Connected Nation

U.S. Broadband Summit: Discussing State, Native, and Publicly-owned broadband solutions

November 16, 2023 Season 4 Episode 33
U.S. Broadband Summit: Discussing State, Native, and Publicly-owned broadband solutions
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
U.S. Broadband Summit: Discussing State, Native, and Publicly-owned broadband solutions
Nov 16, 2023 Season 4 Episode 33

On this episode of Connected Nation, we complete our coverage of the US Broadband Summit taking place in Washington, DC.

Among our guests: Quinn Jordan, who founded the Mississippi Broadband Association; Donald Long Knife who built broadband access from the ground up for his tribe in Montana; and Gigi Sohn, who has a long history of public service, including with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),  co-founding Public Knowledge, and  now leading the American Association for Public Broadband as its Executive Director. 

Related links:
U.S. Broadband Summit website -

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation, we complete our coverage of the US Broadband Summit taking place in Washington, DC.

Among our guests: Quinn Jordan, who founded the Mississippi Broadband Association; Donald Long Knife who built broadband access from the ground up for his tribe in Montana; and Gigi Sohn, who has a long history of public service, including with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),  co-founding Public Knowledge, and  now leading the American Association for Public Broadband as its Executive Director. 

Related links:
U.S. Broadband Summit website -

Jessica Denson, Host (00:00:05):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.


On this episode, we complete our coverage of the US Broadband Summit taking place in Washington DC Among our guests today, Quinn Jordan, who founded the Mississippi Broadband Association, Donald Long Knife who built broadband access from the ground up for his tribe in Montana. And Gigi Sohn, who has a long history of public service, including with the FCC co-founding Public Knowledge and she's now leading the American Association for Public Broadband.


I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation.


Okay. We are a day two of the US Broadband Summit. My first guest of the day is Quinn Jordan, who is with the Mississippi Broadband Association. Welcome Quinn.

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:01:02):

Welcome to you and thank you for having me.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:01:03):

Thank you for joining us. I just want the audience to know that you are put together, your suit is the talk of the town. All the ladies were like, wow, look at that guy. Go

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:01:13):

By. That's right. You know what, if you can't do it, just look it. That's right. Right. So I look the part you do if I'm not the part. How about that?

Jessica Denson, Host (00:01:21):

So tell me a little bit about the Mississippi Broadband Association.

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:01:24):

Sure. Well, Mississippi Broadband Association is relatively new. It was inked in April and kind of really got our first membership after our spring show, which is in May. So we've put on two shows this year. We've put on our spring summit we called it, which was really just a convening of the stakeholders of Mississippi and from the broadband office to the community leaders and then moved into our fall show. That was really switching gears and I tell everybody, I think we've talked long enough, it's now time to do stuff. So our association is moving from the educational standpoint of what's coming and what's going to happen to what do we do to affect broadband in our reach.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:02:08):

How does the association work with the state broadband office? Those are two different entities, right?

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:02:13):

Absolutely, they are. And so that's a very good question. So Sally and I intentionally and really work hard to ensure that we're two different groups. Sally and them are doing a phenomenal job on just the nuts and bolts of BEAD and CPF and reconnect and all the different programs that they've done. And so the association kind of sets on its own merit and its own board and we really just work the advocacy of a holistic approach where we're really looking at, instead of Sally looking at it from the money down, we're looking at it from the community up. How do we get our communities prepared? How do we get our workforce trained? That's going to be huge. I mean, I say it in all my speeches that workforce going to be the key to the success of bead, and so we've got to get workforce done, but also we've got to invest in our communities because we're going to build an education superhighway that's going to go down these dirt roads in Mississippi and the nation.


But if we don't have take and take rates to where they need to be, ACP is something hopefully we'll maybe come back to in a minute. How about that? But if we don't get good take rates, we're not going to be able to manage these networks and make 'em sustainable. So we're going to invest 1.3 billion in Mississippi because it's 1.2 of B and then a hundred and hundred 62 I think for CPF and then all the other money, and then you got your matching funds. So we're all of a sudden looking at look, 1.7, 1.8 billion in the state of Mississippi, but if we don't equip our people to get over the barriers of entry, I feel like we're going to strike out and I don't want it to

Jessica Denson, Host (00:03:55):

Strike out. There's a lot I want to pick really with fan upon with what you said there first, the people problem. I talked to someone else last night about that, one of the local consultants who works with a lot of ISPs and he was saying, we have a people problem in the sense that there aren't going to be enough workers in a few years to do the work. How are you approaching that issue?

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:04:18):

Well, I think it's education. For the longest time, the construction industry in fiber or telecommunications has been a closed environment. They really have. They haven't really squawked about their needs. So they've hired internally, they've worked with, you have a cousin that grew up on a farm that knows how to work that will show up, then we'll hire him. But there's been no education of the careers that's in broadband in fiber, and so in telecommunications. So I think we've got to start first. There's a short-term problem, and then we have a long-term solution. The short term is we've got to get out through our community colleges because in Mississippi we have 15 ecosystems that really do a phenomenal job of training. So we can get to there, but we've got to hear from the construction industry. So what Mississippi Broadband has done is partner with Alliance and Unitech as well as urban construction and other construction companies around the nation and as well as Fiber Broadband Association to do an inventory of what the construction industry needs. Then we need to implement that at the state and say, okay, in Mississippi and ecosystem one, we need 13 fiber placers ecosystem, five, we need cybersecurity because we've already built the network out, but we need this and getting those inventories to the community colleges and turning our best resource loose,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:05:45):

You need some big solutions for that is really what everybody's talking about that I've heard during this summit. So it sounds like you're tackling that, which is great. So you also mentioned the idea of getting people onboarded to the internet. Do you mean with digital skills? Is that what you're referencing?

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:06:02):

Yes and no. So we have a connected literacy fund and you can go to our website MSBA info and look up our connected literacy fund. But there's really, in my opinion, there's three legs to the stool. It's affordable connectivity, it's literacy, and then device distribution, and we want to attack all three. We're looking to raise a $10 million fund for Mississippi. We want to get in all 82 counties to implement our program. We're partnering with those 15 ecosystems that I talked to you earlier about at our community colleges, and it is going to allow us to get into those areas and get with trusted sources that can go out and do ACP outreach. Now, again, I keep bringing up ACP and we need to talk about that. Yeah,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:06:49):

I've wrote it down,

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:06:50):

But once it gets Pat's cp also have to encourage our ISPs to get as close to that $30 mark at t's done, and I'm proud for what they're done with the effectively free product through their $30, a hundred by a hundred symmetric, but other ISPs to get in there, but in rural Mississippi or in rural America, let's go to rural America because you reach everywhere. $30 is not going to be viable in some areas it just costs too much, but if we can supplement a $60 plan, they can get it at half off, and so that's huge. Then second literacy, we want to partner with groups like you, and we've talked to some of your leadership, and thank you for having us on here, by the way, again, to really penetrate and to give people those digital skills to take advantage of what broadband can afford to their life. And then at the end, if they've vested in that they've taken our 12 to 14 hour literacy program, we want to put 'em into a tailored device that would make them be successful. We don't want to give somebody a boat that doesn't live near the lake.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:07:57):

Yeah, that's a great way to put it. Good analogy. Okay, so more questions come on before we to ACP, then we'll talk about ACP. So I liked the way that you put it, that the state was handling the money coming down and you were really working for the community up. It's kind of a place where you'd meet in the middle, right? Yeah, so, so Mississippi has been traditionally at the bottom of the absolutely list when it comes to connectivity. So how are you tackling that at the community

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:08:28):

Level? Well, and I'll choke quote Chip Pickering. Chip is a big fan of mine at the Compass, and I'm sorry to drop these names and they're not dropping. Oh, don't drop 'em. I'm not dropping them because I feel like it makes me better. I'm dropping them because they make us better and they're just great people. So

Jessica Denson, Host (00:08:43):

Chip, so explain to our audience who Chip is.

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:08:45):

Now, chip Pickering was actually a US representative for Mississippi for years. He's now the CEO of Encompass, which encompasses has a whole host of, but their really core is to ensure the competitive nature of the fiber industry, our communications industry. So they just want to make sure that we're competitive, that there's competitive offerings, that people can have a choice so that we can keep prices at a equilibrium. And so that's what CHIP does. But to quote Chip, Mississippi has some of the most amount of fiber in the ground in the Southeast, and the reason that is is because you've got Ceasefire, which is a local company at t is heavily invested, unity Fiber is heavily invested. There's several other groups that are heavily invested in Mississippi at and t as well, if I didn't mention them. But we have the lowest take rates.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:09:40):

So that's where the issue is.

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:09:41):

That's where the issue is. It's not fiber because we've got great fiber backbone, probably one of the best Middle Mile programs by state that there is. Now we got to get to the home, we got to do those drops, and so you can have a super highway. It's kind of like being on the Audubon and not having a on ramp or an off ramp, right? If you can't get on it, you can't do anything with it. Your Maserati's stuck in the garage and that's where our citizens are. They're stuck in their garage, so to speak. They're stuck in their home. They're stuck in a local economy versus the global economy. So giving those on and off ramps to the internet and building out that last mile is really where Mississippi needs is that last mile to that customer to end of that dirt road. How do we get to to 'em with this 1.3 billion and do it effectively and economically?

Jessica Denson, Host (00:10:26):

And are there some challenges that are unique to Mississippi with regards to topography, the environment? Does it have Louisiana, some swamp area or am I imagining that

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:10:37):

Well, no, maybe in southwest Mississippi, a little bit in the Woodville, I always mention Woodville, those areas, but our biggest challenge is just density. There is hills and hollows on the west side from Natches to Vicksburg. I mean, you can lose a whole city in some of those. Hollows is in that area. So how do you cross those areas? So yes, we have topography issues, but in my opinion, we have the biggest problem is density, where in Mississippi we talk a lot about miles per customer instead of customers per mile. And when you start having that conversation, your money doesn't go very far.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:11:14):

Yeah. Okay. So we put a pin in it, the ACP, the affordable connectivity program. What did you want to talk about with that?

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:11:22):

We've been on the hill for the last two days with CHIP and the Pineapple Coalition, whatever that is, chip, I'd love to know. I hadn't joined until this week, and so I told anybody, I said, I'm going with this Pineapple group. If I don't come back, come look for me. And so we get over there, we get to the White House and meeting after meeting. I'm really concerned, I don't know the exact numbers, but the percentage in my opinion is 75, 80% that this may not get funded. And if we don't fund CP and we don't extend it through 24 until we get a long-term solution, then we're going to leave over 20 million households without connectivity. But what we're going to do is we're going to hurt 'em. We're going to hurt the individual, not only intellectually, not only financially, but we're going to hurt that grandmother that's going to tell that grandson that he can't get on the internet anymore and do his work.


And what is that going to do to the individual? It's going to give him where we're supposed to be giving hope. We're going to create environments of hopelessness like, oh, here we go again, right? We're back on the bottom, we're kicked again, we're down. And so I'm afraid what it's going to do from a trust perspective of if the program does come back, then I'm not signing up for that. I remember what they did to me and then it effect. And so ACP program has worked. We do need to find a way to fund it. I'm by nature a Republican. I think we invest money, we should get something out of it. There's nothing wrong with that. But there also has to be a humanitarian side to this, and we're called as a society to provide goods and services to those no matter where and who they are. I think we should, but on the other hand, if we don't invest in ACP, we're going to cost us millions by not versus, excuse me, billions by not versus the 6 billion that we could have done to stop GA it and then move forward.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:13:24):

Just so people understand, the ACP program really works with those people that are low income. It helps 'em get devices, it helps 'em get a discount on their internet so they can access everything from telehealth to, like you said, connecting with their grandkids. There was a real issue during the pandemic with social isolation for seniors. It is a very big program and an important program that Connect Nation wholly supports. Yes. So we would definitely agree with you on that.

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:13:51):

And a little follow up on that comment if we have time, is to look at what ACP, how it affects the individual. We talk about, we've talked about the individual and its effect, but let's talk about the ISP side for you guys out there that are thinking, well, just another government program that's costing us our tax dollars, let's come from the ISP side. Let's look at IXPX, name who they are. They're looking at a rural port of Mississippi or the US whose cost of deployment is with ACP is right on the verge of profitability, are slightly profitable to ratcheting that program back where most areas are from five to 10% of their customer base is ACP. They lose that 10% of their customer base. So on a thousand people, let's just say it doesn't sound like a lot, but it's what, a hundred people? So you're talking about $3,000 a month, 36,000 a year, you go over 10 years. That's why I look at everything $360,000. That could be the difference between somebody actually going into a rural area or not. And so if we pull ACP right before bead rolls out, if I'm an ISP, I have to re-look at things, and I'm afraid we're going to re-look at things and say, I don't know if I can go there or I don't know if my reach needs to be quite that far. We got to stop when we get to two customers per mile, not to two miles per customer.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:15:27):

Yeah, well said. Last night I talked to a lawyer who was talking about the need for a letter of credit for smaller ISPs, and he said, there's this misunderstanding or this thought process that these small ISPs have a lot of cash. They really do not, especially the smaller ones who work in rural America. In that last mile,

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:15:45):

I was able to be on that coalition to help with that LLC. And I'm going to tell you, I'm going to give you an example, and Brian, if you're out there, I'm going to make sure you listen to this podcast, but Brian Smith of uplink in Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta, I mean, he and I have talked since the beginning of our association that's a whopping seven months old. So we're pretty much on social security ourselves. But with that said, Brian went from no to a strong maybe because the 25% letter of credit on a $10 million project plus the 25% match plus the fees and services was almost, and if I remember the math correctly, it was not 50%. It was actually like 62%. So 62% of a $10 million they either had to have in a bank account sitting there doing nothing. So I don't know about you, but I don't have 2.5 mil sitting around. I don't, yeah, 2 million

Jessica Denson, Host (00:16:45):

But not

Quinn Jordan, Mississippi Broadband Association (00:16:46):

2.5 million. Yeah. If it wouldn't have been the 0.5, you'd have had it. And then also setting and putting up that 2.5 mil on matching funds and then you to on top of that high cost areas. So the ones that are, in my opinion, and I have to say that a lot because I don't want to think that I'm speaking for the industry or anybody else, but if I'm a regional provider, I have a vested interest to go in and serve my third cousin that lives down the road, or whenever the network goes down in the middle of the night, I know that they're wanting to watch the same high school football game as being streamed that I, and so we get out and fix it, and then the margins for those individuals, they can operate at lower margins because they have lower overheads. But if we, the barrier for entry to them because of the 25% letter of credit and the 25% matching funds completely removed the small to medium guys from the mix, and now guess what? They're back in the game and our industry's better for

Jessica Denson, Host (00:17:46):

It. And that's just in the last two weeks. Yeah. Well, Quinn, I can talk to you all day. I can tell you this industry, so maybe we could do some follow-up interviews do. I would love that. As things go forward in Mississippi. Again, thank you for joining me.

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:18:00):

Absolutely. Thank you for having us.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:18:02):

I am standing in the exhibit hall and I've run into my colleague Heather Gate again. She is with Ellen Sned, who is with the Strong Woman Alliance. How are you ladies doing?

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:18:12):

We're doing very well. Jessica.

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:18:14):

Great energized by this conference.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:18:16):

And so Heather, you pulled me aside. You wanted me to talk to Ellen. Tell me why

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:18:22):

Ellen is awesome. That's where I have to start. Ellen represents her organization very, very well. We actually met serving together on the fccs Communications Equity and Diversity Council. And as you know, I'm on the telecom side and Ellen's on the broadcasting side and really is a very loud and boisterous and enthusiastic voice for women in broadcasting. So she has a lot to tell you. She's excellent,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:18:49):

And I love that I have a background in television. And so Ellen, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and the Strong Woman Alliance.

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:18:57):

Well, great. Well, thank you Jessica, and thank you Heather. I adore Heather. She was a leader, one of the top leaders within the CEDC. And this is the first time we've met in person because we've always zoomed together. I am a lawyer and a government affairs advocate by training. And my first job out of law school, in fact was as an FCC lawyer in the Mass Media Bureau working on enforcement cases and then Office of Legislative Affairs. So coming back last year to the CEDC, the Council on Equity, diversity and Communications was a real 360, and it was really rewarding to be able to work on some new policy issues and some of the old policy issues that just never go away.


So throughout my career, I've been a voice on the programming side for networks, starting with Viacom after I left the FCC, which is Major MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, some really great brands. And then after that I went to New York City and took a job with Court tv, which was an independent network, and it covered the judicial system and worked there for several years and really worked pivoted from being a lawyer lobbyist to being more of a distribution executive where I was trying to get our networks onto cable platforms. It wasn't easy then, and it's even harder now, but fortunately as this conference is showing that there's more platforms to be able to jump onto, including broadband and streaming.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:20:40):

So tell us a little bit about the Strong Woman Alliance.

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:20:44):

Strong Woman Alliance was created three and a half years ago on April 20th, 2020, on the 100th anniversary of Women's Right to Vote. I love that. With the intent to encourage women to use their voice, to use their vote as their voice and to make their issues heard. So our three tenants are to empower, advance, and advocate for issues important to women.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:21:08):

Alright, let's talk a little bit about the CEDC. I know there's some things you can say and some things you can't. What has come out of that in the last few months after years of work? Right. I'll let you start, Heather.

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:21:21):

Thank you. And I just want to start by saying we were on the fccs Communications Equity and Diversity Council, and so we do not speak on behalf of the FCC. I always want to clarify that. So we've really been doing a lot of work in terms of advocating for women, small business owners and minority business owners in broadcasting and in telecom. So over the last six years where I've had a role in the council, what we have done is not only created a platform for organizations that would not normally be in DC to come and learn one, learn from others with more experience and have been in the business for longer, but also to come and voice what their concerns are. We've also had some conversations on access to capital, making sure that they understand where the capital is and how to get access to, but also amplifying and elevating the challenges that they experience in getting access to that capital. Because without capital, then those voices don't have an equal opportunity to be heard. And so I'll let Ellen expand on that because that's her a real area. And then I can talk a little bit about broadband later.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:22:40):

So Ellen, yeah, did you lead any of the extra committees that they had? I know you have side committees or subcommittees, that's the word I'm looking for. Did you lead any of the subcommittees or were you on those and what was your role with that?

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:22:53):

Yeah, I did co-chair my subcommittee, and it was dealing with various issues of digital equity and equality of access to various things. One being capital, which is really at the top of the list of importance because without money, that's where it all starts, but was also access to platforms. And it's kind of a catch 22 because the smaller, less funded or the smaller networks have less leverage. So independent networks have a harder time getting onto cable platforms than some of the large, huge media groups or the large vertically integrated companies because they have the scale, they have the money, they have the resources, and they have the leverage. And so we talked a lot about some of the programs that were set up, and I think one of the big tenants that came out of our group was that information dissemination is important, creating the resources to get the word out, how to get access to various forms of capital for women, for Hispanic companies, for minority companies, like through Nabo.


So we created resource guides that listed out these resources, which I thought was a great deliverable. We also did a little deep dive into supplier diversity, which also is a opportunity for diverse companies to get a leg up in getting contracts from the larger companies. We explored it in that it's been effective, but then there's also areas that the bigger players are starting to take advantage of it, and they're starting to get some of that supplier diversity money. And so one of our cohorts, Otto Padron, who runs Marlo Media, the only Hispanic owned media group in Los Angeles was very vocal on this saying he's being beaten out by iHeart for supplier diversity grants when they're a hundred percent minority owned. And iHeart is this huge conglomerate that's white owned. So anyway, one of our takeaways was this year we want to do a deeper dive into supplier diversity and just look a little bit under the hood to see if some rules like that and other regulations that were adopted in the 1992 cable Act might be a bit outdated.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:25:25):

Yeah, it might be. And Heather, you wanted to add something about broadband, right?

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:25:30):

Oh, yes. Yeah. So some of the things that we did is we facilitated what we hosted town hall meetings on digital skills and digital equity. And we brought together state broadband directors and other subject matter experts and community organizations and people in the communities that were doing work around digital equity. And so it was amazing to just bring people together. And this was prior to money actually being distributed for digital equity planning. So we got a headstart in bringing the conversation on our platform so people could be aware of what was coming. And we did that in September of last year, and the planning money started flowing a month or two after that. So we were strategic about that in sort of getting ahead of the game and making sure people know that they needed to reach out to their broadband offices and collaborate with them so that the states can produce some great plans that are representative of the state.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:26:35):

So last closing question. I'd love each of you to ask to answer it. I'll start with you Heather, and you'll get the last word. Ellen, what would you like to see come from your work with the CEDC and the FCC that you're doing now?

Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (00:26:51):

So the thing that makes me happy is meeting people that have benefited from our work. One of my earliest memory was when I started working for Connected Nation in 2006, was a young boy who came from eastern Kentucky, rural eastern Kentucky, and he was trying to refurbish computers and helping his community. Well, that young man, I saw him on LinkedIn and he's now an analyst for a company. And that is what I live for, seeing the individual people succeed. My goal is inspiring a child to become a business owner, to become an owner of a network. So that's what keeps me going. It's really the results that are human. It's the human stories. It's not the big glamorous initiatives or anything. It's the human stories that keep me excited about this work.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:27:55):

And for you, Ellen?

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:27:57):

Well, I want to echo that because just as Heather mentioned, they did summits in local markets. Our group was the only one out of the four or five that actually did a summit at the FCC. Not dissimilar to this incredible event here where we brought four or five panels together with leading experts in every facet from broadcasting, cable broadband minorities, and access to capital to Washington dc. And I had just come off the CECI went to the Consumer electronic show, CES, and I had met some fascinating young people, one in particular, Ryan Johnson, who has a company that works with HBCUs to teach young college kids gaming and how to actually get into that as a business because it's a area that young kids get they love. So why not work in it? We brought him to Washington and he stole the show. He was so amazing and so enlightened, and everybody wanted to talk to him more.


We brought another colleague of mine that I met at CES has something called Rap Study, which is a service that uses music lyrics as an educational tool, and they rewrite songs to teach lessons. And similar, he's pounding the pavement for resources, but when he spoke, everybody lit up like a Christmas tree. So yes, I see commercials for Shark Tank, and I see Barbara Cochrane say in one soundbite, it only takes one good idea and then it cuts away. And that's true with us as well. One idea, and any one person can make a big difference.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:29:48):

Alright, we'll leave it at that. Thank you, ladies. I really appreciate your time. Thank you, Jessica.

Ellen Schned, Strong Woman Alliance (00:29:53):

Thank you, Jessica.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:29:55):

I'm at the US Broadband Summit and I am with two of my colleagues who are up for a huge award tonight in the geospatial services area. They're one of three or four finalists for this. It's a big deal. I would like them to introduce themselves. So you are Justin Cave?

Justin Cave, Geospatial Analyst (00:30:14):

I'm Justin Cave. I'm a geospatial analyst programmer here at cn. I've been with CN for about two and a half years,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:30:21):

And I'm also with Colin Reilly.

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:30:23):

Hi, Colin Reilly. I'm the Vice President of Data Strategy and Technical Services, and the geospatial team reports into me.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:30:32):

It's a mouthful. Yes. So Colin, you go first. Talk a little bit about what your role is at Connect Nation and that mouthful of a title that we just talked about.

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:30:41):

Sure. Well, I'm involved in both the planning and execution and obviously managing those three teams with respect to geospatial. It's all about maps and data. So much of what we're talking about with broadband is bringing connectivity to locations all which exist on a map. And so we're all about trying to ensure that that actually happens.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:31:05):

And Justin, you're on the geospatial team, so explain to somebody who doesn't know what Geospatial Services is to your average person.

Justin Cave, Geospatial Analyst (00:31:15):

Yeah, so GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. We actually just celebrate GIS Day yesterday. Woohoo. Geospatial mapping is anything data-wise that has AX, Y, Z component, the Longitude coordinate system, and you can map that on a plane or in a map and pertaining to broadband access. It's a very paramount thing now to get the data correct and the data accurate. It's very, very important because a lot of the money's in the line for the most accurate data possible.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:31:51):

The award that Connected Nation is up for tonight deals with broadband coverage mapping. You touched on it briefly, Colin, but can you explain a little more about why that is critical in the space that we're in right now?

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:32:04):

Yeah, so it's all about, as I said, bringing connectivity to the families, individuals that aren't connected right now. And everything in terms of bringing that connectivity is about where those people are located, their homes, their businesses, and all of those have addresses. They're all located somewhere on a map. So what we do is produce those maps so decision makers, policy makers can evaluate and plan for those things. ISPs can do the work to bring the infrastructure to those locations. And we assist the states in planning and execution as well. So it's all about locations, it's all about data on maps,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:32:52):

That whole thing about location, location, location, right?

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:32:54):

Yes, exactly.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:32:55):

So the FCC for a while there was doing the broadband coverage maps based on census block Connected Nation approaches that much differently. Correct. Can you explain how ETS is related within that sphere and its role?

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:33:12):

So ETS is engineering technical services within Connected Nation. And so much of what they do is field verification and field validation. So a provider may indicate that they are covering a specific location at a specific speed using a specific technology. And so what ETS does is they go out into the field to verify that they actually see the infrastructure in place that would provide that level of service connectivity. So it's all, if a state's interested in ensuring the money that they're spending is being spent appropriately, one way of assuring that is to go out into the field and verify that that is actually the case.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:34:00):

The award that Connected Nation is up for tonight has to do with the work in Michigan. Can you talk a little bit about that? I know some of it is proprietary, some of it isn't. So just a little bit expand on what we've done in Michigan.

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:34:12):

Yeah, I, so I go back to this whole adage that data is data. When you present that in a informative way, it becomes information. So a lot of what we were doing and Michigan was doing field validation, field verification, just a lot of data. What we did to portray that information in a more informative way is we developed a dashboard for the client so they could see the progress as we moved through the state and did verification in specific locations and what the status was for each one of those. So it was a very, very information, very data rich dashboard that really just portrayed status along the way of a very complicated, very extensive project.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:35:04):

Yeah. Justin, you'd like to add a little bit more to that?

Justin Cave, Geospatial Analyst (00:35:07):

Yeah, sure. So that project actually lasted, it was a huge undertaking. It was a six month project with one of our clients in Michigan. We had several engineering groups out there in the field. We had our own ETS division out there as well. It took from about May until December to complete. We mapped out pretty much every county in Michigan, several thousands of miles were driven, a lot of, we were checking for different types of assets in the field. And then the culmination of all that was the dashboard, which is up for as a finalist in the ceremony tonight, which is what we created using some Esri technology on the backend of the product.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:35:59):

And I wouldn't be remiss to say that it really is the first of its kind. There's very few like this across the country, somewhat. Some they're both, they're going, huh, maybe kind of Jessica, but maybe kind of

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:36:12):

Not dashboarding technologies existed existed, but it's really sort of the unique application of that in this space. So yeah, it's unique in that sense. Absolutely.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:36:20):

So we talked a little bit about Connected Nation. And Connected Nation is known for hiring some of the top talent. So I want you both to brag on yourselves a little bit. We'll start with you Justin. What's your background and what got you into GIS?

Justin Cave, Geospatial Analyst (00:36:36):

I actually studied geology as an undergrad. I worked up in Alaska for a little bit for the US Forest Service, somewhere for the Park service. But now I do a lot more into the geospatial realm. I like bringing geospatial data to people to make them make better decisions because data is very important. You can't make a decision without data. You don't really have a very good informed decision. You just have an opinion basically. So you need to have good, strong data to support that decision, which I think is a very critical point in the broadband mapping area right now is having adequate data.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:37:22):

And you, Colin, lead the team. So tell us a little bit about your background.

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:37:28):

Wow, how far are we going back there, Jessica,

Jessica Denson, Host (00:37:30):

As far as you want to go? How is your childhood?

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:37:34):

Very good, thank you. So yeah, I was introduced to GIS many moons ago. I have an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture. Didn't really like the design aspect of it. Took AGIS class and I guess the rest is history. Most recently I headed up GIS for the city of New York and went on to work at the mayor's office, but my interest still was in GIS. So here I am.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:37:59):

Well, I wish you both, lots of luck tonight. I'm going to be at the ceremony, so hopefully you'll take home an award. Yeah,

Colin Reilly, VP of Data Strategy & Tech Services (00:38:05):

Go team.

Justin Cave, Geospatial Analyst (00:38:06):

Yeah. Thank you Jess. I

Jessica Denson, Host (00:38:07):

Appreciate it. Thank you both. Thank you. I am at the US Broadband Summit and I am talking with Donald Long knife who is with the Fort Belknap Indian community. Welcome, Donald. Well

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:38:17):

Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:38:18):

Thank you for joining me today. It's very important to talk about tribal needs right now as there's billion dollars available for broadband expansion and we need to include native land. So I really appreciate you joining me.

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:38:31):

Yeah, well thank you. I appreciate that. Because we up where I'm from in Montana, we're right dead central in the state of Montana, about 35 to 40 miles south of the Canadian border. So we're a real rural reservation. Our reservation has broadband only from our northern border to about five miles south with fiber. And so 75% of our lands have copper and they still run off of Conlin systems. DSL two plus since the FCC went out and gave all the tribes that 2.5 gigahertz. We're going to do our own fixed wireless broadband for all our people out there. We want to also start working with our schools. And I kind of hate to say it, but this covid really showed our tribe that we do need the broadband up there because we have over close to 300 employees in our tribal reservation, our tribal government, and half of them live out in the south where that they don't have good broadband. So as an IT person for our tribal government, I had to make it work just so that they could stay home because of Covid and still do their job for the tribal government. And that was a challenge for us. But I noticed with our local carriers, they tell 'em, well, yeah, you guys have 25 meg, but they found out that the routers that they give them, they don't have none of their houses hardwired. They expect that, and the routers they give them was like a 10 meg speed.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:40:17):

So it couldn't handle the 25.

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:40:19):

No. Yeah, it couldn't handle it. They might be getting it to the house, but that speed with the wireless, they have their kids that were in school that needed to use it. They had the employees that needed to use it. And once they all got on, they found out that everything started buffering and slowing down really. So what I did was I asked our tribal government, my council, I asked them, I said, for me to get our people to work properly and get that 25 meg at their house, I have to hard wire their house

Jessica Denson, Host (00:40:49):

For them

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:40:49):

Just so that their computers and their laptops could at least plug in the hard wire rather than using that wireless because that wireless bandwidth shrinks after everybody gets on. And they asked me, why do you want to do that? I said, well, just so that the kids can do their education and our employees can work from home. I said, otherwise, you guys are going to say, why aren't they on? Aren't they working? And I have to give some bad news why? And I don't like that.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:41:20):

The pandemic really opened a lot of eyes everywhere, how important it's to have access to that technology. So help our audience understand a little bit about your tribal community. Talk a little bit about Fort Belknap Indian community and what it's like to live there. What you would share about the culture, what people really should understand about it.

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:41:44):

Okay. Well, our reservation consists of two tribes. One is called the Grove Tribe and the other one is the Asino Boy. And I'm an asino boy, Asino boy. My mom was a full-blood asino boy. My dad was a full-blood asino boy. So I'm one of the very last few families that are full blood's over there. And with our culture and everything, we're a real close knit family where that we have, and a lot of them, we have two generations, three generations living in the same home. From the moms to the grandpas to the kids and so on. Very close then yeah, really close. And with our culture, we always have our celebrations and everything. Even with Covid, it kind of makes it a little bit hard, but a lot of people want to know about our culture. So what I also did was during our powwow, before all of this, I set up, I guess you could say like a high-speed internet access at our powwow grounds at Fort Bena.


It's called Milk River Indian Days. And this way, everybody that came over with their phones and everything, they were able to log into high-speed internet. I had our local carrier put an ONT over there with fiber just so that I could actually hook a router up and get everybody connected. And plus we have our own radio stations. So they were able to access it over there and made everybody see what our powwow is like, made 'em want to come and visit because we don't really get very many visitors from far away except for the people that like to powwow and dance.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:43:19):

And is it awesome to be able to share your culture through how you feel it should be represented and how it should be done from your tribe? As in not seen through my eyes, but seen through your eyes that this is our culture and what we love

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:43:33):

It is. I like it. My daughters were basically raised with my mom. Her name is Ruth Long Knife. And ever since they were little, she took them in. She said, no, they could come over and stay with me all summer long when they're not in school. And so she actually talked a to them and taught her them our culture because in our culture, there's the woman's way and then there's the man's way. So it wouldn't have been right for me to try to teach them the woman's way. I really don't know it. I'm used to the way I was brought up with the man way of it. And so when she raised them, she raised them, taught 'em how to dance, taught 'em how to bead, taught 'em how to cook, taught 'em how to really provide, and that's what they like. Even nowadays, after she's been gone, they ask me, Hey, I forgot how to say this.


Can you actually tell me how to say this? They want to know, my youngest daughter is an RN and she works for IHS in Phoenix. And so she met some people down there that actually want to know a little bit about our culture. So they teach 'em. And another story I have, my oldest daughter's an RN too. She worked in a hospital in Billings, Montana, and in Native American culture, the female don't like to be seen by male personnel or anything. And when my daughter was doing her upper divisions in that hospital, what made me laugh was because she'd see this one native woman in there and she'd be getting mad at that male nurse that come in to help her. And she goes, I don't want you in here. Just really kind of didn't want it. And my daughter, just knowing how our native cultures are, she went in there and asked her, can I help you? What's the problem? And that guy goes, yeah, she's just being so mean and she don't want me. And she goes, Erica goes, no, just the cultural thing, just go. You don't go outside. I'll tend to her. And so they liked that because she was able to come in and treat her culturally the way Native Americans show respect to 'em. So for

Jessica Denson, Host (00:45:47):

You being in your native reservation into tribal lands, what drew you to technology being the IT guy?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:45:59):

Well, that started when I went into the service. I went back, I went into the service back in 79, and I got into working with radars and missiles and all the technology what branch? Army. So I spent most thank you for your service. Oh, thank you. I got stuck in Europe for all my tour, and that's where I really enjoyed doing technology. Even though back then, all it was swapping out a part, putting a part in, and making it work. When I got out, I thought, okay, everything I'd put in these equipment, what made it work, why did it work when I do that? So I went into electrical engineering in Bozeman and learned all about the process from building a PC board, building it to work and figuring out why with all the capacitors, diodes and all that. So it was pretty interesting. And I just got into it.


When I got out of the school, we had no technology in our tribal government and our courts needed to have a network built. So back then was an NT network. So they asked me, can you build one? I said, well, yeah, I could build one for our courts. So I got hired as, that's amazing. IT there. And I built an NT network with them and I did my very first point to point wireless from our police department to the courthouse so that they wouldn't have to bring the people that were in jail all the way over to the courthouse, go to court. I did it over there where everything went right to their server and hit our state government in Helena.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:47:36):

So do you have any help now? Do you have

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:47:39):

Yeah, I actually have two other colleagues that work with me. And this is the funny part. One of them is my son who kind of followed my background. He got into technology, so he got hired with the tribe with me. So we both work in the IT department, and he's really a smart cookie when it comes to doing a virtual network. So he's helped me a lot. I have another gentleman that I picked up when I first started the company about three years after, and he likes to do all the installation. So between us three, we manage our whole tribal government. We have basically it's close to 300 employees and we cover a distance.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:48:20):

What's the name of the company?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:48:21):

Fort Belknap Indian Community. And we had between two other outlying satellite offices, administrative offices that are between 35 to 40 miles away. So we have that all connected. So

Jessica Denson, Host (00:48:35):

How long ago did you start the company?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:48:38):

Oh, I actually got it started back in 98.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:48:41):

98. So you're one of the first. A lot of native tribal nations are now either starting or moving forward from a co-op type system to broadband. So what advice would you give those who are just starting out or are just into it a few years to do this? Well,

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:49:03):

Well, to get into it, I guess one thing is I think whoever that they have for their IT department is to actually have them go to places that have the broadband initiative. Like some of these conferences that I do go to, I pick up a lot of good information from them and I get to pick their brains on how they handle different areas in the United States, and some of our areas aren't that way. So if they could come and actually see 'em, I haven't. If we're also with the CCA, the Competitive Carriers Association, we're a member of that. And I got in there and I got a couple of people that said, oh yeah, we have a couple of other tribes that come. And I said, well, show me I want to visit with them. See kind network they have, but none of them ever show up. I had only one that showed up and I met with him and they were from Standing Rock South Dakota, but I've only seen 'em that one time.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:50:06):

So it's critical, you think for the tribes to get out and learn some more from these different groups like this and network maybe?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:50:13):

Yeah, because what I did too is since I am also on the Native Nations communication task force for our tribal government in that area, and what I got onto was I met with the FCC in Montana a couple times. A lot of the other tribes came in and they were all kind of surprised of how much I knew because when I went to meet with, at that time, the first time was Chairman Wheeler with the FCC, I took all my paperwork, everything about my tribe where we don't have connectivity and went to 'em and I said, this is where we don't have it. And we had a senator there from Montana and he goes, no, they do. And I said, no, this map is wrong. And I know he didn't like it, but I was being honest, be honest, and everybody goes, come up to me. All the other tribes come up and said, Hey, how'd you know about this? What gave you the idea of looking into this? And I said, well, I needed to have my whole reservation, all my outlying satellite offices connected, and if I don't have the proper broadband or anything to do that, I need to get it somewhere and I need to get the voice out to the FCC and just tell 'em our local carriers aren't doing it.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:51:24):

So with all the money that's out there now, and there's a real understanding that the maps were not good, the broadband coverage maps were not good. What do you hope happens for your tribe and other tribes across the country right now?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:51:38):

Well, one of my visions is the way Montana is, if you look at this little booklet here, we have our tribes all basically in a circle around the state of Montana. And one of my visions was to hook a fiber ring with all the tribes together so that we could all have our own ISP. We could all share our culture with other schools and hook our schools together so that when people say, oh, we're learning about the culture of the Asino point, or we're learning about the culture of the Northern Cheyenne, we're learning about the culture of Blackfeet, they could actually go on there and see and virtually talk to somebody on there.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:52:17):

That would be really amazing because hearing it from you is so much more meaningful and real than hearing it through a second party. You know what I mean?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:52:28):

Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:52:30):

So final words, anything else you would like to add that you hope for? Not just locally in Montana, but around the country?

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:52:40):

Well, I just hope that we could all work together as Native Americans. There's still a little animosity between tribes. They always want to be the first one to do everything.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:52:51):

That's people. Yeah.

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:52:53):

Yeah, that's true too. That's what I'd like is I would just like to see all of us guys get together, especially in Montana. We need to all band together so that we can have a voice in this telecommunication era. Right now, we don't. Every tribe goes and talks about their issues, but it kind of gets lost in the shuffle of everything. But if we could come together and work together, this broadband will work a lot more for bridging the gap between tribal nations and the outside world, as we call

Jessica Denson, Host (00:53:24):

It. Well, Donald Long Knife, thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate it.

Donald Long Knife, Fort Belknap Indian Community (00:53:30):

Thank you for inviting me.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:53:32):

I am talking with Gigi. So am I saying your last name, right? You got it. I always worry. I'm going to butcher somebody's last name. She's with public Knowledge, right? Are you still with

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:53:39):

Them? No, I'm with the American Association of Public Broadband today. That's what I'm doing. I am doing a lot of different things, but this is what I'm doing today.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:53:48):

Talk a little bit about the organization and your role with the organization.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:53:51):

Sure. We are an advocacy organization on behalf of publicly owned broadband networks, whether they be co-ops or whether they be public utilities or just a town that decides that they want to run their own broadband network. That's who we represent. So we want to make sure, number one, to promote the model. So I'd like to double the number of public broadband entities in the country. There's about 750 now. I'd like to get that to 1500 in five years. We want to defend them against attacks. And even though there've been public broadband systems for 10, 15 years, they're still being attacked by some of the incumbent providers who don't want the competition. And I want to make sure they have access to funding fear, access to funding. So obviously everybody knows all the money that's out there, the capital projects fund, the bead funds, digital equity funds, and we want to make sure that public networks have the same ability to get that money as private networks.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:54:53):

So explain for the layman out there, what you mean by public networks is that owned by the city,

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:55:00):

Is all of it's all those things. So the thing that ties it all together, I would say there's two things that tie it all together is number one is public ownership of the assets. And that doesn't necessarily mean they build, it doesn't necessarily mean they operate the ISP, but they own the assets, they own the infrastructure. And these days it's less and less the utility, the electric utility that's already been doing this. So they figured, okay, I'm just going to add broadband and more and more the public-private partnership model. But again, the main thing is they own the infrastructure. The other thing that's a commonality is that return on investment is not what they're looking for. They're looking to get everybody connected with affordable, robust broadband. So it's really those two things that tie together that really make up the public model.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:55:50):

So why is this important to you? Why do you care about it, and why are you representing this award?

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:55:55):

I care about it. So I've been doing this work for well over 30 years. I started out doing broadcasting and cable and making sure everybody got that and they were democratic systems. Well kind of failed at that. And then the internet comes along and it's a situation where you are controlling the means of communication, not somebody else controlling it for you. And we still have wide swath of this country that are not connected, or if they are connected, they're connected with terribly slow, terribly unreliable broadband. So we have a once in a lifetime in historic investment in broadband, and we've got to get it right now. The federal government has already spent between like 2010 and 2020, spent nearly 60 billion to get broadband to all corners of America. And they failed for a variety of reasons, which I don't know if you have time to talk about, but I'd happy to do. Well, basically, the federal government didn't do the due diligence necessary to determine that the people they gave the money to could really build the networks. They didn't do the oversight. They gave them way too much time to build the networks. Nowadays, networks are built in 18 to 24 months. The Rural Digital Opportunities Fund, which was the last tranche of money that the FCC gave out to rural America, they gave them six years to build. So much can go wrong during that time. Even the bead, even

Jessica Denson, Host (00:57:20):

If you just consider technology changing.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:57:22):

Yes, exactly. Well, one of the disasters that unfortunately happened during my time at the FCC was the calf two auction where it wasn't an auction. We just gave money to build to ten one. This was like 2014, and it took some of these companies years. Some companies just finished in 2021 building 10, 1 10 megabits. I mean, we've

Jessica Denson, Host (00:57:49):

Surpassed the need for that.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:57:50):

Yes. I mean, there's a long story about why that happened, but it's emblematic of why it makes so much more sense to give the money to the states. I was a huge advocate of that. And I have to say, frankly, a number of my friends in the public interest community really pushed back and obviously members of Congress didn't, didn't want to give it to the States. They wanted the FCC to get the money, and so they can get more control. But anyway, I think we've shown between the calf two and the R off of the calf one, even that the federal government is not all that awesome in giving the money. So it's a matter of diligence, oversight, and then accountability. So what happened was there were people that didn't build with calf who got to participate in the Art O auction. And there are folks that, there are so many census blocks where RDOF is not yet been built.


Again, it's three years since the money's been given out, right? Three years. So I like the idea of giving the money to the states because they know they have a better sense. They have feet on the ground, they know. And to N Tia's credit, they're the ones giving the money to the state. They're demanding a lot of oversight. And I think that is critical. I think the state broadband officers and their staff need to actually go into the field and C, this is being built on this timeline. And if it's not being built on that timeline, they should take the money back and give it to somebody who can. We cannot screw this up.

Jessica Denson, Host (00:59:19):

And do you feel that a huge part of that needs to be the publicly owned organization? Well

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (00:59:28):

Look, in some places it doesn't make sense, right? I mean, in some places it doesn't make sense. I will never say public broadband needs to be everywhere. But in those places that are not going to get served by the private sector, it certainly makes sense. And I think if they want to compete with the private sector, they should be able to. Right. I hate the term overbuilding because to me it's another word for a competition. So what I care about is a community should have a choice. If it wants the public broadband model, awesome. If it wants to talk to the incumbent and say, can you build me a better network? And the incumbent says Yes, great. If it wants to go in some other direction, even great too. So I'll give you an example of another direction. So in Alexandria, Virginia, just south of here, there's a company called Tinging. It's a competitive provider and the city of Alexandria. And in full disclosure, I sit on the board of the company of which Ting is a subsidiary. It's two cows. Anyway, the city of Alexandria talked to them about building a public broadband network and they decided they didn't want to own the assets. They wanted teaming to build it. They wanted teaming to operate it. They wanted teaming to own it. Great. That's their choice. It's not public broadband in the sense that I think of it, but it's still the community choosing what's best for them,

Jessica Denson, Host (01:00:54):

Which is what you're really advocating for is your best, which

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:00:56):

Exactly the freedom to choose.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:00:58):

So I would be remiss if I didn't say, when you came in here, there were gasp and there was, oh my gosh, it's Gigi. It's Gigi. And when I walked up to you, you were so welcoming and gave me a hug. You've never met me. Right. So talk a little bit about your background in this space and what brought you to this moment.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:01:13):

Well, I've been a consumer advocate for almost 35 years, and I founded Public Knowledge. I worked at the Ford Foundation. I actually built their portfolio that funds a lot of the public interest work and it's now a 14 billion portfolio. It wasn't when I was there that I founded Public Knowledge. And then I went to go work for Tom Wheeler and I loved it. I had a blast, but I was a political, and when President Trump got elected, I was out the door. So I was just kind of like a consumer advocate at large. And I have to say it's a pretty privileged position to be able to just advocate on whatever you want, what you love and what you love. And look, I get foundation funding, so I can't be completely off the rails. And then obviously I got nominated to be an FCC Commissioner and had a very, very hard fought nominations battle. I would rather not get in the details eight months past it. It was a nasty process and it's unfortunate. I really did want to go back. I really did love work at atc. Well, you could tell

Jessica Denson, Host (01:02:17):

You're well respected because just if the response in this room says anything, it was definitely a response. I've not seen that with anybody walking in here yet.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:02:27):

Well mean in some ways. I don't mean this to be boastful. I've become a little bit of a boast, a folk hero, people. I might not be as well-known if I've been confirmed. I said I would've liked to, but I also feel like I'm able to make change on the outside. So just one example of an issue I worked on was that NTIA had this 25% letter of credit requirement for all sub-grantees at the BEAT program. And it was terrible for small, minority, female owned and public entities. And I got involved in a coalition that had already been stood up in July and I said, we need a big letter. We need a letter with everybody and their mother on it. And I didn't draft the letter Connect Humanity did, but we got 300 signatories and NTIA really stood up and took notice. And to their credit, they listened. They listened and they set out alternatives. And that's fun. Yeah, that's awesome. That's

Jessica Denson, Host (01:03:23):

Awesome. And to be able to affect that change is really good. I talked to Phil Makris earlier. Oh yeah,

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:03:28):

Phil. Yeah, he obviously was Quinn Jordan

Jessica Denson, Host (01:03:30):

And a couple of them. So I've heard this a couple of times.

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:03:33):

Quin, I'm going out to dinner with Quinn. I love him. Phil's the guy that started the coalition and again, they had been complaining about it since February. I started talking about it in July. So they really got the ball rolling. Great people in that coalition. Yeah.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:03:49):

Well it was effective because just two weeks ago the press cut release came out that the NTIA was doing that. So Job. So

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:03:55):

They adopted four alternatives and a number of us met with Alan Davidson and Kevin Gallagher from Commerce, both lovely people and they really listened and it was very refreshing. Sometimes you go in and talk to policymakers and they're like, there's like nobody home. But they really took the time to understand because they knew it was a thing.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:04:20):

Do you find that, I noticed that there were Republicans and Democrats as part of the coalition. Do you find it's really a non-partisan issue in many ways?

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:04:27):

Absolutely. And I got to say mean, this was one of the things that did kind of irk me about my nominations process. Always worked across the all. I've always worked with the big companies. Not long before I got nominated, I got a bunch of public interest groups to get on a letter with at and t, with Comcast and with others calling for the emergency broadband benefit, which became the Affordable Connectivity Program. So I deeply care about the ACP and I'm working with a group called the Affordable Broadband Campaign. And we're trying to not only get more money in the ACP, but also plant the idea that the ACP, we can't keep going back year after year and begging for should be long-term. It's got to be long-term. And the forever home for the ACP has got to be the Universal service fund. So we're going to have to convince the FCC to engage in contribution reform, which is no small thing, but that's really going to be the permanent home for the ACP. But it's really tenuous times right now. Yeah.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:05:30):

What would you like to see? Final question. What would you like to see happen over the next year, five years in this space?

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:05:37):

Well, obviously in five years everybody better be connected.


And look, a lot of states are already saying, look, that the bead money is not going to be enough. And I was in Maine yesterday giving a speech and they're already starting to plan. They're starting to plan for a digital equity fund just in case the ACP goes away. They're starting to plan for what happens post bead. I was talking about what are the challenges for 2024, but they're talking about what do we do post bead? And frankly, I think post bead is a great place for the public entities to the extent that they're still places. Not if we're not at 99% in five years. I think we have to take a good hard look at ourselves and what happened with this fantastic bill and this fantastic outlay of money.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:06:24):

Alright, well thank you so much. My

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:06:26):


Jessica Denson, Host (01:06:26):

I really appreciate you taking time

Gigi Sohn, American Assoc. for Public  Broadband (01:06:28):

With me. Of course. Happy to do it. Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:06:29):

 As promised, I was at the awards ceremony - and unfortunately Connected Nation did not take home the honor. However, we would like to congratulate all those who did as they represent innovation and forward thinking in the broadband space. 


The ceremony completes my coverage of the Inaugural U.S. Broadband Summit.


Until next time, I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening. To Connect Nation, you like our show and want to know more about us. Head to connect to or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.


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