Tag: "federal funding"

Posted October 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

We’ve written about the Connect America Fund (CAF) on multiple occasions and recently alerted interested MuniNetworks.org readers to the FCC’s ongoing efforts to re-examine the CAF Phase II Auction procedures. On October 26th, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is presenting a free webinar on CAF as part of their Grow2Gig+ Webinar Series.

SHLB will be offering a Universal Service Symposium in Washington, DC, on November 2nd and the information presenting in the webinar will help attendees prepare. Even if you’re not planning to attend the workshop, the webinar will offer information that will be useful if you have any interest in applying for CAF funds or if you are monitoring the FCC’s policies moving forward.

The webinar speakers are Carol Mattey and Rebekah Goodheart; John Windhausen will moderate. SHLB describes the event as:

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is a federal program that provides funding to defray the cost of operating and extending both fixed and mobile broadband networks to serve consumers and small businesses in rural, high-cost areas in the United States. CAF was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fulfill the statutory mandate that all Americans have access to communications service that is reasonably comparable to what’s available in urban areas.

Join two former senior FCC officials as they discuss the History of the Connect America Fund, the Phase II  Auction (Performance Standards, Application Process, and Auction Mechanics), as well as Reporting Requirements. 

You can register online at the SHLB website and also review past webinars and check out other events on the calendar. 

Posted September 25, 2017 by htrostle

Another addition to our Community Networks Initiative resources! This fact sheet details the most important aspects of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Auction. What is it? What should it do? Who does it affect? And how can you make a difference?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages the CAF program, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to Internet service providers for areas where the cost of building networks is prohibitive. Some large providers decided not to accept some of the subsidies during Phase I - about $198 million annually for 10 years. Now, the FCC plans to host an auction so that providers can submit competing proposals on how best to serve these often rural, high-cost areas. (Check out the map of preliminary areas on the FCC website.)

Before the FCC can hold an auction though, the commission needs advice on how best to conduct it and what criteria they should consider. Jon Chambers, former head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, outlined his concerns about the current proposed rules in his article, The Risk of Fraudulent Bidding in the FCC Connect America Fund Auction. Listen to his analysis on Episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

The first round of public comments has passed, but reply comments are due October 18th, 2017. Read the fact sheet and then submit your own comments at FCC.Gov/ecfs/filings for "Proceedings" Docket 17-182 and Docket 10-90.

Posted September 6, 2017 by htrostle

Get your applications ready! The United States Department of Agriculture  Rural Utilities Service (USDA RUS) is accepting applications for another round of loans for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. This program provides loans of up to $20 million for rural connectivity. The window to apply opened September 1st, and the deadline is September 30, 2017.

Thousands To Millions Of Dollars For Rural Areas

The USDA RUS has at least $60 million available this funding cycle for this program. All loans will be between $100,000 and $20 million. The program will only consider funding projects that offer speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

For this program, the USDA RUS focuses on completely rural communities where at least 15 percent of households do not have high-speed Internet access. To be eligible, these rural areas cannot have more than two incumbent providers or have previously received USDA RUS funding. 

Although the program is specific to rural communities, most organizations are eligible to apply, including tribal governments, local governments, cooperatives, and corporations. No partnerships and no individuals may apply for funding, however, as the loans must go only to organizations.

This is only one of the Broadband programs that the USDA RUS manages. The agency also handles the Community Connect Grants and the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program. The report “Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in USDA’s Rural Utilities Service” from the Congressional Research Services describes these programs in more detail.

Online Submission Only

The USDA RUS officially began accepting submissions September 1st and organizations have until September 30, 2017, to apply. If you are working in an area with poor Internet service, it’s important to note that this program only accepts applications through an online system. 

Through the online system, RUS staff can review applications and answer questions as they are developed. Once an application is complete and submitted, the staff cannot provide feedback and the organizations cannot edit their applications. 

Learn more... Read more

Posted August 14, 2017 by htrostle

Native nations are building community networks, owned and operated by tribal governments to ensure that Indian Country has high-speed Internet access. In July 2017, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe announced a plan to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to 900 homes that only had access to dial-up Internet service.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that the Fond du Lac tribal government is putting more than $2 million towards the venture and has secured about $6 million in federal grants. We spoke with Jason Hollinday, the Planning Director, to get more details on Fond du Lac Communications and what it means for the community. 

Fond du Lac Connectivity

The Fond du Lac reservation, “Nagaajiwanaang,” covers about 150 square miles in northeastern Minnesota, and the FTTH project will encompass most of the area - about 120 square miles. The network will offer voice, video, and Internet service.

Anyone, including non-tribal members, will be able to get connected within the service area. Prices have yet to be determined, offering affordable rates is a priority. In a recent Pine Journal article, Band IT director Fred Underwood pointed out that "Connectivity is available anywhere, but is it affordable?" and added that affordability in rural areas is often hard to find. Connectivity for the FTTH network will include a program to connect low-income residents and installation fees have been waived for any subscriber who signed up before July 31st.

Community centers and public buildings will all be connected and receive two years of free Internet service. The goal is to make sure that the network will be a community asset benefiting everyone.

logo-fond-du-lac.jpg Hollinday mentioned how excited people are to have high-speed Internet service at home for the first time. Several have already expressed their anticipation at being able to enjoy Netflix and take online college courses. As the project got underway, the community... Read more

Posted July 27, 2017 by htrostle

Among the rolling hills and mountains of Appalachia sits the small city of Williamstown, Kentucky, in central Grant County. Home to about 3,500 people, Williamstown is the center of connectivity for the county. The city’s fiber provides high-speed connectivity to local businesses, while its long-running cable network keeps folks connected in the town. Williamstown operates a small Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the southern half of the county and offers much of the rest of the county fixed wireless service.

Williamstown Cable Center of Connectivity

Roy Osborne, the Superintendent at Williamstown Cable told us how this small town had developed so many different projects throughout the county. Within the town itself, the network is a hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) system that supports speeds from 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps download for residents and businesses alike; upload speeds vary from 2 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

For large institutions, Williamstown Cable builds fiber lines to provide reliable, fast connectivity. It serves most county facilities, such as the courthouse and detention center. It even brought a fiber connection to the theme park just outside of town -- the Ark Encounter, based on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Osborne recalled the high level of Internet service in the small town surprised the developers. 

The community was not going to let its rural neighbors remain without connectivity. In 2007, the town started a project to bring fixed wireless service to the surrounding county. Williamstown Cable found a way to bring some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service to a small community of Corinth in southern Grant County in 2010. They used federal funding to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the 200 people in the town. 

How Williamstown Built So Many Networks

Like many communities, Williamstown started providing services because no one else would invest in their rural sparsely populated area. The department first built a cable system in 1984 to provide television service, connecting the small town residents to the news. Williamstown Cable paid its own way, reinvesting money earned from the television service back into the network... Read more

Posted July 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s been about two years since the people of Lincoln County, Wisconsin, learned that Frontier Communications received federal funding to expand Internet access in their region. Now, they’re wondering why Frontier has still not started construction of promised infrastructure.

A Long Road To Nowhere

The community has been seeking ways to improve local connectivity for years. Back in 2013, they held a series of local listening sessions and workshops with officials from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Community Technology Solutions. The goals of the workshops were to educate community members about the importance of connectivity and to learn more about the availability of Internet access at the local level. The meetings addressed both residential and business needs

In the summer of 2015, county officials announced that they had been working on an initiative to find a way to improve connectivity throughout Lincoln County. By engaging members of the public in town hall forums they had learned that the general consensus was:

“For the most part, people are disappointed with their current service.”

“Generally speaking, their current Internet service is not fast enough and there just isn’t enough capacity to do what they want to do.”

Community leaders were also learning that a fair number of home-based businesses were popping up in the county.

As part of their initiative, the board had worked with the UW Extension Office, County Economic Development Corporation and County Information Technology Department. They also passed a resolution stating that they would do everything they could to expand broadband to every resident in the county. County officials began having meetings to develop a plan to meet their goal. Shortly after, they learned that Frontier had accepted Connect America Funding Phase II (CAF II), federal funding designed specifically to... Read more

Posted July 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you live in rural America, chances are you know what it’s like to have inadequate Internet access. If you've heard about the Connect America Fund, however, you probably think help is on the way and your problems will soon be over; you'll get the kind of speeds available in large cities, right? Wrong.

Our short video on rural connectivity and CAF explains how big companies are taking federal subsidies to build networks that provide the same old slow DSL service to rural areas. So, what can people in rural communities do? The video describes how local communities are becoming more self-reliant through publicly owned infrastructure and offers some starting points if you're interested in learning more.

More Of The Same? No Way!

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is offering billions of dollars to build out networks in rural areas, but the companies receiving the subsidies are the same ones that already offer terrible connectivity in most rural communities. Are they using those subsidies to invest in high-speed connectivity for rural areas? No. The DSL connections that those companies are deploying for your home or business with CAF funding is already considered obsolete.

Rather than accepting these substandard solutions, an increasing number of communities have decided to act so they can have the same or better quality of connectivity as urban areas. Rural cooperatives and municipal networks are taking charge of their own telecommunications infrastructure needs. Unless you live in one of these communities, you may have never heard about the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity available from a community network or a cooperative. They’re just doing it and not bragging about it.

YOU Make It Happen

How does a community or a cooperative start offering better connectivity? We’ve created this short video that explains the basics and we invite you to share it with others. It all starts with YOU.

Be sure to check out our other videos, too!

Posted April 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

You might not have made it to Mesa for the Digital Southwest Regional Broadband Summit, but you can now watch some of the speakers and panel conversations. Next Century Cities has posted video from panel conversations and the keynote address from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

In her address, Commissioner Clyburn said:

“Access to high-speed broadband is a necessity in today’s 21st century economy, providing a gateway to jobs, education, and healthcare. I am honored to join state and local leaders who are on the front lines of closing the digital and opportunities divide. Working together, we can achieve our shared goal of affordable broadband for all Americans.”

The Commissioner’s full remarks were about 18 minutes long:

 

Sharing Knowledge on Infrastructure 

Christopher moderated Panel Two, focused on infrastructure needs, which included CISSP President and CTO of CityLink Telecommunications John Brown, Partner at Conexon Jonathan Chambers, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association Matt Rantanen, Manager of Tribal Critical Infrastructure at Amerind Riskand Kimball Sekaquaptewa, and Vice President of Digital Innovation at Magellan Advisors Jory Wolf. If you listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast, you’ll probably recognize most of these voices.

The video lasts one hour thirteen minutes:

 

The other videos are available on the Next Century Cities YouTube channel page, or watch them here.

 

Welcome and Introduction: Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities and Eric Farkas, Fujitsu Network Communications, 7:32

... Read more

Posted March 31, 2017 by lgonzalez

We haven’t reported on East Central Fiber (ECFiber) in almost a year and, boy, are things hopping in Vermont. The community network has obtained funding to expand in east-central Vermont and have a plan to bring high-quality connectivity to more towns during the next two years. In the mean time, FairPoint Communications is using federal funding to overbuild inferior DSL in many of the areas already served by ECFiber. No, this is not an April Fool's Joke.

First, The Good News: ECFiber Is Growing

We recently touched base with Carole Monroe, Stan Williams, and Irv Thomae from ECFiber in Vermont to get caught up on what's happening with the publicly owned network comprised of 24 member towns. 

The last time we shared an update, they had just announced plans to expand the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The organization of 24 member towns received an infusion of $9 million in revenue bonds, which allowed ECFiber to pay down existing debt and add more fiber miles to the network.

Prior to obtaining the new funding source, ECFiber had always used the crowd funding approach, which limited growth to small and steady deployments. In 2015, the state legislature enacted a state law that created “communications union districts.” A Union District can consist of municipalities that join forces to invest in Internet infrastructure; the new model made it easier for ECFiber to obtain funding for larger deployments.

This February, ECFiber announced that the network would now bring service to parts of Royalton, Strafford, Pittsfield, and Randolph, with more growth on the way:

“These expansions have been funded privately and through Connectivity Initiative grants from the state’s Dept. of Public Service,” said Irv Thomae, Chairman of ECFiber and Governing Board delegate from Norwich. “We’re pleased that more residents in these areas are now able to enjoy the benefits of locally grown, full time, state-of-the-art real broadband, Later this year we will bring our service to six entire towns, including Pittsfield, Pomfret, West Windsor, Barnard, Strafford, and Thetford. We plan to fully... Read more

Posted February 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

Jonathan Chambers from Conexon works with rural electric cooperatives as they bring high-quality Internet access to rural America. When he spoke with Christopher for episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last November, he had some choice words to say about how the FCC chose to continue to subsidize big telcos for little return.

They Propose "A Huge Mess"

In a recent post on the Conexon blog, Chambers analyzes “The New Trumpfone Program,” and reveals how proposed Connect America Fund (CAF) subsidies, when applied to real world data, creates outrageous financial waste. While providers can receive up to $17,500 per location in CAF funding, when applied to a per subscriber formula, the figure is $100,000:

There are no U.S. communities where satellite or fixed wireless provides broadband to 100% of the homes and small businesses. Not 80% either, which is the FCC assumption. Not 50% or 25% or 15% or 10% or even 5%. The FCC has data on this. Let’s say, for this arithmetic exercise, that a satellite or fixed wireless subscriber achieves a 15% market share of telephone and broadband service in a rural community.

A 15% market share while receiving $17,500 for every location in an area translates into over $100,000 per subscriber. Should there be insufficient competitive pressure in the auction, the $17,500 per location is a realistic outcome, as is the likelihood of $100,000 per subscriber by some technologies.

Reimburse Per Subscriber

Chambers offers a sensible solution to save CAF funds and direct public dollars in the right direction: reimburse providers for actual subscribers, rather than by location.

The most perverse subsidy incentive is one by which a provider makes more money by not serving customers. That’s the current FCC plan and the basis of many current FCC subsidies. By definition, the high cost subsidy is based on how much a provider is calculated to lose per customer. When the FCC provides funding by location, rather than by subscriber, some technologies will make more money by winning the auction, collecting public funding, and serving no one. Hence the fallacy of the argument that it is less expensive to cover rural... Read more

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