Closing the Rural Digital Divide
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Closing the Rural Digital Divide

Posted September 10th, 2018 by seanm

Access Humboldt joined in three separate filings today, two responding to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) invitation regarding implementation of an "E-Connectivity Pilot Program" funded by Congress to help close the digital divide by providing access to fast internet ("broadband") service, and another to the FCC regarding a proposed "Connected Care" pilot program for rural telemedicine.

The first filing was written and coordinated by Public Knowledge, as the first action of a new national rural broadband coalition announced last week. http://www.accesshumboldt.net/site/broadband-connects-america-rural-coal...

That coalition filing highlights:
- Closing the rural digital divide is paramount to the future of the rural economy;
- USDA should evaluate a rural household's "sufficient access" to broadband with metrics that go beyond mere speed;
- USDA should design the E-Connectivity Pilot in a way that provides unique solutions for each unique rural area; and,
- E-Connectivity should consider the effects on the rural digital divide on marginalized communities like tribal nations, communities of color, consumers with disabilities, the elderly and low-income consumers. Filing attached below as "FINAL USDA E-Connectivity Comments."

The second filing in response to the USDA request was submitted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), of which Access Humboldt is a founding affiliate. Key points in NDIA's filing:
- Affordability of service should be included in evaluating "sufficient access";
- Affordability benchmarks require a robust and thoughtful methodology which NDIA proposes; and,
- Benchmarks for funding should give preference to projects whose network business plans include affordable service options for lower-income households.

Another important filing was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission today regarding their "Connected Care" pilot program Notice of Inquiry (NOI) for rural telehealth services by the Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB.org), of which Access Humboldt is a founding member.
SHLB's filing promotes the idea of building capacity across community sectors, making several key points:
- SHLB supports FCC proposal to establish a pilot project to fund rural telemedicine trial projects;
- FCC should launch the Connected Care pilot program by promoting shared infrastructure and eliminating silos that separate universal service programs;
- FCC has legal authority to establish the program under its general mandate to promote communications;
- There is no reason to restrict the trials to incumbent telephone companies aka eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs); and,
- FCC should encourage provision of telehealth services along with other universal service programs, especially E-Rate (schools/libraries) and rural health care.

SHLB's comments to the FCC are also attached below.

Access Humboldt's executive director Sean Taketa McLaughlin noted: "Federal policies are in play that will have profound impacts on remote and rural communities like Humboldt County and the Redwood Coast. We continue to monitor and engage with those policies by every means available. Today we have joined with three different groups in three separate and important filings to Federal agencies. Thankfully, we find strong support from the North Coast's Member of Congress Jared Huffman and the California Senate delegation. But there is lots of work ongoing as we seek to close the digital divide. Folks interested in securing a future with universal access to open networks should join Access Humboldt!"

For more information, contact Sean Taketa McLaughlin e: sean@accesshumboldt.net

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Access Humboldt is a non-profit, community media & broadband access organization serving the residents and local jurisdictions of Humboldt County on the North Coast of California USA, managing resources that include: cable access TV channels; KZZH FM 96.7 community radio; a wide area broadband network with dedicated optic fiber connections to twenty locations serving local jurisdictions and community anchor institutions; broadband access wireless networks; a Community Media Center with studio and other production equipment and training on the Eureka High School campus; and ongoing operational support for public, educational and governmental access media services.

AccessHumboldt.net

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