Local Organizing Efforts Are Reframing the Digital Divide — Episode 144 of Building Local Power

Date: 10 Feb 2022 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

On this episode of the Building Local Power Podcast, host Jess Del Fiacco is joined by her colleagues on the broadband team, DeAnne Cuellar who leads our community broadband outreach work, and Sean Gonsalves who is a senior reporter and editor. They discuss where the bulk of the broadband funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is geared toward and how to engage local champions to create community broadband strategies. 

Highlights include: 

  • How states will be impacted by the fact that cooperatives, nonprofits, public utilities, and local governments are eligible to use Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds to build networks. 
  • Which states are well-poised to submit a five year strategic plan before accessing the broadband money and which states are not. 
  • How digital equity organizing efforts in LA County are a perfect example of a willingness to collaborate, design community solutions, and be community-driven in terms of building better broadband infrastructure. 
  • Why having access to telehealth and remote learning are human rights. 


“The bill largely targets rural America, which is sort of unfortunate, because it feeds into this idea that the digital divide is between urban and rural America, which isn’t the case. A digital divide exists within any locale that you are in.” – Sean Gonsalves

“As advocates of digital inclusion… and building community broadband networks, we see connectivity as critical infrastructure, life-saving critical infrastructure.” – DeAnne Cuellar


Jess Del Fiacco: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought-provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power of people to shape their own future.
Jess Del Fiacco: I’m Jess Del Fiacco, the host of Building Local Power and communications manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For more than 45 years, ILSR has worked to build driving equitable communities where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands.
Jess Del Fiacco: And hello, everybody. Welcome to our show today. I’m joined by my colleagues, DeAnne Cuellar who leads our community broadband outreach work and Sean Gonsalves who is a senior reporter and editor on our broadband team. We’re going to talk about a few different things today, but well, first of all, welcome to the show. Let’s start there.
Sean Gonsalves: All right. CBN is in the building or buildings.
DeAnne Cuellar: Hi.
Jess Del Fiacco: Hi, and we have, it’s DeAnne’s debut for Building Local Power, so it’s always a special episode.
DeAnne Cuellar: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Jess Del Fiacco: So happy to have you guys on the show. And with that, let’s dive into some questions for Sean. So last fall, I believe Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act so Sean, could you talk about that as it relates to the broadband world? Maybe we can start with just a general description of what’s in this bill.
Sean Gonsalves: Good question. Good question because there’s different pots of money that are floating out of there, floating from the federal government to states and so this shouldn’t be confused with the American Rescue Plan money, which has already made its way to state coffers and the difference really between the money that’s available in the American Rescue plan and the money that is going to be available once it makes its way to the states in the infrastructure bill is that the American Rescue Plan money is a lot more flexible, which is important.
Sean Gonsalves: So the money that goes to the states and local communities, it gives a lot of wiggle room, the spending rules. There’s a lot of wiggle room on how you can spend those funds, which includes the ability of local communities to define what’s considered affordable and reliable and use that to justify deploying networks or initiatives or projects in places even that are considered in the narrow sense of the term served by an incumbent provider.
Sean Gonsalves: So the money that a lot of state legislatures and local communities already have in hand, at least a good portion of it is the American Rescue Plan. As you mentioned in November, the infrastructure bill passed and in the infrastructure bill, there was $65 billion for broadband alone. And in that you’ve, well, we should, first of all say, because this is important. It’s the largest federal investment in broadband ever. So it is a watershed moment in terms of federal investment in broadband infrastructure and expanding broadband access.
Sean Gonsalves: So $65 billion dollars. What does that get you? That’s 42 and a half billion that’s going to be allocated to the states in the form of block grants under what they call the BEAD program. I think it stands for Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Program. BEAD. B-E-A-D. And that’s going to be administered by the department of commerce as the NTIA.
Sean Gonsalves: And essentially broadly speaking, so the money is, so the way the language of the bill is written, the money has to first target is defined in the bill as unserved areas. And those are areas that are where people don’t have access to 25/3 megabits per second broadband service, which is the federal minimum definition around speeds of your connection.
Sean Gonsalves: Now, there aren’t many places in the country outside of the most rural regions of the nation that don’t have access to 25/3 broadband. So in that sense, the bulk of the money in terms of deploying for money to build new networks is really geared towards funneling that money mostly to those rural regions, at least to take care of those areas first.
Sean Gonsalves: Only after all of the areas that don’t have 25/3 are served can the money then be used to bring better networks and service to what the bill calls underserved areas and those are areas that don’t have access to service between 25/3 megabits per second, and 120.
Jess Del Fiacco: So just that area would include much bigger chunks of urban areas, for example, correct?
Sean Gonsalves: Correct. Correct. And so it’s fair to say the bill largely targets rural America, which is sort of unfortunate because in cities, because it kind of feeds into this idea that the digital divide is really between urban and rural America, which isn’t the case. A digital divide exists in any local that you’re in. The contours of it change depending on your location.
Sean Gonsalves: Some places in many rural areas don’t have the infrastructure at all. In more densely populated areas they’re more likely and in most cases do have networks that are available, but when you talk about how you define the term served, there’s a lot of places that have a single monopoly provider who charge high rates for an unreliable second-rate service and there’s lots folks in urban areas and in densely populated areas that don’t have access to broadband for a variety of reasons. A lot of it has to do with affordability. As we like to say, “If it’s not affordable, it’s not accessible.”
Sean Gonsalves: So and then basically, each state is going to get a hundred million dollars just for broadband in this infrastructure bill and the remaining money will basically be divided up based on this formula that calculates how many unserved households are in each state, which kind of brings us around to the FCC maps because we’re hoping that the FCC does a better job of updating their notoriously inaccurate broadband coverage maps in the near future.
Sean Gonsalves: Because otherwise as Doug Dawson points out, one of our friends, Doug Dawson, the states with the most inaccurate FCC maps are going to lose funding. And so why that’s important, that mapping piece. So broadly speaking, that’s what’s in the infrastructure bill. There are some very good things in there that are even accessible and will be accessible to cities and towns that are not rural areas.
Jess Del Fiacco: Well, let’s get into that. I mean, what are the good points in this bill?
Sean Gonsalves: So, I mean, from our perspective, we advocate the idea that there ought to be… The closer you get to the problem, which are local communities, the better information that you have, particularly since the FCC and even states by and large, don’t have really precise granular information about where connectivity challenges really are, but in local communities, that have been dealing with overnight, essentially having to deploy hotspots because they’ve got hundreds or thousands of kids who can’t do distance learning.
Sean Gonsalves: We’ve got businesses who are in the midst of trying to figure out the remote work situation, or even if it’s not a remote work situation where you have been businesses that where e-commerce has become central to the survival of small businesses, reliable connectivity is super important and local communities have the best sense of where those challenges are in their communities.
Sean Gonsalves: So the good news is that unlike previous federal allocations, for example, RDOF where they have this reverse auction, where the FCC kind of doles out money based on these bids. We’re getting closer to the local communities where this money is being sent to states in the form of block grant, so that’s one step in the right direction.
Sean Gonsalves: There’s a couple other really good new things in the infrastructure bill though, as it relates to local internet choice and community-driven broadband solutions, which is that the bill does specifically say that states cannot exclude cooperatives, nonprofits and public utilities and local governments, et cetera, from being eligible for tapping these funds, which raises an interesting question in some states, but it’s good that, that language is specifically in the bill.
Sean Gonsalves: The other good thing is that funds can be used to bring low cost broadband to multifamily housing units. The reason why that’s important is because according to the data that you see from a lot of observers about where in urban areas there is a real connectivity challenges it’s often concentrated in multi-dwelling units for a variety of reasons, so that’s really important.
Sean Gonsalves: I’ve seen a study that estimated that something like between 20 and 25% of households in urban areas that lack access to broadband live in multi-dwelling units, so that’s an important piece that’s in the bill. And then there’s also, there’s real money in there for digital inclusion efforts. That’s things like digital devices, digital literacy, because even if you have a internet connection, if you don’t have the devices to access it, if you’re not comfortable using it, again, it means that it’s not really accessible.
Sean Gonsalves: And then finally, I would say that one of the other good things about this bill is that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which was a temporary program, which is, it’s a subsidy to $50 a month for a discount off of your internet service and they converted that into a permanent program called the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Sean Gonsalves: Now they allocated money for that. The one thing about that is that oftentimes when there are budget cutbacks, it’s the social safety net that gets trimmed, and so this particular program requires that Congress continues to fund it. And so one of my concerns and others is that down the road, if austerity is in the air and they’re looking to cut because the deficit hawks come out and scare everybody into thinking that we’ve got to cut, cut, cut, it’s programs like this that often are on the chopping block. So unless Congress continuously funds this, that’s a benefit that could go.
Sean Gonsalves: I should also mention that the EBB is a $50 a month subsidy for eligible low income households to pay for internet service subscription. The Affordable Connectivity Program, while it does make it permanent it reduces that subsidy from $50 to $30, which helps, but considering that we pay as a country some of the highest prices for internet service in the developed world, even that discount for some families, it still leaves a home internet subscription out of range.
Jess Del Fiacco: You mentioned that this would raise interesting questions in some states. Could you expand on that a little bit? I’m assuming that, that might refer to the language in this bill that doesn’t prohibit municipalities, nonprofits, et cetera, from establishing these networks. Is that a potential conflict with states that do have some of those restrictions on their own books?
Sean Gonsalves: Bingo. I mean, that’s just it. So what we were hoping for, what would’ve been ideal is that there would’ve been something in the infrastructure bill that preempted states from these various is preemption law. So right now there’s 17 states in the country that either prohibit municipal local governments from, for lack of a better term, getting in the broadband business in terms of building and operating networks, or they erect barriers to such a degree that makes it virtually impossible to do so.
Sean Gonsalves: So the uncertainty comes from in these states where these preemption laws exist, like North Carolina for example, is a state that has these preemption laws, so if on the one hand you have this federal legislation that says you can’t prevent municipalities from access in the money, but you have state preemption laws that say municipalities can’t build broadband networks. What happens in those cases?
Sean Gonsalves: The answer to that question, isn’t exactly clear to us and that’s something that we’re trying to get some clarity on in talking to some legal scholars. And ultimately it might not actually be crystal clear until there’s some sort of legal challenge, which we may see.
Sean Gonsalves: Another bit of uncertainty and actually this is a big one, which is how ready are states going to be? So the infrastructure bill requires that states submit a five year strategic plan before they can even access the money. Now, depending on what states you are in some states have broadband offices and actual strategic plans with staff and other states don’t like my state, for example.
Sean Gonsalves: So Maine and Vermont for example, are well poised. Okay. They’ve got a great plan. They’re putting real investments in broadband infrastructure. They’re putting local internet choice at the center of those plans, giving a tremendous role to local governments, municipalities, regional governments, to play a leading role.
Sean Gonsalves: Vermont, they’ve got the communication union districts, which is going to be their primary vehicle to deliver a universal broadband across a very rural state. But in Massachusetts, for example, there really isn’t a plan. There’s no central broadband office. There really isn’t a plan. The money that they’re talking about possibly deploying is pretty paltry in comparison to other states in New England. And most of it’s not for the deployment of new networks.
Sean Gonsalves: So there’s a bit of uncertainty in terms of which states will do what with the money. Some will do well with it. Others will just probably throw the money at the big incumbent providers and cross their fingers and hope for the best.
Sean Gonsalves: And then I would just say the last thing is that is around sort of managing expectations. So this is also important to know about the infrastructure bill, which is that the bill says that the NTIA has six months, which began in November, so what they’ve got, what? I guess, another four months or so left for them to come up with the rules on how states can and apply for the money and spend it.
Sean Gonsalves: And then there’s the fact that the states have to submit these plans. So in many states and maybe most of them, it will probably be late 2022 at the earliest, probably early 2023, before any of this money gets to the states to spend on broadband. Now is the time where you think about the American Rescue Plan money that’s already out there, the forthcoming fund from the infrastructure bill that’s on its way. States and localities that don’t have their act together and don’t have a plan the time to get to work is yesterday. It’s a good time now to really be pooling resources and thinking seriously about how they’re going to solve these connectivity challenges.
Jess Del Fiacco: If we have any folks who are working at the local level or at the state level, what would you say is step one to getting started on that?
Sean Gonsalves: I mean, well first of all, what you need is, you need some local champions and you need a group of folks who are willing to… This is a sustained effort. This isn’t something like a lot of things that maybe people might be think are accustomed to, which is, “Oh, we have the money. Let’s buy something. And next week or tomorrow it’s there.”
Sean Gonsalves: Building networks is not an overnight process by any stretch. If you’re talking about a fiber deployment, you’re talking anywhere from, if you’re doing it quickly, 18 months to five years to six years. So, some of these connectivity challenges are immediate, which is why different communities are considering different technologies that they can stand up quicker than say a full-blown fiber to the home network.
Sean Gonsalves: But certainly you need a group of people, local champions who are committed to stay engaged on this issue and in particular engage key local officials who can see beyond sort of the normal election cycle, and really start to look at tapping funds to create broadband strategy plans, to conduct feasibility studies with the intention of not just studying something for the sake of studying it, but studying something for the sake of getting the kind of data and information you need to understand what the landscape is, to start collecting data in terms of affordability and reliability.
Sean Gonsalves: For example, school districts have a lot of that data because the other ones had, in many instances in many communities, had to set up community hotspots. Those are indicators of where in communities there are real connectivity challenges. So it’s all about really doing your homework, getting together a group of people, including community leaders, business leaders, informing these plans about how to move forward. And then also having folks that understand where the various pots of money are, how you can apply. All of these kind of things.
Sean Gonsalves: So there’s kind of a lot of spokes to the wheel, but it’s doable. And there’s communities across the country where these projects are starting to really take off. And then of course, which is why DeAnne is here, but you’ve got organizations and people like DeAnne and folks all across the country who are at the ready to help communities think about how you organize these type of efforts and leverage this moment.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. Thank you, Sean. That was a great kind of summary. Before we dive a little deeper into DeAnne’s organizing work, we’re going to take a short break.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks for listening to our conversation. If you’re enjoying the show, I hope you’ll consider heading over to Ilsr.org/donate to help support our work. And if you want to learn even more about our broadband work, you should check out another ILSR podcast called Community Broadband Bits. You can find it wherever you find your podcasts. Thanks and now back to the show.
Jess Del Fiacco: There’s obviously a lot of work to be done, but what an exciting moment that we have all these different pots of funding to keep track of. We’re in a great moment looking forward to the future of connectivity in this country. So with that, DeAnne, as I said before, welcome to the show and welcome to ILSR. Could you tell our listeners just a little bit about what your work focuses on here at ILSR?
DeAnne Cuellar: Sure. I am new to the team, but I am bringing over 10 years of coalition building and movement building work from the grassroots to the beltway to my role. I actually also come from a city, San Antonio, Texas, where we’ve done work that’s similar to what other geographies are doing, and I’m hoping to work as a team with people like Sean and Chris and Ryan, everybody else to make sure that we can get the research tools and other resources needed out across the country so that a lot of these municipal broadband networks or community broadband networks can advance quickly.
Jess Del Fiacco: Could you talk a little bit about the work that’s happening right now in LA County?
DeAnne Cuellar: Sure. So LA County is a perfect example of what we would like to see across geographies in different parts of the country. And as Sean talked at great depth about is that you have local laws, which we don’t get into too much, then you have state law, state rule making, then you have federal rule making that’s going on that impact whether or not connectivity projects are going to advance.
DeAnne Cuellar: And in LA County, what’s interesting about this is that you have a large city, right? It’s Los Angeles, LA County, you have a lot of density. You have the in between markets and then you have the world. So we have the kind of all three that we talk about. We talk about these three different types of customers that would be the people that would connect to the internet.
DeAnne Cuellar: What’s really interesting about LA County is the stakeholder groups and in order for anybody who’s listening that’s considering starting something with community broadband in the locale is that, in order for you to do that, there has to be a willingness to collaborate and there has to be the different stakeholder groups, which Sean also talked about.
DeAnne Cuellar: In LA County. You’ve got, I haven’t seen a coalition. A coalition of coalitions is what we’ll call LA County. That’s what makes it different. It is a coalition of coalitions. So you have grassroot organizations, you have anchor institutions, you have people that are elected in office, you have the business community, you have people that are working on health equity, you have people that represent not just county, but also the counties, but also the cities, and then you have individual leaders that the broadband connectivity probably wasn’t their first issue for the last five or 10 years, but now it’s become their second issue.
DeAnne Cuellar: So there’s a lot of momentum to succeed and it’s continuing to be a dynamic area of the country, or probably going to, it might, I don’t know if Sean agrees with me on this, it could become the testing ground. It could become one of the geographies testing ground to see how a lot of this work rolls out this year.
Sean Gonsalves: I agree, especially a city as large as Los Angeles. It’s a challenge in large cities where there’s multiple providers in all of the politics and machinations that go on with that. But there are huge pockets of folks who are on the wrong side of the digital divide in urban areas, even as large as Los Angeles where you think they would have everything.
Jess Del Fiacco: Was there a particular catalyst for these coalitions coming together in this larger coalition? I mean, was it the pandemic, was there a spark for it or has this been kind of just a gradual growth?
DeAnne Cuellar: I mean, on the outside looking in, I mean, I would want to hear directly from the leaders on the ground that are leading this work, as it should be their voice that’s offering this opinion up, but on the outside looking in, I think we have people at the state level that are not waiting for rule making at the federal level to impact the solutions that they would like to design with the community.
DeAnne Cuellar: So we saw something simpler last week with the net neutrality coming back up in California. Right? And how that’s going to play out in DC is to be determined. TBD, right? So there was also a local ordinance in Oakland that is really similar to what Sean was talking about that I thought really kicked the door open for codifying policy at the local level, as it relates to multi-dwelling units. So again, testing ground. So we’re seeing in California this willingness to collaborate, this willingness to design community solutions together, and the third thing is that it’s all community driven.
Jess Del Fiacco: So what are we doing? What are groups doing to support this coalition specifically, or others around the country as they grow and are stepping up to meet this moment?
DeAnne Cuellar: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, so we definitely have one plug that we have, we have a great [inaudible 00:23:15]. The Community Broadband Network Initiative Team has this great [inaudible 00:23:18]. If you’d like to join, you should definitely reach out to us. We have a lot of research, we have a lot of one-pagers, and we have videos that can really help galvanize conversation in your community. I say that because if you’re a community that hasn’t done a roadmap or feasibility study, or the research, we might have something that already exists that could get that work going in your community, possibly could be repurposed.
DeAnne Cuellar: So don’t come and say, like, “There’s no research.” The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has that ready now. I think the other thing that our team could be really resourceful at with local communities is that just because you have a roadmap or a plan that you have invested resources into, that plan is not going to go anywhere, unless you have experts at the table that can help you put that plan into place.
DeAnne Cuellar: It could just be a plan that just sits there and it’s a beautiful plan. So the expertise of our organization could help you break through some of those challenges that might have been an idea that cannot go forward.
DeAnne Cuellar: And the last thing is the issue around digital inclusion, tech equity, and the digital divide. Sean mentioned being a champion. Being a champion is great. You could be a champion of the issue, but if the leadership and the vision is not there to help your community get from point A to point Z, that could be another stuck point in this work that we might be able to help you with.
Sean Gonsalves: Sure. As something else that, just listening to you, I forgot to mention is that, so now that the infrastructure bill is passed the cable and big telco lobby is going to focus their efforts at state houses. What do I mean by it?
Sean Gonsalves: So these big incumbent providers would much rather have monopoly markets where they’re the only game in town, you have no choice but to come to them, and so they see a lot of community broadband projects as threats to their bottom line and to the power and control that they have over these markets. And so you can expect that they’re going to focus some of their lobbying power, which we’ve seen as waned a little bit over the past few years, just as this problem has just become so apparent and the track record has become apparent that what we’ve been doing isn’t working.
Sean Gonsalves: So that’s another thing that’s important because we’ve seen communities where you have a robust public education campaign can make a difference in how a community decides to move forward. These incumbents will pull out every trick in the book, all these tactics, “Oh, it’s a boondoggle. It’s a waste of taxpayer money. It doesn’t work.”
Sean Gonsalves: All of these kind of things and so communities are going to need to educate themselves and be prepared for those type of campaigns, which can really torpedo plans that have been long in the making if you’re not constantly talking to city leaders and city officials and obviously to your neighbors and citizens to give a real grasp of what the issues are at stake and the need for there to be a more competitive market where people actually have choices and it’s not just the big guy or nobody.
Sean Gonsalves: And so these are things that that folks ought to prepare for as well. And that’s where the work of what DeAnne is doing and other ally organizations are doing can be really useful and helpful because this is a road we’ve been down before. We’re pretty familiar with all the obstacles and challenges and roadblocks, and why reinvent the wheel, if you don’t have to?
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. I’m guessing we could essentially predict, like you said, everything that the big telcos are going to say. We could just write a script basically. We already have all of our own evidence and resources to back up why these solutions work and why communities should have the decision-making power to choose their own solution. Right?
Jess Del Fiacco: DeAnne, I don’t know, was there anything else you wanted to add on Sean’s point?
DeAnne Cuellar: Yeah, I’ll add one thing. I think what’s really interesting about our work is the approach is different. So yes, I expect the opposition being the big telcos to pop up like whack-a-mole eventually, right? As soon as we start seeing the waterfall of resources into local communities, but I also think that there’s a broader conversation that leaders in their neighborhoods and their communities could be having with one another around affordability.
DeAnne Cuellar: Not just affordability whether it’s free or high speed internet access is the approach is different. Big telco companies want you to be a very elegant consumer or customer and so that’s why they’re saying, “That’s more expensive. That’s too hard. Come to us. It’s free. It’s high quality,” because they’re looking at you as this elegant customer consumer, whereas advocates of digital inclusion and digital divide and building community broadband networks we see connectivity as critical infrastructure, life saving critical infrastructure, and also letting communities be critical content creators as it should be, really similar to what we saw in low par FM radio movements decades ago.
DeAnne Cuellar: So I hope that conversation, it starts to bubble to the top now that we see more people coming to the table. The table is so much wider now, which is the good thing. One good thing that came out of the pandemic is that the amount of people that are now looking at working on the digital divide has probably quadrupled.
Sean Gonsalves: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, all good points. It’s something that DeAnne just touched on, which is important because it’s the infrastructure, so it’s not connectivity. Just, I mean, it touches on almost everything that we do in our lives now, so it’s not just about remote work or distance learning as important as those two things are.
Sean Gonsalves: But a real important thing for example, is telehealth and the emergence of it and how that can be a social determinant of health outcomes. That’s a phrase that you hear a lot in the space where there’s now the potential, right in the palm of our hands to improve health outcomes through various telehealth initiatives and utilizing the infrastructure that can be built and also a tremendous amount of cost savings. That’s important because it touches on everyone.
Sean Gonsalves: So in other words, we’re not just talking about as important as entertainment and those things are, and they really are, but we’re not just talking about gaming or folks being able to stream things in 4K high definition, but we’re talking about everything across the board, from economic development to, Deanne talked about this vision that a lot of these companies have of, “You just be a nice little consumer.”
Sean Gonsalves: But there’s applications now and abilities that you need greater upload speeds and symmetry and everything to do things that are more than just buying stuff online that have to do with being a producer, that have to do with being a small business owner or being a creator. And so there’s all of these things, but I think telehealth in particular is an area that can really, or should really drive a lot of the discussion about why this is so critical as a piece of info structure. I mean, it’s one thing if healthcare organizations have access to cutting edge technology, but if the patients don’t, then it doesn’t mean a whole lot.
DeAnne Cuellar: Right? And telehealth and access to telehealth and access to remote learning are human rights. Everybody should have a right to healthcare. Everybody should have a right to an education. And if you’re talking about infrastructure, if every resident living in a community cannot access those at a high quality at any time, then your community at this moment is not future proofed.
DeAnne Cuellar: And the pandemic, that’s how the pandemic got connected to access to the internet is that for decades, we’ve been told that everywhere that you see a red dot or a map or some other, infographic there’s access to the internet, you just have to subscribe to it and you can get it. And that wasn’t true, right? If that was true, then how come school buses had to thread together to make mesh networks? How come there were public school teachers teaching from a parking lot?
DeAnne Cuellar: The list is long of the things that were we saw and it was nationwide. It was across the country, so we have let historically big companies tell us that that was the solution. We did it their way and now we’re going to have to walk and chew gum. Like I always say, you have to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think that we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that there are unmet needs that have to be addressed so that our needs can be future proofed.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. Thank you so much for that. I have one final question for you. It’s the same one I asked John earlier, which is basically for listeners who are hearing all this information right now, and maybe they don’t have, LA County is certainly not the only place where this kind of movement building is happening, but if they either want to join or kind of establish this sort of coalition in their own community, where should they get started?
DeAnne Cuellar: They should definitely get started by visiting muninetworks.org. We have lots of resources that are public now. I would scour through what’s publicly available. If there’s a particular tool resource you don’t see, I would reach out directly to one of us on our team. We’re all very friendly and we can set up some time to chat and begin going over, what there is and what there isn’t currently going on in your community and we might even be able to help come up with a little starter kit.
Jess Del Fiacco: Fantastic. Thank you guys so much. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off here?
Sean Gonsalves: Organize. It’s all about action. It’s all about action. It’s the time for studying and thinking, and all of these things should be in the rear view mirror. There’s unprecedented amount of funds available. There’s a tremendous demand, there’s communities that are doing this all over the country, which should be encouraging to folks that are wondering if they can do it. It can be done.
Sean Gonsalves: So it’s an exciting time in this particular thing. And like DeAnne says, we’re going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time. There’s a lot of pressing issues that people are thinking about and are dealing with, and they’re all important. But when you talk about infrastructure, it’s not as sexy or leading the news all of the time, but you notice it when, for example, if you’re living in a world that needs highways and real roads, and you live in a place that only has dirt paths, that’s a problem and there’s a way to fix that.
Sean Gonsalves: Or if you’re living in a world where everybody needs electricity and fortunately we’re past that point for the most part, we don’t want to settle for living in the society where some folks have a fully electrified home and other folks just have a light bulb or two that works, so this is where we’re at and the time is now.
Jess Del Fiacco: All right. And as usual, if folks want to get started, you can find all the resources we mentioned and the websites on ilsr.org. We’ll have a page up for this episode. Thank you, Deanne, thank you, Sean, for joining me day and thanks everybody for listening.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to everything discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ilsr.org.
Jess Del Fiacco: While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on social media. I hope you’ll also take the opportunity to help us out with a gift that helps produce this very podcast and supports the research and resources we make available for free on our website.
Jess Del Fiacco: Finally, we ask that you let us know how we’re doing with a rating or review on Apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. This show is produced by me, Jess Del Fiacco and edited by Drew Birschbach. Our theme music is Funky Delude by Dysfunctional.


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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock

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Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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