Tag: "American Rescue Plan"

Posted January 13, 2022 by Maren Machles

Once a booming center of manufacturing, Allentown, PA (pop. 120,900) is looking to reinvigorate its economy by reinventing itself as a modern 21st century “smart city,” bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet connectivity to every resident in the city.

In October, the city proposed using $7 million of its $57 million in American Rescue Act Funds to aid in the deployment of a citywide FTTH network. City leaders hope the investment will help them reach the goal outlined in its strategic economic development plan to become a smart city by 2030.

The city will work with Iota Communications to conduct a feasibility study they hope will be complete in the coming months. While the possibility of a FTTH network is in the early stages for the city, the proposal signals a serious ambition to bridge the digital divide in the region.

Feeling The Way Forward

Allentown is one of three cities that make up a larger geographic area known as Lehigh Valley, with the other cities being Easton (pop. 27,000) and Bethlehem (pop. 75,500). For a while now, leaders in the valley have been talking about the digital divide and it’s been made clear with the pandemic that it can no longer be put on the backburner.

Pennsylvania lawmakers recently passed a law clearing the way for municipalities to have more of a say in how 5G is deployed in their communities. And while many local officials say the new law will help pave the way for Allentown to stay ahead of the curve, some have cautioned that a focus on 5G is a major distraction.

“My caution (at a recent roundtable) was that putting our focus on 5G and not focusing on the digital divide that still exists would be leapfrogging over the problem,” Lehigh University Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Officer Donald Outing told LehighValleyLive.com. “5G will not resolve that digital divide. If we are not intentional about our...

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Posted January 13, 2022 by Christopher Mitchell

Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas. 

When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.

Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule. 

After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks. 

Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May. 

As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.

Summary and TL;DR

 

The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys...

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Posted January 11, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

While a national debate rages over immigration and the border wall, just 30 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Harlingen city officials are coming together to plan the building of a bridge – across the digital divide deep in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley.

When Harlingen (pop. 75,000) was founded at the turn of the 20th century, it established itself as a prominent commerce and transportation hub – the “Capital of the Rio Grande Valley” at “the crossroads of South Texas.” Over the years, thanks to its fertile delta soil, the cultivation of citrus fruit, grain, and cotton became a major part of the local economy. Today, however, the biggest industry in the second most populous city in Cameron County is healthcare.

As attractive as Harlingen has become to residents and visitors – with its extensive park system and tropical bird-watcher’s paradise (the city happens to be located where two primary avian flyways converge) – one thing the city lacks is adequate access to broadband, which is particularly acute among households with school-aged children.

Pandemic Spurs City into Action

That realization was the impetus behind a recent city commission vote to move forward with a feasibility study to determine how the city might build a broadband network and whether it should rely on fiber, fixed wireless, or a mix of deployment technologies to modernize Harlingen’s telecommunications infrastructure.

“What brought this to our attention was of course the pandemic,” City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez told Valley Central News. “When the school district had to go to virtual learning, we found out that there were students and some families that did not have access to (the) Internet.”

Harlingen city commissioners opted to hire the Houston-based civil engineering firm ConnFendley to conduct a $100,000 feasibility study, the cost of which is being split by the...

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Posted December 28, 2021 by Maren Machles

For episode 15 of our bonus series, “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher Mitchell is joined by Catharine Rice (Co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and  Project Manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice) and Doug Dawson (Owner and President of CCG Consulting) dig into what all these different pots of federal funding mean communities across the country. They talk about the communities that have already announced plans to use the funds for municipal networks. They offer advice and direct communities in the early stages of planning to resources on how to use the funds effectively.  

This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

Read the full transcript here.

Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Shane Ivers for the Music: What's The Angle? by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com a Creative Commons Attribution (4.0) license

 

Posted December 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In August we reported on the effort to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home service to Gainesville. At the time, city commissioners were wrestling with whether to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to start construction on the first phase of a citywide fiber network.

After postponing a previously scheduled vote on how to spend the money at a meeting in October, city commissioners earlier this month voted to set aside $9.6 million of the city’s $32 million in Rescue Plan funds to extend its existing fiber network to connect over 2,000 businesses and nearly 10,000 homes in areas of the north central Florida city identified by planners as neighborhoods where service is most needed. Those neighborhoods include Springhill, Grove Street, Oakview Duckpond, Stephen Foster, Lincoln Estates, Duval, and Highland Court Manor.

“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Bryan Eastman, founder of Connected Gainesville, a citizen-led advocacy group that launched in 2017 pushing for the city’s utility company to build out its existing fiber network to serve all of Alachua County.

Our city residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a more connected future with better Internet [access] options. Thank you to our city commission for investing in this future. This is not the final vote on this, but it's the biggest step we've taken yet.

‘Powerful forces’ Lurk Behind-the-Scenes

While city commissioners voted to “set aside” the ARPA funds for broadband expansion, it was not a final vote to fund the project. The final vote is slated for January 6, 2022 after commissioners hear from city staff on how they intend to roll out the initiative.

Eastman said that while the final vote seems likely to pass, now is the time to keep pushing.

“There are still powerful forces that don’t want this to come to fruition, so we’re doing everything we can to get citizens to reach out and tell their commissioners they want municipal broadband in Gainesville,” he told us earlier this week.

Majority Believe Expanding Broadband Access is ‘Essential’

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has...

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Posted December 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Earlier this month, Waterloo City Councilors unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract using its American Rescue Plan funds to hire Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber-to-the-home network for the ninth-largest city in Iowa (est. population 68,000).

The plan, as we previously reported, is to deploy 309 miles of underground fiber across the city, which according to Magellan’s proposed contract, will pass “nearly every household and business throughout the community.”

Although the design and engineering work will provide city officials with an official estimate on how much it will cost to build the network, a study commissioned by the Waterloo Industrial Development Association (WIDA) in 2019 estimated it would cost between $39 million and $65 million to construct a city-wide network, according to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Michelle Weidner, told Government Technology magazine the city is likewise eyeing American Rescue Plan funds to help pay for construction costs, although City Councilor Pat Morrissey noted that a bond issue will likely be necessary – something that Morrissey said is well worth it “in the long run.”

"You don't grow a community by cutting, you grow a community by investing," Morrissey said. "And what we as taxpayers will be doing is investing in something that is so long overdue, and I believe will be so appreciated."

Long Time Coming

While Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart touted his 2030 Vision Plan, which included bringing better broadband to the city in his recent...

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Posted October 29, 2021 by Maren Machles

Across New England, local-controlled, publicly-owned Internet infrastructure is on the rise -- from Bar Harbor, Maine to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In Connecticut, however, it’s a different story. The Constitution State is a municipal broadband desert.

That may be changing, however, as Bristol (pop. 60,000) inches closer to becoming the first city in Connecticut to transform itself into a fountain of community-owned connectivity as city officials consider whether to use its federal American Rescue Plans Act (ARPA) funds to build a citywide open access fiber network. With $28 million in ARPA funds at its disposal, city officials have been in a months-long process of deciding how much, if any, of that money should be spent building fiber optic infrastructure. 

The city’s chief technology staff has been working with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the network, which were anticipated to be presented to both City Council and the Financial Board in August or September. 

“That plan has been completed but has not been presented to City officials as of yet,” City Chief Information Officer Scott Smith told ILSR in an email. “The consultants would like to present their plan in person to City officials and so we thought it might be more prudent to have them present it at an upcoming meeting of the Mayor’s ARPA Task Force. We are hoping that we can use some of the ARPA funds to fund a portion of this broadband buildout, especially in the areas of the City where we have a significant digital divide.”

Building this infrastructure would increase competition and address local concerns about the lack of reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet access.

“With the covid pandemic, it catapulted it to the top (of concerns),” Smith told the Bristol Press. “We have a digital divide issue in Bristol that is quite large.”

Currently, there are no fiber options available in Bristol, with Comcast, Frontier, Viasat, and HughesNet offering only cable, DSL, and satellite. And while, BroadbandNow reports that Comcast’s highest service tier offers gig speed connectivity in the region, we know that privately-owned infrastructure does not mean universal access. It’s not...

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Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted October 7, 2021 by Maren Machles

For episode 14 of our bonus series, “Why NC Broadband Matters,” we’re joined by Amy Huffman, Policy Director at National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Christa Vinson, Program Officer of Rural Broadband and Infrastructure at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), to talk about the state of digital inclusion across the country. 

Vinson updates us on the recent developments with the collaboration LISC and NDIA have been working on to bring rural Digital Navigators (DNs) to 32 communities across 20 states. As the federal government begins to recognize the importance of digital inclusion and equity, DNs are helping fill a role in the community to build digital skills in the community. 

The three also discuss the $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund that has been allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act and the newly released program guidelines. They talk about the potential to use these funds to address digital inclusion — pointing out that an eligibility condition for the projects is providing an affordable option for low income families. 

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

Read the transcript here.

Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Shane Ivers...

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Posted September 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Episode 20 of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) and Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) live on both YouTube and Facebook to talk about a grab-bag of issues including the new Treasury rules for the $10 billion in broadband infrastructure funding, digital redlining, and microtrenching. 

Join us for the live show Thursday, September 30th, at 5pm ET. 

Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback, ideas for the show, or your pictures of weird wireless infrastructure to stump Travis.

Watch here on YouTube (or below), or here on Facebook Live.

 

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