A horse pulling fiber in Kentucky. Photo credit: Pro Publica
by DJ Rippert
A tale of two places. The next generation of consumer wireless technology is called Fifth Generation or 5G. It is being rolled out in select parts of the United States right now. 5G will be a boon to urban and suburban Virginia. Absent heavy government subsidies, it will likely have a minimal direct effect on rural Virginia. Of course, any technology that favors high population density areas over low population density areas expands the rural-urban gap. The reasons for 5G’s value in high density areas vs low density areas run the gamut from physics to economics. However, there are some engineering scenarios and demographic situations where 5G might be effective in select rural areas without massive governmental subsidies. Those will be discussed later in this post. And, of course, massive government subsidies are always on the table. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As K-12 schools, community colleges and universities shift ever more learning online, the so-called “digital divide” — disparate access to high-speed Internet access and computers — is looming as a bigger problem than ever before.
A new analysis by the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) finds that more than 200,000 K-12 students (14%) and more than 60,000 college students (10%) lack broadband subscriptions in the home. The survey also found that 173,000 K-12 students (12%) and nearly 23,000 college students (4%) lack a laptop or desktop computer.
The lack of access to broadband is most acute in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure is spottiest, but is widespread in Virginia’s urban areas as well. Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.
“The research looked at whether students actually had broadband service in the home,” said Tom Allison, SCHEV’s senior associate for finance and innovation policy and author of the report, “rather than if it was available in their area. That is important because a household might have a dozen companies to choose from, but won’t benefit if they can’t afford it.” Continue reading
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Here is a follow-up on a previous post. The Supreme Court handed down a decision today that will probably be lost in the coverage of its other decision released today, the one about “faithless” Presidential electors. Nevertheless, the decision in that other case, Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, inc., saves us all some aggravation.
Current federal law prohibits robocalls to cell phones, except calls made exclusively to collect a federal debt. The association representing political consultants sued, arguing that the prohibition violated the First Amendment right of its members. In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that the law violated the First Amendment, but the political consultants did not get what they wanted. The Court’s ultimate decision was unanimous, but the Justices were remarkably split all over the place about the reasons for the outcome. There were four separate opinions filed. Continue reading
The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia
By Peter Galuszka
Around midnight Monday, reporters in downtown Washington D.C., stood by ready to cover the next round of protests about the slaying of African Americans by police.
They started getting tweets marked #dcblackout suggesting that internet service was being interrupted because of a secret program presumably run by the government that would cut them off.
The curious thing, NBC News reported, is that the reporters’ cell phones worked just fine. Later Twitter was contacted and began to investigate. It was curious that the questionable tweet seemed to be coming from the left-wing ANTIFA group that is said to have helped organize protests around the country.
A tweet labeled as been sourced with ANTIFA proclaimed “Tonight’s the night, comrades. Tonight we say F&*^The city and we move into the residential areas, the white hoods and we take what’s ours.”
Twitter quickly uncovered the problem. The tweets were fakes put out by a far-right white nationalist group called Identity Evropa. Twitter took down the sites because they violated the company’s policy against using social media to incite violence, NBC reported. Continue reading
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Laura Bacon raises a Quarantini (recipe available upon request) in preparation for our virtual book club.
by James A. Bacon
We’ve been in self-isolation for only a week, and already we’re getting cabin fever. Laura and I were especially disappointed by the cancellation of our bi-monthly book club meeting, which would have entailed gathering more than ten people in one place.
Fortunately, thanks to the miracles of technology — broadband and Zoom, in particular — we managed to gather virtually. Some of our group had used Zoom for business, but no one knew how the program would work as a social media. It turned out pretty well. It wasn’t as satisfying as conversing (and eating and drinking) in person, but it was a lot more fun than sitting around by ourselves and watching re-runs of “Nurse Jackie.” Continue reading
Virginia broadband availability map. Source: Dominion Energy “Broadband Feasibility Report”
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., could become key players in the Northam administration’s push to extend broadband access to rural communities.
A State Corporation Commission ruling is expected today on an Apco proposal to extend “middle mile” broadband in partnership with Bluefield-based GigaBeam Networks, which will provide “last mile” connectivity to retail customers in Grayson County.
And last month, Dominion announced a partnership with Prince George Electric Cooperative’s RURALBAND subsidiary to provide Internet connectivity to 3,600 customers in Surry County. Dominion’s “middle-mile” service would link Prince George local network with high-capacity fiber-optic trunk lines.
The logic behind these partnerships is that, spurred by the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, Dominion and Apco are already spending tens of millions of dollars to install broadband in their electric distribution systems. They can add enough additional capacity to serve nearby rural communities at marginal additional cost. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Last week Governor Ralph Northam announced $18.3 million in Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grants to support 12 projects across the state. Leveraging $35 million in local and private matching funds, the projects will connect about 36,000 households, including thousands of businesses and “community anchor” institutions — an average state subsidy of roughly $500 per household on average.
Promoting rural broadband is a rare example of widespread bipartisan agreement in Virginia. Rural areas and small towns need high-bandwidth Internet access to compete for talent and corporate investment. That said, low-density human settlement patterns are expensive to serve with broadband, and the state has limited funds, about $35 million a year, to devote to this purpose.
Not all government-funded projects are created equal. Among the 39 applications submitted, some offer a better Return on Investment (ROI) than others. What’s the story behind these 12 winners? The governor’s press release doesn’t provide information beyond the size of the awards. But a number of local news stories provide additional details. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Internet, pundits long predicted, would emancipate people from the necessity of living near where they worked. The connectivity provided by cell phones, laptops and broadband would allow people to plug in at home…. or even while lounging by the pool or on the beach. It was a nice fantasy, but telecommuting never lived up to its potential. Far from freeing people to live in the bucolic countryside, the logic of the Knowledge Economy impelled more people to the city. A new theory emerged: that the clustering of knowledge workers led to such huge gains in productivity and innovation that it outweighed any lifestyle benefits to telecommuting long distances. The bigger the labor market, the greater the pull.
Now Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group, has been so bold as to suggest the dynamic might be shifting again. New Census Bureau data, he writes in the StatChat blog, suggest that over the past three years “the places Americans chose to live are becoming less connected to where their employer is based.”
What’s different all of a sudden? Perhaps the tighter labor market. Lombard suggests. As certain sectors of the economy experience labor shortages, employees have more bargaining power. He doesn’t say this, but I’ll throw it out there for consideration: Instead of pushing for higher wages, perhaps more people are using that bargaining power for more control over their work-life balance.
Whatever the reason, the impact of the increasing work-from-home phenomenon is potentially profound. Outside of Virginia’s major metro areas themselves, the regions that seem particularly effected are the Shenandoah Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Continue reading
5G rollout reaches Virginia. Outside of Crystal City and the Reagan National Airport, Hampton Roads is the first region in Virginia to enjoy 5G cellular access. Verizon has announced that its 5G Ultra Wideband mobility service is available in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, downtown Norfolk, Newport News, Old Dominion University, Hampton, Chesapeake, and other high-traffic locations, reports Virginia Business. Said Governor Ralph Northam in a statement: “This technology will propel the industries that drive coastal Virginia — the military, advanced manufacturing, logistics, higher education, health care, tourism and more. We can’t wait to see new opportunities unfold for workers and innovators.” The service is available in 31 other cities.
Virginia unemployment still 2.6%. Virginia’s unemployment rate remained at 2.6% in November, even as the labor force expanded by 13,326, or 0.3%. Employment set a record of 4.4 million people, reports Virginia Business. While Virginia job creation has lagged the national pace, there is a bit of good news within the numbers: Job creation is market driven, not government-driven. Year over year, the private sector added 47,400 jobs while the public sector shed 7,300 jobs.
…But never fear, government is still creating some jobs. For example, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has hired a diversity and inclusion officer. The 450-person department, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch has “struggled” with diversity: only 9% of employees earlier this year were “people of color,” compared with the average at Virginia agencies of 36%. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Office of the State Inspector General is conducting an audit of diversity and inclusion practices within state natural Resources agencies, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Continue reading
by Peter Galuszka
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) has drawn lots of attention for her Rural Broadband Summit at Louisa County High School in Mineral on Aug. 17, which got plenty of comment from primarily rural residents unhappy that they can’t get access to quick, reliable Internet service.
Good for Spanberger, who beat Republican Dave Brat in last year’s hotly contested election. But this all brings questions: after so many years why are we still facing this?
I am now in my second decade of writing about the lack of broadband access in rural and inner city areas.
A piece I did for Chief Executive magazine about 10 years ago explored how mostly minority business owners in inner Philadelphia couldn’t afford broadband because the big providers, which would include Comcast and Verizon, cherry pick their locations. The firms wanted to boost margins so they pushed “triple play” (Internet, telephone and television) access in wealthier areas. Those not so privileged had to struggle with higher costs and access issues. “I don’t need 400 channels,” an inner city business owner told me. Continue reading
Everyone can agree, I think, that broadband Internet service is an essential utility for Virginia’s rural areas. There appears to be a wide base of support for the commonwealth to expend modest sums of money to help extend broadband to rural Virginians where the population density is insufficient to attract fiber-optic and wireless investment by private telecom companies. But I do have one question: What’s wrong with satellite broadband?
My question is prompted by an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today by Evan Feinman and Courtney Dozier, the point persons in Governor Ralph Northam’s bid to expand rural broadband access. They describe programs that use public dollars to grease partnerships between localities, internet service providers, and electric utilities. Since the beginning of the Northam administration, they note, state-funded programs have helped establish 71,000 connections to homes and businesses. And that’s just the beginning of what they have planned. They are asking for tens of millions of dollars more.
That all sounds great. When it comes to rural economic development, investing in broadband may be the most effective way to spend public dollars. Still, what’s wrong with satellite technology? Continue reading