Tag: "grant"

Posted May 11, 2021 by Christopher Mitchell

Earlier this year in March, the Biden Administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included, among many other things, multiple sources of funds for broadband infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Treasury was tasked with writing the rules of how local governments can spend the various funds. The Interim Rule has been published and it appears to significantly limit local ability to invest in needed networks. 

The rules say that communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Mbps service reliably available. But there is no measure of what “reliably” means (in federal statute or otherwise). More than 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by best estimates. The result is considerable confusion for urban areas across the nation who no longer qualify for broadband investments under a strict reading of the proposed rules. This is not what the Biden Administration had suggested we should expect in its many press communications about its broadband approach. 

This discussion is about Section 602, which details the direct payments to local governments under the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund. The aid offered to local governments has numerous authorized expenditures, including broadband infrastructure.

The Interim Rule that governs this program was released yesterday and appears to limit broadband infrastructure investment solely to the most rural regions: those lacking wireline connections reliably delivering 25/3 Mbps (Fact Sheet). Though in excess of 10 million children struggled with remote schooling in urban areas, the Biden Administration is not allowing local governments responsible for them in urban areas to build better networks that would meet their long-term needs. Unconnected families may get some temporary help via the Emergency Broadband Benefit or hotspots from temporary aid to schools, but communities cannot use the funds intended for broadband infrastructure to actually build networks that would permanently solve this...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities

North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops

Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council

The State Scene

Florida

A Florida bill, which included provisions that would have forced Florida’s municipal electric utilities and their ratepayers to pay private Internet Service Providers’ utility pole make-ready costs, was significantly revised before passing the State House by a unanimous vote of 115-0 on April 28.

H.B. 1239, which no longer includes the make-ready costs provisions, initially read like a regulatory wishlist for incumbent cable monopolies until it was redrafted to become a legislative package aimed at improving broadband deployment across the state. The revised bill now heads to the State Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.

The final version of the bill establishes additional duties for Florida’s Office of Broadband, creates a state broadband grant program, and requires the Office to conduct mapping of unserved and underserved areas of the state -- a significant deviation from the version that was first introduced in February.

The initial version was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members, capitol insiders noted. Proponents of the initial language argued that lowering the costs municipal electric utilities charge private ISPs for attaching to their utility poles was a necessary prerequisite to attract private investment in rural communities, and would have required electric utilities statewide to provide private ISPs with access to their poles at a capped rate. The stripped-out portion of the bill had also included tax exemptions on the majority of equipment private ISPs purchased.

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Posted May 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

The Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) is expanding gigabit fiber Internet access with financial assistance from federal and state grants to provide high-speed broadband to residents living in some of North Carolina's most rural, poverty-stricken regions.

A $7.9 million federal allotment from the USDA’s ReConnect Program, to which the North Carolina-based telephone cooperative is contributing matching funds, has kickstarted a $15.87 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband deployment project in one of the Coastal Plains’ southernmost counties.

ATMC recently completed construction of the first four phases of its 60-phase “Faster Columbus” project, connecting residents living in the New Life community east of Tabor City to its gigabit fiber service. Upon completion of all 60 phases, the project will provide ATMC’s FOCUS Fiber Internet service to 2,775 unserved households in rural Columbus County. The completed project will also serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in the communities of Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, north Tabor City and Whiteville.

The fiber Internet service ATMC is providing is expected to have a substantial impact on the region’s agriculture industry, one of the main sectors of the local economy. The FTTH service will also benefit the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located on the edge of the Green Swamp. Speaking of the anticipated service, Brenda J. Moore, Housing Coordinator of the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe said, "Finally our Tribal students can look forward to no more boot-legging of Wi-Fi in order to do their homework."

Although the USDA ReConnect Program allots grant recipients 60 months to complete construction of projects, ATMC’s goal is to complete the entire Faster Columbus project within 20 months. “We want to get Internet [access] to these 2,775 homes as quickly as possible,” Jody Heustess, ATMC’s VP of Marketing, told us in a recent interview. “We have about six construction...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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Posted April 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

The Lafayette, Louisiana-based municipal network, LUS Fiber, is expanding into rural southwest Louisiana with the help of a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). 

The federal grant, announced in February, will cover 80 percent of the cost. LUS Fiber will match up to $700,000 in additional grant funding for the project. 

LUS Fiber, which offers speeds up to 10 Gigabit-per-second speeds, is partnering with Acadiana Planning Commission (APC) for the development and construction of the “certified all-fiber network.” Construction of the high-speed Internet backbone along the U.S. Highway 90 is set to begin this year and is expected to be completed within two years. 

New Routes, New Subscribers

Forty-seven miles of fiber infrastructure will connect Lafayette Parish, St. Martin Parish, and Iberia Parish. The project “could add between 650 and 1,400 new Internet customers to the telecom’s roughly 21,000 current accounts,” according to the Daily Advertiser’s coverage of the announcement in February

St. Martin Parish President Chest Cedars told the Daily Advertiser businesses that are central to the economic vitality of the region are just off Highway 90. 

“When it was agreed that fiber would take a little left turn and hit our SMEDA Industrial Park it was even a greater win for St. Martin Parish because six of our top 10 taxpayers in our parish are housed in that particular industrial center,” Cedars said. 

Elected leaders in seven different parishes across Acadiana wrote a letter to the state legislature and Louisiana State Governor John Bel Edwards, stressing the need to invest in more opportunities that offer “affordable, accessible, and reliable broadband.” 

Leaders specifically refer to the impact that LUS fiber has had on the Lafayette community. School Mint, an IT company from San Francisco moved its...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maryland plans to funnel American Rescue Plan Act funding towards community broadband 

Vermont Governor bolsters House plan backing Communications Union Districts 

A national movement to address digital inclusion ignites

See the bottom of this post for related job openings

 

State Scene

Maryland

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan made digital equity and literacy a top priority of the state when he signed H.B. 97, the Digital Connectivity Act, into law on April 13. The new law establishes the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to create a plan to get all Marylanders connected to affordable, high-speed Internet by 2026. The OSB will also assist in administering $300 million for digital equity initiatives out of the $3.9 billion Maryland received in American Rescue Plan funds. 

The $300 million allocation will be broken down into separate pots of money to address physical infrastructure, affordability, and adoption: $45 million will be for grants that support and expand municipal broadband networks; $75 million for affordability initiatives to subsidize the cost of monthly service fees and devices for eligible residents who are subscribers to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs); and $150 million dedicated to deploy broadband infrastructure and expand connectivity in both urban and rural areas. In addition, $10 million is earmarked for local government and community-based solutions, and $6 million will support adoption initiatives, including $4 million for a new division under the University System of Maryland to develop curriculum on digital literacy and addressing the broadband gap.

Maryland had a state rural broadband office prior to the creation of the new OSB office. The rural broadband office offers support to Maryland’s rural regions attempting to access federal funding opportunities. The new OSB will be dedicated to addressing barriers that address the connectivity challenges Maryland’s suburban and metro residents...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

When he was a colonel in the Virginia Militia, George Washington is said to have visited “Craig’s Camp,” a mountainous frontier outpost in southwest Virginia near the border of what would later become West Virginia. After the Seven Years' War, farmers and tradesmen were drawn to the area, establishing a settlement known then as “Newfincastle.” Over the years, the “fin” was dropped and the town became New Castle, the seat of Craig County.

Today – with the Jefferson National Forest comprising half of the county, its scenic byways, access to the Appalachian Trail, old churches, and family cemeteries – Craig County and the surrounding region remains steeped in early American history. And now, thanks to the Craig-Botetourt Rural Electric Cooperative (CBEC), this corner of rural Virginia has established a forward-looking outpost of Internet connectivity, and a new fiber frontier that planners hope to expand across the seven counties that make up CBEC’s 650 square-mile service area.

The Bee Online Advantage

It was in 2018 when CBEC began to seriously consider building a broadband network to serve its 6,800 members because, as the co-op’s website puts it: “Our members are experiencing what originally created the electric cooperative in 1936 – a lack of service. They lacked electricity [85] years ago; now they lack high-speed Internet [access].”

That lack of high-speed Internet connectivity is becoming a thing of the past, at least for co-op members in Botetourt County who now have access to an emerging Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service through a CBEC subsidiary known as the Bee Online Advantage.

“We have about 10 percent of our membership covered right now. To build-out the rest of the network (into the adjacent counties) will probably cost somewhere in the $60 million range,” CBEC CEO Jeff Ahearn told us in an interview.

One of the main drivers of the network’s construction costs, Ahearn said, is the “very low (population) density” of CBEC’s...

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Posted April 16, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last fall we wrote about the launch of Project OVERCOME, a grant program "designed to connect the unconnected through novel broadband technology solutions" by soliciting applications from community-based organizations and ultimately award $2.7 million funded through the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures (the philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt).

Project OVERCOME seeks to "[C]ollect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies [in order to] discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served."

Each of the winning projects will serve as an incubator of sorts, deploying proofs of concept with an array of wired and wireless technologies to connect households in 

Winning applications were recently announced for projects in Blue River, Oregon; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; Yonkers, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Clinton County, Missouri; and Loiza, Puerto Rico.

There's no word on the total number of households the winning bids expect to connect, but they range from apartment buildings to underserved neighborhoods to rural portions of counties. To get robust, resilient connections the bulk of the projects feature fiber backhaul feeding some sort of wireless deployment (including CBRS, millimeter-wave, and RF over Fiber (RFoF)). They also feature an array of partnerships with universities, libraries, nonprofits, and electric cooperatives, including DigitalC, Onward Eugene...

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Posted April 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The broadband subsidiary of Holston Electric Cooperative based out of Rogersville, Tennessee, celebrated passing 7,500 passings at the start of the new year (it serves 9,000 total electric members), and is looking to finish its buildout at the end of June 2021. This would put it two years ahead of schedule. The project has been helped along the way by $7.3 million in grants.

Posted April 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

LUS Fiber, the municipal network for Lafayette, Lousiana, just won a $3 million federal grant to extend a 47-mile backbone along Highway 90, allowing them to connect 650 businesses and as many as 1,400 new households.

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