Alaska Ready For Reliable Internet

The last homesteader laid down his claim in 1974, building up his home in Alaska from white spruce trees, fishing and hunting each day. Thousands of people came before him, creating their livelihoods from nothing. Now, bringing a reliable, fast internet connection to everyone in Alaska is taking center stage, as a telecom provider is set to ramp up internet speeds in the Valdez and Copper River Basin region.

It’s estimated that 67 percent of Alaska’s rural population lacks access to broadband internet, amounting to just about 168,000 people. An inability to access the internet not only severs a common connection that the world has with each other, but it also has negative economic effects on communities and towns. Bringing broadband to rural communities improves quality of life and provides opportunities that otherwise would not be available.

“What we’ll be doing now is reaching out into increasingly remote areas of our service area, into places like Glennallen and Copper Center,” said Tabitha Gregory, Chief Customer Relations officer at Copper Valley Telecom. “It’s possible to put these higher speeds into a lot of our state.”

While there’s often a premium on roads and bridges when we talk about infrastructure, broadband infrastructure is extremely important as the discussion surrounding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure heats up. It’s unfair to leave entire populations of Americans behind simply because there is insufficient infrastructure connecting them to the internet. The GAIN coalition is happy to see Alaskan telecom focusing on bringing this important resource to as many people as possible.

Our Infrastructure Needs Our Attention

America’s infrastructure has not been granted the attention it needs or deserves. Not long ago we led the world with our infrastructure, yet today we received a D+. As Caller-Times writes, “according to the World Economic Forum, the economic competitiveness of our infrastructure was indeed number one — in 2005. Today, we are ranked ninth, behind France and the Netherlands.” Our infrastructure is not something that can be left for tomorrow, it’s imperative that we focus necessary resources on repairing and improving our infrastructure.

According to recent estimates, between now and 2040 the United States will need to invest $12.4 trillion in infrastructure updates and repairs in order to meet our infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, the US is expected to fall considerably short of that goal, with projections saying the US is only likely to invest $8.5 trillion in that same timeframe.

Our failing infrastructure does not just frustrate commuters or cause traffic jams, it costs taxpayers money. According to The Washington Post, “decaying roads, bridges, railroads and transit systems are costing the United States $129 billion a year,” as a result of cost of operating vehicles and travel delays. That’s $129 billion coming out of the pockets of American workers and American businesses, all as a result of our crumbling and neglected infrastructure.

Investing in repairs across the country will have tremendous effects across a range of areas – not only will it cut down on the annual $129 billion lost, but it will create jobs and stimulate economies. Investing in our infrastructure is a surefire way to improve the country, and the GAIN coalition is excited on the progress that has been made in recent months. With a new spotlight on our infrastructure from Washington, we should see repairs and upgrades to our roads and bridges coming soon.

Public-Private Partnerships are a Way Forward for Infrastructure Improvement

Partnerships between the private and public sectors are an effective and necessary means to improving our country’s crumbling infrastructure. The President’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan discussed this past summer is founded on the idea of using public funds to incentivize private investment in infrastructure projects across the country.

Blackstone Group, a major investment company, is moving forward with plans to create a $40 billion fund that will be invested in infrastructure. With $500 million coming directly from Blackstone, this is tremendous leadership in a necessary area, with our infrastructure getting worse each day. It’s becoming more and more important for private companies to participate in these public-private partnerships that provide the means to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements. Individual states have been leading the charge in infrastructure repairs recently,  attracting investments from the  private sector.

“State governments have become an incubator for infrastructure policy because of the lack of federal action, raising gas taxes and looking at different tolling techniques,” said Scott Zuchorski, senior director of Fitch Rating’s global infrastructure group. “Private investors will probably look to the state level where projects are ready to go, and they can deploy their capital.”

The GAIN coalition applauds Blackstone’s dedication to improving our infrastructure, and is hopeful that additional companies will soon follow suit. It’s paramount that we move with forward with infrastructure investments, and that we do so together between the public and private sectors, so that communities across the country can see the revitalization of our infrastructure that they deserve.

Infrastructure Needs to Match Export Levels

After decades of restriction, the United States is quickly becoming a major player in the crude oil exports market. Ports in Louisiana and Texas have seen record amounts of energy exports, with tankers leaving in droves every day. Very recently the United States passed the 2 million barrels per day threshold, and this growth shows no signs of stopping. Yet while this growth is clearly a boon for our economy and position on the international scale, some have pointed out that our infrastructure may soon reach its limit without proper expansions.

While the actual amount of crude oil that the United States is able to export is not known – terminal operators and companies do not disclose their capacity, and the U.S. Energy Department does not track it – many in the industry have expressed concerns over reaching infrastructure capacity. Without question, oil export infrastructure will need further investment in the near future. Bottle necked capacity will not affect only storage and loading capacity, but would reach into our pipeline capacity as well.

The United States currently produces about 9.5 million barrels of crude oil each day, and this number is expected to rise by about 1 million bpd annually. As production continues, we’ll naturally need to look for additional markets to sell our product. This will test our exporting capacity soon, as our exports are already skyrocketing. Over the past four weeks, for example, crude oil exports averaged 1.7 million barrels per day. That’s more than triple the average from a year ago.

Our production of natural resources is simply not going to slow down. We continue to reach tremendous heights, bringing communities and workers along the way. We need to ensure that our infrastructure is sufficient and capable to transport these resources where they need to go. As the United States continues to become a major player on the international energy stage, it will become paramount that we have the capacity to move our product to market.

The GAIN coalition is thrilled to see the progress we’ve made in becoming energy dominant, and we hope to see the proper focus given to our energy infrastructure to ensure that this continues.

New Tracker Details Attacks On Pipelines

Yesterday, Energy Builders, a project of the Energy Equipment Infrastructure Alliance (EEIA), launched a new tracking tool to monitor the growing number incidents of illegal action against pipeline projects across the country. As we’ve seen, radical environmentalists and project opponents have resorted to increasingly unlawful and violent attacks against a number pipeline projects. Whether it be against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, the Sabal Pipeline in Florida, or the Enbridge Line 3 in Wisconsin, these perpetrators have consistently entered private property and sabotaged legally permitted energy infrastructure projects – projects that have adhered to every state and federal regulation.

These actions are unacceptable by any metric. Thankfully, the newly launched incident tracker consolidates these eco-terrorism actions in one place, and provides a means by which others can report unlawful acts against pipelines as well.

The new Energy Infrastructure Incident Reporting Center, creates a well-sourced database of these actions against approved pipeline projects. The reported incidents date back to last February, and will continue to expand as more people traffic the site and provide firsthand accounts of other such attacks.

Open discourse is vital for projects that stir such passion like these, but once the process has been followed and regulators have granted permits for pipeline projects, it is simply unjustifiable to resort to violence. Frustration and disagreement are not vindication for dangerous acts of vandalism like these.

The GAIN Coalition is glad to see a brighter spotlight shine on this important issue. Providing the public with access to information that directly affects them is a noble undertaking. We must discourage these attacks, and instead follow the rule of law and trust the process. Energy Builders have provided a tremendous resource, and we’d encourage others to take a look at the site as well.

Our Infrastructure Needs Greater Funding

An infrastructure race has begun around the world, and the United States is not keeping pace. We’re facing problems that stand in the way of ensuring that our infrastructure receives the necessary funding over the next two decades. In China, an infrastructure investment of $28.4 trillion between now and 2040 is required to meet the country’s needs, according to the Australian-based Global Infrastructure Hub (GIH). Based on current trends, China will invest $26.5 trillion over that time period, $1.9 trillion shy of what’s necessary.

The United States, though, has a much larger difference between what we need, and what we’re expected to invest. According to the GIH, The United States needs to invest $12.4 trillion between now and 2040, but are only likely to invest $8.5 trillion. That’s a sizeable gap of $3.8 trillion, and 90 percent of that is needed for building and maintaining our roads and highways.

There has bene considerable chatter among lawmakers in Washington over infrastructure funding, and individual states have begun to lead by example through infrastructure investments. This is something that needs present attention, and will have immediate and positive effects on American citizens.

Research from the International Monetary Fund found that for each percentage point of gross domestic product (GDP) invested in infrastructure, 1.5% GDP growth will return within four years. The GAIN coalition is sees a bright future for American infrastructure, and we hope to see Congress act to close the funding gap for our crumbling network.

New York Wants Broadband For All By End of 2018

A modern and accessible online presence is no longer optional for businesses that want to grow and succeed. Access to high speed internet is important because businesses need to be able to reach potential customers, and vice versa. Unfortunately, this facet of everyday life that has become so universal is still a sought after luxury for huge swaths of the population. Particularly in rural communities, slow internet connections dull economic growth, and hurt small businesses and American families.  Thankfully, there are tremendous efforts being made to fix this.

We’ve written in the past about Microsoft’s efforts to bring broadband to rural communities, and they continue to expand these efforts. But New York State is hoping to bring high speed broadband internet to their entire state by the end of 2018. New York’s Broadband for All Program is granting $9 billion in grants to bring broadband to communities in New York, like rural Delaware County, that don’t have access to high speed internet. Grants like these are so important because it’s often very expensive to bring the infrastructure necessary for broadband internet to rural communities. By easing some of the financial burden, New York is helping to give all of their citizens access to a resource that has become ubiquitous with modern day America.

Expanding broadband infrastructure so that everyone has access to high speed internet is an important step for our communities, and our economy. The GAIN coalition is thrilled that this issue is gaining the attention it so rightly deserves, and the progress being made both by private institutions and public communities is encouraging. We hope to see everyone gain access to broadband internet, and that this will soon be an issue of the past.

Congress Holds Hearing to Address Areas of Improvement in our Rail Transportation Infrastructure

Last week the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to address the challenges of creating 21st century infrastructure for the American people. The focus of this hearing was on our rail infrastructure, and the need for continued investment in updating this vital part of so many Americans’ daily lives. Our extensive array of railroads now handles 2,200 trains every day, double the number of trains since 1976. And the demand will only grow, as the Federal Highway Administration forecasts a 41% rise in freight tonnage by 2040.

Thankfully, railroads have been getting ready for tomorrow, today. A majority of our freight railroads are privately owned, meaning that companies operate on assets that they’ve built, managed, and paid for themselves. These types of public-private partnerships are a tremendous way to save the taxpayer money, while also encouraging investment in important infrastructure projects. The freight railroad industry recognizes the need to stay modern amid changing economic times, and have been spending more in recent years than ever before. Between 2012 and 2016, the freight rail industry spent $135 billion – approximately $74 million per day – on repairs and improvements.

Our railroads are the backbone of our shipping industry, and without up to date, safe, and efficient means of transporting goods from one part of the country to another, we will fail to fully capitalize on our economic potential. The GAIN coalition is glad to see lawmakers in Washington address this issue, and we’re thrilled that such beneficial action is already being taken to invest in our rail infrastructure.

Energy Policy Debate Must Remain Fact-based

Within the energy policy debate, it’s vital that we maintain a level of credibility and seriousness that promotes the smartest policies moving forward. In doing so we promote economic growth, American energy independence, and improve lives across the country. Recent columns have introduced frivolous terms and ideas into the debate, but we must maintain focus on creating jobs, boosting economies, and providing Americans with affordable energy sources.

Part of what we strive for at GAIN is providing balance to the energy debate that can at times become clouded with narratives that are not always based on facts. We did just that this week after Michael Foster, a man who is currently on trial in the state of North Dakota facing criminal charges for tampering with the Keystone 1 pipeline, made the argument in an opinion article that his actions were taken with regard for his psychological well being.

Read our statement from GAIN Spokesman, Craig Stevens, below:

“This week the infrastructure industry has been faced with two unknowable, unquantifiable garbles of jargon that threaten to diminish our energy policy debate into a theatre of the absurd.  ‘Pre-traumatic stress disorder’ and ‘potential indirect impacts’ have entered the lexicon of individuals and groups who are seeking to curtail the development of North America’s natural resources.  What is even more stunning than their mere use in the public discourse is level of seriousness with which they are being given.  The U.S. and its neighbors need millions of barrels of fossil fuels per day to meet the energy and transportation needs of our shared economy.  By attempting to shut down or thwart the development of pipelines as a means of transporting these critical fuels, energy opponents are forcing North Americans to get their fuel from foreign countries, via less environmentally sensitive means, at higher costs, and without the added benefit of employing North American workers.  Policymakers and others should give these naysayers their reasonable due, which is nil.”

Regulatory Uncertainty Hurts American Businesses

If we’re to have any hope of improving America’s crumbling infrastructure – which was recently given a D+ grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers – then we need clear and predictable regulations for infrastructure construction. Nowhere is this more important than in our energy sector, where billions of dollars of private investments are poured into improving and expanding the mechanisms that let us flip a switch and light up a room, or turn a knob to heat our homes in the winter.

Volatile regulatory standards lead to wasted money from private investors, and force delays or cancellations of major infrastructure projects. As a result of shifting regulations and requirements, the TransCanada company recently announced that they are terminating their Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects. On top of the incredible sum of money invested already, thousands of jobs will not be created, and our energy infrastructure will miss out on an improvement vital to utilizing our vast natural resources.

This is just another instance of changing regulatory circumstances harming private companies. Under the Obama administration, uncertain regulatory reviews dragged out private investments in our infrastructure nearly to a breaking point. After months of continued doubt, President Obama eventually rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. On top of that, regulatory uncertainty resulted in staggering delays for the Dakota Access Pipeline – which created roughly 12,000 jobs and brought hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local economies. In both instances, these spinning regulatory expectations harmed private companies and American workers.

Private investment is necessary to the future of American infrastructure, but without predictability we cannot expect companies to invest billions of dollars in these projects. We simply cannot expect such large amounts of money to be put to public use without clear, consistent standards. Billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure that will improve lives across the country shouldn’t be held up because regulations change. To move forward and improve our infrastructure, private companies need predictable, known regulations. Anything else is simply unfair and unsustainable.