In this interview, Jessica Fowler, Lit Communities Chief Client Officer, talks about the exciting work being done to bridge the digital divide. Grab a cup of coffee and take a moment to listen to how Lit is addressing several challenges municipalities are facing and overcoming as actionable plans are being developed and executed and Fiber Internet is being deployed.
Broadband public affairs attorney Lindsay Miller has joined Lit Communities as President of Consulting for the fiber optic broadband consulting, construction, and design firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. She had been Partner and Vice Chair of the Government Law Group in the Columbus, Ohio, office of Ice Miller LLP.
Miller will continue her focus on helping local governments and their stakeholders build public-private partnerships for the creation and expansion of fiber and wireless networks across the country.
“I am grateful for the opportunities and growth I was provided in the broadband industry during my time with Ice Miller. I am also excited about the ongoing opportunities we’ll have to work together to guide local leaders in executing strategies for ubiquitous broadband coverage and digital inclusion,” Miller said.
Lit Communities and Ice Miller frequently collaborate on consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.
“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry. Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients,” said Brian Snider, founder and CEO of Lit Communities.
Miller joined Ice Miller in 2016 after serving as Executive Director of Connect Ohio and Broadband Research and Planning Counsel for Connected Nation, a nonprofit organization focused on facilitating broadband access, adoption, and use. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Kentucky and dual Master of Arts in Public Policy and Management and Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University.
SEVILLE, Ohio – June 23, 2022 –After completing an extensive evaluation and testing process, Lit Communities has selected Vitruvi’s construction management software to accelerate the ongoing construction of Medina Fiber’s expanding broadband internet network across Medina County.
Vitruvi is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and is a leading provider of solutions that integrate the complicated workflow, documentation, and data – including critical GIS information – involved in creating new wireless and wire-based networks.
Lit Communities is in the midst of building out Medina Fiber’s broadband services in phased deployments that will result in fast, reliable internet access to 45,000 homes and businesses across the county just west of Akron in Northeast Ohio.
“Our rapid progress depends on having best in class tools to manage construction and deployment accurately and efficiently. Vitruvi’s experience and the robust capabilities of its scheduling platform and GIS-enabled tools will prove invaluable as we move forward,” said Brian Snider, CEO of Lit Communities in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We’re excited to join Lit Communities in its work to expand Medina Fiber’s broadband internet capabilities across the ISP’s entire service area. Our built-for-purpose telecom construction software will help these innovative organizations meet their ambitious buildout and deployment goals, and the community will be the ultimate winner here with the availability of the best that digital infrastructure has to offer for learning, business, education, entertainment, and time-critical communications of all types,” said Justin Reid, Vice President/Sales for Vitruvi.
Developed by a team that has “lived the problem of deploying complex network projects.” Vitruvi is an innovative end-to-end telecom construction software platform that greatly improves project efficiencies. Vitruvi re-defines the precision of infrastructure wireless and wireline construction project management (CM) by seamlessly converting GIS designs into a web and mobile app-based construction management solution. Vitruvi aggregates designs, documents, timelines, and construction data to form a single source of truth that all project stakeholders can refer to. Being fully GIS-enabled with an emphasis on user experience, users can access real-time construction management of timelines, schedule of values, labor, and materials. Vitruvi is available on desktop and on mobile Android and iOS devices. Discover more at www.vitruvisoftware.com
About Lit Communities
Lit Communities is both a forward-thinking builder and operator of next-generation network infrastructure and a consultancy that guides communities across the country through the complicated process of deploying their own open application fiber optic utilities. Lit Communities believes that by separating the network infrastructure from the services provided on it, a more resilient and consumer-friendly environment is created. This approach makes otherwise prohibitively expensive networks feasible to build in communities of all sizes. Learn more about Lit Communities.
The Honorable Will Metcalf P.O. Box 12068 Capitol Station Austin, TX 78711
RE: Public Statement on House Interim Charges (88th Legislative Session)
Greetings Chairman Metcalf:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a written statement regarding the House Interim Charges related to HB 5 before the House State Affairs Committee today, April 26, 2022. At this time, our company would like to provide the following public comments regarding the interim charges before the committee.
We are thankful that the 87th State Legislature approved HB 5 and are excited to see the implementation of the Broadband Development Office (BDO). With parallel passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and active policy developments at the federal and state levels, we look forward to future public meetings and opportunities for engagement to learn more about the BDO, its operations and major updates including availability of the State’s initial Broadband Plan, Broadband Map, upcoming solicitation for U.S. Treasury Capital Project Fund proposals, implementation of NTIA block grant funding and 5-year planning for the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
The BDO’s current Broadband Listening Tour has been a great opportunity for Lit Communities to share its perspectives on exploring broadband solutions through our Community Assessment process as well as a private partner for Fiber to the Premise deployment. We hope that the Listening Tour has provided validation that challenges exist in unserved and underserved areas in both rural and urban communities throughout the State. Regarding the development of the State’s Broadband Development Map, we are excited to see how the map will illustrate and designate eligible areas and how it will be used in conjunction with the upcoming release of the FCC’s Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric mapping data. We hope that the combination of these resources will create a streamlined approach for not only identifying eligible unserved and underserved areas with greater accuracy and confidence but also minimize unnecessary challenges from incumbent providers which would inadvertently result in a burden to the State and delay the deployment of funding. In terms of leveraging data from the State’s Broadband Map, we believe it will be very helpful for avoiding duplication of funding from the Economic Development Administration, US Department of Agriculture and Federal Communications Commission (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund). We are also encouraged to learn that the BDO is supportive of adopting a higher broadband speed threshold of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical. In terms of closing the Digital Divide, 100/100 is a great minimum threshold to support deployment in unserved and underserved communities and should be scalable for gigabit speeds for higher thresholds as technology advances.
With respect to the State’s initial Broadband Plan, we are excited to see the report, findings, and recommendations regarding broadband development throughout the State. Given the BEAD funding’s long-range planning requirements, we are optimistic that the initial plan will serve as an excellent baseline for data that we have today as well as additional information that we will have in the coming months from the FCC. We are also looking forward to learning what the State Broadband Plan will include with respect to state and regional approaches to broadband development, such as the Middle Mile deployment efforts being undertaken by the Lower Colorado River Authority. We believe that regional and multi-county approaches can serve as best practices and provide significant cost- effectiveness and allow for greater flexibility in the broadband solutions included and funded by the State. Lastly, given the long-term need to address workforce development and supply chain challenges, we hope that the BDO includes an overview of baseline needs and potential actions to address these issues. There is no doubt that the deployment of funding for broadband infrastructure will create a lasting impact on our State, however we cannot lose sight of the tremendous opportunity we have as a State to create jobs and build capacity to support these assets and investments.
In conclusion, we are thankful for the Texas Legislature, Comptroller of Public Accounts and State Broadband Development Office’s coordinated work to implement the HB 5 legislation, which will be an essential element of the State’s ability and capacity to implement the future BEAD funding and strategically curtail the digital divide. We appreciate the Committee’s consideration of these suggestions and are available to answer any questions you may have.
Sincerely, Rene Gonzalez
Chief Strategy Officer Lit Communities Broadband, Inc.
Over the past 24 months, billions in federal funding for broadband have been provided to states and communities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including CARES Act, 2021 Congressional Appropriations Act, American Rescue Plan Act (State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds and Capital Projects Fund), and related state broadband grant programs. Through all of the planning, execution, and implementation of these funded projects, there have been essential lessons learned regarding successful innovative approaches, partnerships, and impacts in unserved and underserved areas throughout the United States. While these trailblazing projects and communities are leading by example, the response from states has had its fair share of successes and challenges.
Some states were well ahead of the curve and had Broadband Offices and Authorities established well ahead of the pandemic and served as early examples of best practices for other states needing the same core elements of a dedicated entity, statewide plan, and funding mechanism to address the respective gaps. For many states that did not have a dedicated or formal Broadband Office or Authority, the last two years have been incredibly challenging for legislators and government officials across state and federal levels. Compared to planning and solving infrastructure issues with transportation, water, or electricity, broadband was new to the game and there needed to be not only legislative solutions, but also funding and capacity building to respond to the urgency of the pandemic.
As each state begins preparing for implementation of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, there are opportunities to identify shortcomings and lessons learned from recent grant cycles to make improvements and create efficiencies before $42.45 billion in funding hits the street. While the following is not an exhaustive list, we would like to highlight three aspects for states to consider when looking in the rearview mirror:
Unserved/Underserved Data Clearinghouse
Leveraging local, regional, and national broadband data sources can bring valuable insights into all respects of broadband grant programs and proposals, however we need assistance from states to identify valid sources and methodologies for identifying and estimating unserved and underserved locations. For example, if speed test data is obtained at a high level of statistical validity in a given area, an applicant should be able to demonstrate how its data can be utilized to establish a baseline estimate for unserved or underserved households. In one recent experience with the state of Ohio, an application submitted by Lit’s subsidiary, Medina Fiber in partnership with Medina County, OH, received a score of zero points for one major criteria despite evidence of need from a variety of sources including NTIA’s Indicators of Broadband Need and the state of Ohio’s newly released broadband mapping data which confirmed unserved and underserved households in the respective township. In order to provide a fair and equal playing field for all applicants, states should take utmost responsibility in validating sources and methodologies for applicants to ensure that areas who experience chronic effects of the digital divide do not remain in that status due to oversights that could have been corrected. Lastly, the validity of the data will be helpful for states to confirm that proposals are non-duplicative and also during challenges or protests lodged by incumbent providers.
Equitable Distribution of Funding
It is not a shock to see both state and federal broadband grant programs with demand that pales in comparison to the amount of funding available. NTIA’s recent Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) was nearly 10 times oversubscribed and ultimately only 13 awards were made in 12 states. In fact, 7 applications comprised nearly 77% of the total available funding. Looking at the award list a bit closer, it is apparent that NTIA would like to see more regional, multi-county and state-level partnerships in the mix.
Unfortunately, proposals from Pennsylvania, Texas and other states were left at a disadvantage because they didn’t have a Broadband Office or Authority in existence at the time of the BIP grant cycle and no insight to stack proposals together to compete against individual community applications. If the least connected city with a population over 100,000, Brownsville, TX can’t obtain grant funding to close these gaps, then where are they expected to find it? On a positive note, these collaborations are essential to solving the digital divide and closing critical infrastructure gaps, especially in economically distressed, rural and high-cost areas. However, these proposals shouldn’t be competing directly with applications from individual communities.
To learn from this, states should determine how much funding to direct to communities where smaller, local or regional providers can close the unserved and underserved gaps and determine the maximum amount of funding to be awarded for an individual project as well as a larger regional project. This approach will also assist applicants to right size their proposals and allow the state to make the greatest number of awards with its BEAD allocation. Additionally, in order to leverage the capitalization grants to the greatest extent possible, grant matching should not be optional for ISP providers. There has to be some “skin” put into the game and contributing to the capital stack should not be an option, it should be an expectation to promote the sustainability of the funding program.
Incentivizing Best Practices and Approaches
Knowing that funding from the BEAD is finite, it is critical that states identify and exemplify best practices from local and regional broadband infrastructure projects. By learning from successful methodologies and approaches, other communities can utilize those examples for their own projects and networks. Additionally, states should identify incentives and consideration of additional points for projects which:
leverage existing infrastructure, such as poles, right-of-way, underground utilities, etc.
have established partnerships with public entities such as cities, counties and rural electric cooperatives
promote a competitive broadband environment with networks that are open access
include digital inclusion partnerships that reinforce the project and compliment the other “legs of the stool”, and
integrate opportunities to train, certify and hire personnel to fill workforce development gaps.
In conclusion, no one is perfect and we can always improve and learn from our mistakes. The time to think critically and strategically is more important now than ever before. We can’t predict the next time that $42.45 billion dollars in funding will be provided to all states again, so let’s do our best and get America LIT!
Lit Communities, in partnership with Ice Miller Whiteboard and DLZ, has helped provide Monongalia County with a strategic plan to guide the rollout of critical broadband connectivity to residents, businesses, and other organizations in the historic community of about 100,000 residents along the Monongahela River in West Virginia.
The 168-page strategic plan was presented to County Commissioners on Feb. 19, completing a project that began in May 2021 with the goal of both identifying areas that show the most need for improved internet service, and laying out a path for providing that critical new infrastructure across the county that includes rural areas as well as metro Morgantown and the University of West Virginia.
The project included a series of meetings and a survey that found overwhelming support for improved internet service and culminated with the following recommendations:
The county should use federal infrastructure funds and other federal and state grants to invest in a middle-mile fiber backbone network.
Private providers can use the network to expand wired and wireless last-mile connectivity. The county can do the same in certain locations, primarily in the western sections of the county.
The county can leverage the high level of collaboration already demonstrated by local energy companies and utility providers to take advantage of existing rights-of-way and easements to enhance the rollout’s efficiency and effectiveness.
Lit Communities provided expertise on network design, financial modeling, consumer demand, and grant processes to help determine the specific next steps that Monongalia County leaders can take to achieve their fiber broadband goals. The full report can be viewed here.
“The level of interest and commitment we found among multiple stakeholders in Monongalia County gives us confidence that this plan, if followed, would result in a project that could be used as a national template on how to bring top-tier fiber broadband connectivity to similar communities across the country.” – Brian Snider, CEO of Lit Communities
“This strategic plan has been a huge project for our county, staff, and consultants,” said Sean Sikora, Monongalia County Commissioner. “We need robust internet connectivity to grow and thrive, and now we’re one step closer to providing better broadband service to more of our residents.”
About Lit CommunitiesLit Communities is both a forward-thinking builder and operator of next-generation network infrastructure and a consultancy that guides communities across the country through the complicated process of deploying their own open application fiber optic utilities. Lit Communities believes that by separating the network infrastructure from the services provided on it, a more resilient and consumer-friendly environment is created. This approach makes otherwise prohibitively expensive networks feasible to build in communities of all sizes. Learn more about Lit Communities.