate and infrastructure built to expand broadband.

Dr. Christopher Ali is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia (now at Penn State). 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
Speaker:

Welcome to the business samurai podcast.

Speaker:

I'm your host, John Barker got a special guest today that I

Speaker:

met forget several years ago.

Speaker:

Pre COVID pre everything.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Back in when my culpeper days when I was working on the

Speaker:

broadband steering committee.

Speaker:

Dr.

Speaker:

Christopher Lee is an associate professor in department of media

Speaker:

studies at the university of Virginia he is, a PhD in communication studies

Speaker:

from the university of Pennsylvania.

Speaker:

His research interests include communication policy and regulation.

Speaker:

Royal broadband, critical political economy, critical geography, media,

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

times, the hill and realtor magazine, and is a frequent commentator on the

Speaker:

subjects of broadband media policy and local news with interviews in the

Speaker:

Washington post Los Angeles times NPR C.

Speaker:

CBC Bloomberg and a whole bunch of other major national and

Speaker:

international news outlets.

Speaker:

Christopher's current research focuses on broadband policy in the

Speaker:

deployment in the United States, specifically in rural areas.

Speaker:

His recently released book, farm, fresh broadband, the politics of

Speaker:

rural connectivity examines, the complicated terrain of roll Bob

Speaker:

broadband policy in the United States.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

rural Americans lack broadband access.

Speaker:

And while the federal government and large providers are not doing

Speaker:

more to connect the unconnected.

Speaker:

Extremely impressive.

Speaker:

Do you enjoy talking business?

Speaker:

Do you enjoy reading about business?

Speaker:

Do you geek out over the entrepreneurial journey?

Speaker:

If so, then you are in the right spot.

Speaker:

The business amide podcast brings you.

Speaker:

The stories told by the people themselves you'll be immersed in a wide variety

Speaker:

of industries from venture capital.

Speaker:

To gourmet popcorn learning how to be a better leader or the personalities behind

Speaker:

solving the broadband crisis at the business samurai we believe it takes a

Speaker:

wide variety of skill sets and experiences to be successful in business and life.

Speaker:

Our aim is to not only entertain, but educate for you to recognize how

Speaker:

successful tactics and motivations in one industry can help propel you

Speaker:

forward in your own unique business.

Speaker:

Sit back, enjoy, and welcome to the business samurai podcast.

Speaker:

I am your host, John Barker

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

released, wanted to lay the groundwork or where things are having watched

Speaker:

a recent presentation you did at UVA looks like some of the stuff's still

Speaker:

a little stuck, but maybe there's a little light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

There is a lot going on.

Speaker:

And a lot of buzz, obviously around broadband the highlight here is

Speaker:

the infrastructure package and the infrastructure package allocated 65

Speaker:

billion for broadband 42 billion of which will go to deployment and then 14 billion

Speaker:

of which will go to Affordability called the the affordable connectivity program.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So this is amazing.

Speaker:

This is the largest public investment in telecommunications.

Speaker:

In the country's history.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So the national telecommunications and information administration, the NTIA

Speaker:

has jurisdiction over all of this money.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the money cuz what's gonna happen.

Speaker:

Is that.

Speaker:

NTA holds the piggy bank, then it gives money to states and then it will be

Speaker:

up to the states to decide who gets that money for broadband deployment.

Speaker:

So all eyes will of course be on Virginia.

Speaker:

And one of the really interesting things I should say Virginia

Speaker:

eyes will be on Virginia.

Speaker:

But, and one of the really interesting things that the infrastructure bill

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

entities to create a statewide broadband.

Speaker:

And this is gonna be really important.

Speaker:

I Here in Virginia, we've had one.

Speaker:

It's the Commonwealth connect program.

Speaker:

But a lot of states don't have 'em and it's gonna force even us to, to

Speaker:

revamp and reimagine our broadband priorities for the next five years.

Speaker:

So I think this is gonna be really important.

Speaker:

And every state's gonna craft these plans differently.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

see counties play a tremendous role.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

some really great broadband projects.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

no that's good to hear.

Speaker:

And I wanted to figure out flow through the conversation.

Speaker:

So it makes sense, but I'll integrate my experience.

Speaker:

Having worked with representatives of the county, some contractors that

Speaker:

have come in back in, in years past as well as making sure everybody

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

We don't have.

Speaker:

Why not?

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the study, for the book and on your road trip, trying to get your hands wrapped

Speaker:

around that and really defining what, when people say broadband, what do

Speaker:

they mean?

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

to lay the land a little bit.

Speaker:

What is broadband?

Speaker:

Okay.

Speaker:

In, in, in lay speaking every day, broadband is simp.

Speaker:

High speed internet.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

A two-way video conversation that's broadband.

Speaker:

If we start to get technical the federal communications commission

Speaker:

defines broadband as an always on internet connection of 25 megabits

Speaker:

per second, download three megabits per second, upload outdated.

Speaker:

sorry.

Speaker:

Totally outdated.

Speaker:

And it's often depicted for those of you watching it as 20.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So at 25 3, if this is the service you're legitimately getting, not this not what

Speaker:

you're paying for, but if you're actually getting 25, 3, someone living on their

Speaker:

own, probably won't have a problem streaming Netflix or playing some games

Speaker:

or, doing this to a video conversation.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

What happens when you've got your family your partner.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

multiple users on the network, 25, 3 will collapse pretty quickly.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

calls in the house and we're buffering, even though we're paying an arm and a leg.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So that's broadband right.

Speaker:

In, in, in the way in which we're having this debate around speed and I, for one

Speaker:

I'm a big fan of what's called symmetric speeds, so that upload and download should

Speaker:

match because as it was described to me, and I love this idea that download

Speaker:

speeds are, is about consumption, right?

Speaker:

It's about binging Netflix.

Speaker:

It's about pulling content to you.

Speaker:

Upload is about production.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Upload is about business.

Speaker:

Upload is about credit card swipes and doctor's records and massive

Speaker:

amounts of data being uploaded.

Speaker:

This is what influencers, I wish influencers got more

Speaker:

into broadband because they're uploading data all the time.

Speaker:

So we need to think about high capacity upload networks.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Download 100 megabits per.

Speaker:

Second upload.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

and that's something I had not heard that specific number because

Speaker:

I know over years, so I pay for business Comcast internet here.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

But I get a couple of things that are supposed to be guaranteed, but the upload

Speaker:

services you just mentioned is ops.

Speaker:

Absolutely atrocious.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

And they keep saying, they're gonna upload.

Speaker:

It's I'm at 200 and 200 down 30 up.

Speaker:

Wow.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

connective line seems to be the best that they've done and it's been stuck

Speaker:

there.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

For,

Speaker:

I forget how many years a decade, but anyway,

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

is that in the infrastructure package The build out the lowest amount that

Speaker:

I, that if you got money, if you're an ISP like Comcast, let's say you got

Speaker:

money from the infrastructure package.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Why that particular number 120?

Speaker:

My gut says, cuz that's what coaxial cable can do.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So I'm a policy scholar.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And why is it that we've been a funding broadband, the federal

Speaker:

government has been funding broadband for the past decade and a half.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Why haven't we gotten further in this and.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

because we've favored the largest providers always favoring the

Speaker:

largest providers who are deploying rather outdated technologies, right?

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Cuz it means that digital subscriber lines still counts.

Speaker:

It means that Satellite still counts.

Speaker:

And obviously it means that cable still counts.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

policy as absolutely captivating as I do.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Basically, maybe I need to humanize it.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

No one was talking about people, right?

Speaker:

We were talking about dollars and we were talking about technologies

Speaker:

and fiber versus fixed wireless.

Speaker:

And we're talking about numbers like 25, 3 or a a hundred, but

Speaker:

no one was talking to people.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

That is filled broadband policy, right?

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

policy decisions are actually lived.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

a whole chapter in my book.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And I'm a, and a spoiler alert for the book.

Speaker:

I'm a big fan of local broadband providers, cooperative

Speaker:

providers local investor owned.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

broadband networks in rural communities.

Speaker:

with that.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And then me coming into it from a very narrow scope when I

Speaker:

worked within Colpepper county.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

getting in the, getting in there, was it, the lobbying is

Speaker:

trying to shut that stuff down.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

I'm probably gonna get some facts wrong, but I think the sentiment will be correct,

Speaker:

just because it has been a little bit of time that, North Carolina would come

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

high speeds affordable for people.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

affordability of what you saw, not just lack of infrastructure.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Is that a little bit of what

Speaker:

you saw as well?

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

owning and operating broadband networks.

Speaker:

And why is this important?

Speaker:

It's important.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

We wouldn't need to think about public investment.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

But there either the incumbent is not doing their job.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

small maybe it's too low income.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

and counties say, Hey, you know what, Comcast doesn't come ask anytime

Speaker:

soon, we're gonna figure out a way to.

Speaker:

A network by ourselves.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

This is a quote unquote, distortion of the free market.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

don't know what they're doing.

Speaker:

It's gonna waste money.

Speaker:

It's gonna put taxpayers on the hook.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

inhibits, it makes it very difficult.

Speaker:

Okay.

Speaker:

For for a public entity like municipality or a county to provide broadband.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

how are you supposed to get subscribers?

Speaker:

And one thing we know with municipal networks is that

Speaker:

it does drive competition.

Speaker:

It lowers prices and it raises speeds because oftentimes municipalities

Speaker:

will be deploying fiber.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

which is cable, cable networks.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the incumbents don't want.

Speaker:

Competition.

Speaker:

And one of the big which to me goes against free market.

Speaker:

Absolutely different.

Speaker:

Absolutely right.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

or two and dollars to donuts.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Oh, no question.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

served or not based on census blocks.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

And I've seen the map.

Speaker:

I saw the map.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

if I get this off, but I wanna say it's, if Comcast is in a census block

Speaker:

and they have one house out of the 200 that are there, Hey, we're covered.

Speaker:

Yeah, we're good.

Speaker:

Check mark.

Speaker:

Check mark on us.

Speaker:

But they were also on the map that I saw.

Speaker:

It was literally a gustapo style set up where if Comcast was the one on that

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

other ones served even if they wanted

Speaker:

to.

Speaker:

Right.

Speaker:

So there's often handshake agreements that go on.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Or sometimes you just get an entire state, right?

Speaker:

Comcast is from Philadelphia.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

You would think that this would violate antitrust or regulations,

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

define antitrust in this country.

Speaker:

But yeah, you're absolutely right.

Speaker:

It's cause of a

Speaker:

handshake agreement

Speaker:

and not written down.

Speaker:

And so you're right.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

to try and drive up competition.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

A hundred percent of that census block is considered served.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

, it would mean that you maybe you're not even maybe a Comcast or century link

Speaker:

isn't even in the century or in the census block, but so long as they can claim

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

block is a hundred percent served.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

talking about actual speed.

Speaker:

We're talking about advertised.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

they're paying for because ISPs, internet service providers do not have

Speaker:

to publicize their, the actual speed.

Speaker:

You will get only the hypothetical maximum of the network.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

subscriber line, Two, you're two houses away from the DLA, which is

Speaker:

the neighborhood node then yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the day and a lot of people are using the network you're gonna be Sol so to speak.

Speaker:

So the kind of advertise speeds and the census block it's really

Speaker:

been detrimental and it's meant.

Speaker:

The federal communications commission has drastically overestimated the

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And the other problem is, crazy.

Speaker:

If you're in a census block that is considered a hundred

Speaker:

percent served, right?

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

You are ineligible for federal funding.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

FCCS credit, they are redoing it.

Speaker:

But that's gonna take another year.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

You're gonna be ineligible for money.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

got the Copa is broadband study report, which is public information.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

This section of accounting on the west side, across these streets, but you

Speaker:

couldn't gauge the level of effort and the level of money necessary

Speaker:

because you didn't know accurately what was already in the ground.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

No, it is across the country.

Speaker:

ISPs are under no obligation to report their fiber optic lines.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

there's also a tremendous amount of what's called dark fiber fiber that may have been

Speaker:

laid in the ground, but was abandoned.

Speaker:

We've been laying fiber since the 1980s, right?

Speaker:

There's a ton of fiber in the ground.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

know where a lot of it is.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

down the street, but not to the house.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

obligation to report their deployment.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

are strung up on those telephone.

Speaker:

so there's

Speaker:

no public pressure or with some of the infrastructure bill that's coming new.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

If they think they're gonna get free hands out.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

We're not really sure.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the FCC is just rolling out now is a.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

of actual speeds in different times.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

that's the other thing ISPs were not required to declare prices.

Speaker:

And Americans pay the most out of any develop nation in the world for broadband.

Speaker:

So they're calling it in an informational guide.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So that's gonna be huge.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

around what these numbers actually.

Speaker:

To make sure that consumers are empowered to make the right

Speaker:

choices for their household.

Speaker:

If, of course they have a choice.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Allows new stakeholders to come out of the woodwork.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

We need broadband for work.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Fiber optics.

Speaker:

So they don't even realize.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

of this dark fiber underused fiber.

Speaker:

That's that's been just sitting here.

Speaker:

I know in Virginia there's a tremendous amount.

Speaker:

Because we've called so many server farms here as well.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

high, running up and down highways.

Speaker:

We knew there was a bunch around, it in Virginia, in cold peppers

Speaker:

located around route 29, which yes,

Speaker:

I was just gonna say up, up and down.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

their facilities in Culp pepper.

Speaker:

Yep.

Speaker:

For protection, but it was, we, when we first started, we're like,

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And we also don't know exactly.

Speaker:

What the intention of it, is

Speaker:

here.

Speaker:

and I might say you probably also didn't know who owns it.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

know who's in control of this.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

so the other thing I wanna stick to the budgeting piece, cuz this was

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

talking with members of the board of supervisors and even beyond when

Speaker:

the kind of our group disbanded, but I was keeping taps for a period of

Speaker:

time, until I realized it was DOA.

Speaker:

To be honest with you.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

our area was a very aging board.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

at the forefront, to be honest with you.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Magic fairs are gonna come and sprinkle internets on us.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

One of 'em was actually in my yard and I just remember being able to.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

It did not make any change.

Speaker:

But it made him pause.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

out there previously, again, not knowing the details of the new infrastructure

Speaker:

bill required a skin in the game kind of component for the counties.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

the cold pepper.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

those communities that think free enterprise is gonna come save the day?

Speaker:

They can't do a public option because.

Speaker:

They can't drum up with the support.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

structure.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

and what my concern kind of piggybacking off of that is when I talk to counties

Speaker:

and they say 5g is just around the corner or we hear star lake is gonna.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

And so we're gonna pause, or we don't need to think about this, or

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

The new and the next and the largest and the loudest.

Speaker:

But to be 5g, at least the 5g that would replace a home internet

Speaker:

connection is not going to come to rural America anytime soon, if at all.

Speaker:

Just because the infrastructure required to deploy that type of network,

Speaker:

Starlink is also picking and choosing.

Speaker:

House by house who they're going to serve.

Speaker:

In 2018, yeah.

Speaker:

Elon Musk says I'm gonna connect this world.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And now he's saying I'm gonna connect just a couple of houses here, and here.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And the network connection is uncertain.

Speaker:

It's certainly been dialed down.

Speaker:

Originally it was promised it would compete with fiber optics in 5g.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

And now it's looking more like it will compete with cable.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

it keeps getting pushed off.

Speaker:

I

Speaker:

got two clients now that need it.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Horribly, but they,

Speaker:

it just keeps it get.

Speaker:

So there are options next quarter, there are options on the ground right now.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

boards of supervisors to look at.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

from U S D a require collateral or a matching component sometimes 25%, but

Speaker:

this is where I we're actually seeing some really great use of cares act money.

Speaker:

Every state's.

Speaker:

Buckets of money from cares act.

Speaker:

And then county got a lot of money.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

able to use the cares act money.

Speaker:

It got as that down payment to receive other loans and grants.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the massive deployment of Firefly broadband with the central Virginia

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

COVID money into kind of champion.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

to use it as the matching component.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

high speed affordable networks.

Speaker:

And hopefully that energy and that commitment to connectivity will

Speaker:

extend to this next round of federal.

Speaker:

No.

Speaker:

And it's crazy.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

with some people, in, in Copa my wife is assistant principal in Stafford.

Speaker:

And when the pandemic started I remember her, they sent everybody

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

And then I heard through the grape.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And it's I did not know him.

Speaker:

I still don't know him.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

I hope to meet him soon and I shot him a note back then.

Speaker:

I said, got man I lived with this.

Speaker:

Do not try to do this on your own.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

You're going to break yourself in half and you need to go get every

Speaker:

political person involved to try to figure out some resources.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

But to me, That's a stop gap solution where they have to spend

Speaker:

on a dime versus a long term thing.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

dramatically aside from a national shortage of hotspots now.

Speaker:

Yeah, so you're absolutely right.

Speaker:

These are definitely stop gaps, so that particularly school

Speaker:

children could get something right.

Speaker:

Now the question is what types of technologies are we

Speaker:

gonna be looking to deploy?

Speaker:

When the president first announced the infrastructure package, he used

Speaker:

this term Futureproof and he said we wanted Futureproof networks.

Speaker:

And typically the word Futureproof is a is a metaphor for fiber.

Speaker:

Sure.

Speaker:

And I have to admit that, when I wrote my book, I was like,

Speaker:

everybody needs five or five.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

communities, the value of fixed wireless so long as, and what fixed wireless is.

Speaker:

Sorry, I should back up is that when you receive your home internet wirelessly

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Consumers are going to get some pretty good speeds.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And so I'm, I guess I'm, softing softening in my old age about, about

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

best choices for themselves because fiber is expensive between 27,000 and

Speaker:

a hundred thousand dollars a mile.

Speaker:

If you're a super spread out county, You know that it's gonna

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So long as you have a good line of sight and there are no pine trees in the way.

Speaker:

You it will be a good stock gap.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

sure that communities have the right information to make the right choices for.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Cuz that's the stuff that, that keeps me up at night.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

in public and private positions.

Speaker:

From some of the big telecoms where you'll read a new story.

Speaker:

Hey, guess what?

Speaker:

One of these guys, we're gonna partner up and we're gonna make this happen.

Speaker:

We're behind you.

Speaker:

We know you need this to happen.

Speaker:

And.

Speaker:

then the next day you get a cease and desist letter.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

From pretty much the same people.

Speaker:

Is that pretty prevalent for them?

Speaker:

I don't.

Speaker:

And I don't understand.

Speaker:

I, the, particularly if you're getting grant money or federal funding, so it's

Speaker:

not completely on the telecom itself.

Speaker:

To go.

Speaker:

Alright, you're gonna scale of economies.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

You don't, you're not footing the bill.

Speaker:

Why do that.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And I didn't until

Speaker:

I firsthand I think that what we see a lot of times is, yeah, there'll be some grant

Speaker:

money and a large income will come in.

Speaker:

They'll end up connecting just the highly populated area.

Speaker:

Probably usually the county seat and then nothing else.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

They didn't apply for money.

Speaker:

And this is a stuff that's really worrisome or on the flip side, and I've

Speaker:

seen this happen with multiple counties in Virginia, that they've got grant money.

Speaker:

They can't find a public, a private partner.

Speaker:

Yes.

Speaker:

Cause no one wants to come into these counties at all.

Speaker:

They might come around and kick the tires.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

to come in and connect that rule of an.

Speaker:

do you

Speaker:

see this at any point, this something I've kicked around for

Speaker:

years, at some point, getting.

Speaker:

Classified as a legit utility, like water and

Speaker:

electric I think yes and no.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

broadband, which is net neutrality.

Speaker:

And, you wanna make the internet and utility and.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

like, it just, we weren't getting any traction with calling the C utility.

Speaker:

Ohio had a really interesting case recently where they tried

Speaker:

to classify Google as a utility.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

in their legal memorandum.

Speaker:

So it's gonna be up to states, to determine.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

call this a utility and therefore do things like rate regulation.

Speaker:

You're gonna get into a battle with a federal communications

Speaker:

commission and this actually.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the 1996 telecommunications act.

Speaker:

And are you title one or title two?

Speaker:

Are you an information service where you have no regulation or

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

states and the FCC to make it happen.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

sure if there's a lot of political.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

I'm all for it.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

states or at the FCC to fight that fight.

Speaker:

She's unfortunate.

Speaker:

Yeah cause my concern and it's probably one that you share too, is if we don't

Speaker:

solve the broadband issue, you're besides having a generation of people

Speaker:

that won't be in touch with truly what's going on, you're gonna lose their

Speaker:

creativity, their educational aspects.

Speaker:

You're also gonna start getting, pushed away from the rural environments where

Speaker:

in my mind, you're gonna have a little bit of a population migration into.

Speaker:

The places that have internet.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Not what is the crime rate?

Speaker:

Hey, is this how Scott high speed is Comcast here?

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Is Verizon

Speaker:

here?

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Number one question.

Speaker:

And probably number two question.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

the, to more population centers.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

migration in urban areas, but people were not asking that question cuz there

Speaker:

was this presumption of connectivity.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

broadband conversation in and out.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

about how the, what the internet is.

Speaker:

What do you need in terms of your internet connectivity?

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Virginia that you can actually move to.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

is almost everywhere in Nelson.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

How do we make sure that you could move anywhere in

Speaker:

Virginia and still do your job?

Speaker:

That I think is so crucial.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Now it's location, broadband.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

billion, folks are gonna go to where the we've learned, how to work from home.

Speaker:

We've learned how to work from coffee shops.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

people or to keep young people there.

Speaker:

But.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

saying it's the decisive factor.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

means it's gonna be so much better, but it's a crucial factor in, in,

Speaker:

in rural economic development.

Speaker:

And we need to make sure that counties and communities really understand that point.

Speaker:

How with reading tea leave.

Speaker:

Do you think we're gonna get it right or fall into the traps of all behavior, where

Speaker:

we're gonna just start giving these places money that they're gonna misappropriate

Speaker:

MIS issues, and then nobody's actually gonna actually hold them accountable

Speaker:

for doing that.

Speaker:

So I think there is hope in that Congress gave the money to the NTA and not the FCC.

Speaker:

The FCC has proven to be.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And we saw this particular with the rural digital opportunity fund

Speaker:

that is going through some kind of colossal hiccups right now when like

Speaker:

parking lots got funded and traffic circles got funded because just

Speaker:

because of a lack of due diligence.

Speaker:

So I think there's a good.

Speaker:

There's potential for NTA to write these wrongs.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

So it's in the presidential side.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

to have a well staffed broadband office, cuz if states don't.

Speaker:

Have the capacity to access the NTA money, the 65 billion then other

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

and that's gonna be really problematic.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

equipped and well staffed to be able to handle, what's at a minimum going to be

Speaker:

a hundred million dollars per state, but it's probably gonna go a whole lot more.

Speaker:

When you're doling out 42 billion it's, what is that?

Speaker:

It.

Speaker:

Less than a billion estate, but not that far off.

Speaker:

Virginia for instance, was to get a lot of money.

Speaker:

We need to make sure that we are positioned to, to access it

Speaker:

or history will repeat itself.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And they'll get the money.

Speaker:

Sounds good.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

an issue within their community.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Where would you recommend them go?

Speaker:

Boards of supervisors?

Speaker:

I think boards of supervisors have a tremendous amount

Speaker:

of untapped power in this.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

You need to start with that broadband plan.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

like you, you need one digital champion.

Speaker:

Who's gonna, try and champion this through.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And in Virginia, obviously, since cities are different, like you'll need to get, if

Speaker:

you're in a city of municipality, you'll need to get your local officials there.

Speaker:

But I think.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

and ready to apply for that money.

Speaker:

So that's what I say, go local.

Speaker:

Go

Speaker:

local.

Speaker:

No, absolutely.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

other business owners to get involved.

Speaker:

I saw that lacking.

Speaker:

I was the only one on the entire Royal broadband community

Speaker:

for coal pepper that had.

Speaker:

Any technology experience, right?

Speaker:

Yeah, and I appreciated don't get me wrong.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

I get you.

Speaker:

Not every single other one was a real estate agent in, in, in the

Speaker:

case that I was in, because it's Def it's directly impacted what they

Speaker:

did day.

Speaker:

Absolutely.

Speaker:

We have, this is a, we've gotta build our stakeholder coalitions.

Speaker:

Everybody, every business is a stakeholder.

Speaker:

So if you're doing credit card transactions, you have a stake in

Speaker:

broadband deployment in your community.

Speaker:

So let's mobilize all of these actors.

Speaker:

To make sure that everybody is connected.

Speaker:

Absolutely.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

links to your previous presentations.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

But if anybody wants to reach out to you directly, what's the best place.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

And you can also find me on Twitter at alley underscore, Chris.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

Awesome.

Speaker:

And yes.

Speaker:

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

Speaker:

Yep.

Speaker:

Yep.

Speaker:

Not just broadband and everything.

Speaker:

Not just broadband.

Speaker:

Yeah.

Speaker:

No, I appreciate the time.

Speaker:

This

Speaker:

is great catching up.

Speaker:

Thanks for having me.

Speaker:

This has been great.

Speaker:

Yeah, no, appreciate it.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for The Business Samurai
The Business Samurai
Skills and Stories to be a Well-Rounded Leader in Business

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