Tag: "american rescue plan act"

Posted July 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection

California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network

New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor

The State Scene 

Maine

The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24. 

The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025. 

Members of the ConnectME Authority are one step ahead of state legislators. During a June virtual emergency meeting, the ConnectME Authority voted (5 yes-1 abstention) to set the statewide definition of what constitutes “broadband” as a symmetrical 100/100 megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. The public board also moved (5 yes-1 no) to redesignate what “underserved” means, defining it as areas which lack access to Internet connections at 50/10 Mbps. 

Before...

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Posted June 30, 2021 by Jericho Casper

ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, for a live discussion centered on the “Investment Implications of a Federal Broadband Infrastructure Bill.”

During the discussion, Christopher breaks down the various pots of money the federal government has dedicated to expanding Internet infrastructure and access to date. He points to the shortcomings of current federal programs, among which are provisions that set aside funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund going to short-term, incumbent-friendly solutions.

Christopher noted that while the Emergency Broadband Benefit has helped income eligible households by providing $50 to $75 a month subsidies for home Internet subscriptions, it leaves uncertain what the future holds for these communities when the funds run out. Similarly, he points to restrictions placed on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which limit the ability of schools and libraries to use the funds to build their own networks. Throughout the discussion, Chris maintains that public dollars should be spent on more sustainable, long-term solutions. 

Christopher and Drew also discuss what states are planning to do with the windfall from the federal government by way of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. Each state is receiving a minimum of $100 million for broadband projects enabling remote work, education, and health monitoring. Mitchell highlights the plans Maryland and California developed to use the incoming federal funds as leading examples in contrast to Idaho which is set to funnel the money entirely to private...

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Posted June 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department released an updated FAQ clarifying many of the concerns and questions raised by numerous community broadband advocates and members of Congress about the Interim Final Rules (IFR) on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be spent on broadband infrastructure.

The day after the rules were first released in May we wrote about how it appeared the IFR, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure as the rules initially suggested communities were expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” While broadband experts might have felt comfortable with that language, it would almost certainly confuse lawsuit-leery city attorneys that have to sign-off on projects in areas with widespread gigabit cable broadband access.

Clarification to Make Community Broadband Advocates Clap

What does the requirement that infrastructure “be designed to” provide service to unserved or underserved households and businesses mean?

The updated FAQ sticks to the 25/3 benchmark, stating: “Designing infrastructure investments to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses means prioritizing deployment of infrastructure that will bring service to households or businesses that are not currently serviced by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed.”

However, the FAQ goes on to say, “to meet this requirement, states and localities should use funds to deploy broadband infrastructure projects whose objective is to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses. These unserved or underserved households or businesses do not need to be the only ones in the service area funded by the project (emphasis added).”

The updated Treasury document further...

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Posted June 17, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Last Tuesday, residents of three coastal Maine communities - Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston - voted to support Town Meeting articles authorizing each town's Select Boards to enter an interlocal agreement establishing the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC), a nonprofit regional broadband utility in the Penobscot Bay Region of MidCoast Maine.

The type of regional utility the communities are seeking to establish is a broadband network utilizing an open-access model, in which the fiber infrastructure is municipally-owned, the maintenance of the network is managed by an outside firm, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide retail service to end-users. The ultimate goal of MIDC is to build an open-access, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide universal Internet access across any towns which vote to sign onto MIDC’s interlocal agreement.

More than nine communities located in Knox and Waldo County formed the MidCoast Internet Coalition earlier this year, to indicate their support of establishing the MIDC regional utility district. Now, the towns which form the MidCoast Internet Coalition (Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Union, and Owls Head) are voting in phases to sign onto an interlocal agreement, legally recognizing the public utility under Maine law.

Faced with aging populations, a need to consider their economic futures, and no hope of investment from the monopoly ISPs, many cities across Maine have joined forces to develop their own publicly-owned broadband utilities. MIDC is one of three regional broadband utilities in Maine, alongside the Katahdin Region Broadband Utility and the Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU). MIDC will follow the same regional approach as DBU, a utility which found deploying a fiber network and allowing local ISPs to offer services over the infrastructure was the most feasible approach to ensure high-speed, reliable Internet was accessible to residents. Since being established in 2018, DBU now...

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Posted June 2, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The day after the U.S. Treasury published the Interim Final Rules on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act can be spent, we sounded the alarm because it appears the rules, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure.

Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and eight other members of Congress joined the growing number of community broadband advocates who share those concerns.

On Tuesday, May 25, Sen. Wyden sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her “to ensure any community with service that falls below (the Treasury’s) own standard of 100 (Megabits per second) Mbps upload and download speeds is eligible for funding.”

Two days later, U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-California) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) penned a similar letter that was also signed by Wyden and six other members of Congress (U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Lori Trahan, Peter Welch, and Debbie Dingell). Eshoo and Booker have long led efforts to support local initiatives to expand Internet access with community solutions.

25/3 Not Sufficient  

Even as the Treasury acknowledges that families really need 100/100 Mbps service, as the Interim Rules are currently written it suggests communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” About 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by flawed federal estimates, although millions lack service because it is unaffordable or effectively unreliable. And there is no standard for reliability that communities can measure against.

The Eshoo/Booker letter is particularly salient on this point: 

Furthermore, expecting municipalities to determine what areas are ‘reliably’ served by 25/3 is itself a major obstacle. For years, the federal government has failed to develop a map...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Closing the homework gap has been a top priority for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. She has a long track record advocating for Wi-Fi-enabled school buses, lamenting viral images of school children completing homework in fast food parking lots, and making the case that no child should be left offline. At the onset of the pandemic, she pledged to use her influence at the agency to fight to increase the flexibility of the E-Rate program, saying “every option needs to be on the table.”

When the American Rescue Plan Act established the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in March, a $7 billion program to connect students and library patrons to the Internet at off-campus locations, Rosenworcel had an opportunity to follow through on those promises. She could have seized the moment to steer the program in the direction of allowing schools and libraries to build, own, and operate their own school and community networks (what the federal government refers to as self-provisioned networks). Many schools serving areas with poorly connected students already do this, but without much help from the E-rate program.

But when the rules on how to spend the money were finalized on May 10th, the FCC’s Report and Order declared that schools and libraries could not use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks, but instead could only use the funds to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices, such as laptop computers and tablets. The one exception in which schools and libraries can use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks is in “areas where no service is available for purchase,” based on data self-reported by private ISPs. 

The Report and Order indicates the agency was not...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted May 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With $3.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act on its way to Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislative leaders have agreed to seize the moment, allocating $300 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion initiatives across the state.

The biggest bulk of the money – $97 million – will go towards funding the building of physical infrastructure with $45 million earmarked specifically for municipal broadband grants.

“The question isn’t how much it’ll cost to bridge the digital divide, the question is how much will it cost if we don’t act right now,” State Senate President Bill Ferguson said at a press conference when the funding was announced.

The bipartisan budget agreement was hailed by Gov. Hogan, a Republican, as an example for the nation demonstrating how “people from different parties can still come together, that we can put the people’s priorities first, and that we can deliver real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us.”

One “serious problem” in Maryland, according to a recent Abell Foundation report, is that 23 percent of Maryland households (520,000) do not have a wireline home Internet connection, 40 percent (or 206,000) of which are Black households.

Much of that comes from a lack of affordability and other barriers to adoption. To deal with those challenges, the budget agreement also includes $45 million to subsidize monthly Internet service costs for qualifying families and $30 million to pay for Internet-connected devices for financially eligible households. It also includes an additional $4 million for a new University System of Maryland program to support training and developing curriculum to bridge the digital divide as well as $2 million for digital navigator programs.

Here is an itemized breakdown of...

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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 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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