Tag: "financing"

Posted November 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The recently passed infrastructure package is going to drive an unprecented amount of money to broadband projects over the next few years, which means that communities that begin serious planning and preparation now will find themselves in the best place to succeed in the near and medium future. Dozens of cities have announced plans to use Rescue Plan funds to begin surveying, mapping, developing feasibility studies, and contracting high-level designs, signalling a commitment to improving local Internet access and backing that commitment from that flexible pot of funding.

But maybe local officials in your community have shown a reluctance to heed the call that poor Internet during the pandemic has negatively impacted students, small businesses, or efforts to work from home. Or the city council has already earmarked those funds for needed water or sewer upgrades. The good news is, a philanthropic partnership has launched an effort to help out a handful or communities.

Connect Humanity, in partnership with EntryPoint Networks and Biarri Networks, is giving out five Broadband Master Plans to communities to help bring the digital divide through an initiative they are calling Build Better Broadband. The comprehensive analyses will include everything from surveys of current access, to network design, to financial modeling and risk assessment. Applications are due January 14, 2022. 

Successful applicantions, the website points out, will focus on "speed, affordability, and overall access in diverse, low-income, and/or historically underserved communities through non-profit, community-owned, or public infrastructure." Communities of all sizes, from rural and urban areas, are invited to apply. Contenders will participate in an interview process in the first weeks of February, with winners announced at the end of the month.

Connect Humanity describes itself as a "fund advancing digital equity."

We support, catalyze, and scale holistic solutions providing people with the Internet access and means needed to participate fully in a digital society. We believe that one of the best ways...

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Posted November 16, 2021 by Maren Machles

On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Sean Gonsalves joins regular host Christopher Mitchell in a conversation with Michael Maloney, a public finance banker and the Managing Director at D.A. Davidson based in Iowa. Maloney has spent his career working on public financing projects to hope to spur economic development, including broadband.

The three discuss Gonsalves’ recent story on Fort Dodge and how the community’s frustrations propelled a push to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.

They also discuss the financial and regulatory barriers and opportunities for municipal broadband across the state and how Fort Dodge is an example of how projects of this size can still come to fruition.  

This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck...

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Posted November 9, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

This past Friday Congress finally passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation includes $65 billion to boost high-speed Internet connectivity – “the largest (federal) investment in broadband deployment ever,” as noted by Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This is an historic piece of legislation that includes many of the things we wanted to see in it and we believe it will significantly help solve broadband challenges for many who have not yet been well connected. 

There are two major buckets of broadband money that will be made available to states and tribal governments: $42.5 billion for the deployment of infrastructure, which will be mostly aimed at rural communities, with the rest going toward digital inclusion efforts.

While we have not yet gone through the final version with a fine-toothed comb, the broadband portion of the infrastructure bill appears to be identical to what was in the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which we previously wrote about here.

Rural America Biggest Beneficiary

The $42.5 billion portion of the bill will be allocated to the States in the form of block grants under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which will be administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The money targets “unserved” locations and in this bill “unserved” means communities that don’t have access to 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) service. As we previously noted about the Senate version of the bill, “there aren’t many places outside of the most rural regions of the country that do not have access to 25/3 broadband service. And considering that large...

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Posted November 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Because its downtown buildings were made to resemble Windy City architecture, Fort Dodge was once nicknamed “Little Chicago.” But now, this north-central Iowa city with a population of just under 25,000 is building something the real Chicago, 360 miles east of Fort Dodge, does not have: a municipal fiber-to-the-home (ftth) network.

Having secured up to $36.8 million in loans from a consortium of local banks, the Cedar Rapids-based engineering firm HR Green has been hired by the city to put together a final engineering and design plan for a city-wide fiber network.

The RFP to do the construction work will go out to bid in late spring 2022, with actual network construction slated to begin in the summer of 2022. City officials say the new utility will likely begin offering high-speed Internet service to Fort Dodgers as soon as the summer of 2023, though the network won’t be fully built-out city-wide until 2024.

Unserved, Underserved and Poorly Served

In many rural communities, local governments, cooperatives, public entities, or nonprofit organizations will sometimes build the infrastructure necessary to deliver high-speed Internet service to the unserved and underserved because incumbent providers don’t see enough short-term ROI to justify the expense. But in more densely populated locales, municipal broadband is often pursued because the existing service from private providers simply isn’t up to par. The market has failed rural, suburban, and urban communities - just in different ways.

And that’s why in cities like Fort Dodge, the feasibility study commissioned by the city hits on a familiar refrain found in feasibility studies across the nation:

“Despite being the largest city in the region and key commercial hub, Fort Dodge telecommunications infrastructure is less advanced than in surrounding rural areas and small towns like Lehigh, Dayton, and Badger.”

Fort Dodge is currently served by Frontier and MediaCom – two of the lowest-ranked national ISPs, according to Consumer Reports. But, after years of citizen complaints about poor incumbent service, Fort Dodge City Councilors in 2018 decided to create a strategic...

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Posted November 1, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

UTOPIA Fiber continues to grow and is now exporting its expertise into Bozeman, Montana – one of the fastest-growing cities of its size and often listed among the best places to live in the country.

Referred to by some as “Boz Angeles” because of the influx of Californians to the area, this Rocky Mountain city of 53,000, nestled in Gallatin Valley, is about to become even more attractive as a rising tech hub for millennials. At the Broadband Communities 2021 Summit last month, it was announced that Bozeman Fiber, a non-profit organization created by the city to expand high-speed Internet connectivity across the region, has partnered with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to build an open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

Bozeman Fiber has already built an open access fiber ring, serving city, county, and school facilities. It has also connected 200 commercial customers. The partnership with UTOPIA will allow Bozeman Fiber to extend the network across the city, passing 22,000 homes and businesses, with plans to extend further out into the more rural parts of Gallatin County down the road.

Network construction, which is estimated to cost $65 million, is slated to begin in the spring of 2022 and is expected to take three years to be completed.

“This is the first phase of a project that will cover the city and some areas of the county, and the intention is we’ll have future phases that reach further out into the county to hit more rural areas,” UTOPIA Fiber executive director Roger Timmerman said during the press conference announcing the partnership.

Bozeman Fiber CEO Greg Metzger added: “with this project, we’ll be able to attract and retain more businesses, and create jobs.”

County Provides Access to Bond Market

To finance the network construction, Bozeman Fiber has partnered with the Gallatin...

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Posted October 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Calloway County (pop. 39,000) in western Kentucky is known for the picturesque shorelines circling Kentucky Lake, the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, and as the home of Murray State University where Ja Morant dazzled basketball fans before becoming an NBA phenom.

Now there's a different team coming to town that will delight local residents: a new partnership between Calloway County and West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative will soon make this rural corner of the state known as a home for high-speed Internet connectivity, as the county and WK&T recently announced they were joining forces to expand the cooperative’s existing fiber network to reach every unserved and underserved location in the county.

Calloway County and WK&T are each committing a $6.2 million matching contribution for the first phase of the expansion project, which will see the co-op’s fiber-to-the-home network in the region extended 236 miles to serve an additional 4,274 homes and businesses. 

WK&T currently serves over 15,000 subscribers in Kentucky and Tennessee with broadband, voice, video and security services, some of whom are in Calloway County. There are also a number of households in the city of Murray, the county seat, with access to fiber service through the city-owned utility Murray Electric System (MES). Yet, thousands of premises on the outskirts of the county remain unserved by Internet Service Providers. The fiber expansion project, which the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to pursue in early August, will ensure all county residents can benefit from access to high-speed Internet service. 

To supply their respective portions of the local match, the county has indicated it will contribute a portion of its $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds, while WK&T has applied for a $5.54 million Economic Development Administration grant made available through the...

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Posted October 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Earlier this month, a plan to bring fiber connectivity to four towns in Knox County, Maine (pop. 39,500) spearheaded by the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC) was dealt a major blow when Knox County Commissioners denied MIDC’s request to use the county's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for network construction.

During a Knox County Commission meeting on Tuesday, October 12, after County Commissioners repeatedly barred local municipal leaders from commenting on broadband-related issues, they voted unanimously against awarding any of the county’s $7.7 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to municipal broadband projects or any project benefiting an individual municipality.

County Commissioners assembled to consider 58 ARPA project applications submitted by nonprofit and municipal entities, all vying for a portion of the county’s Rescue Plan funds. But, the meeting took an unexpected turn when one Knox County Commissioner accused representatives from the MIDC, a regional broadband utility formed by four Knox County towns, of “bullying” the Commissioners into spending the county’s Rescue Plan funds on regional and municipal broadband projects. 

After County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether voiced her displeasure for how local community broadband advocates pursued the funding, three local Select Board members were not permitted to speak in support of MIDC. Adding insult to injury, the Commissioners then welcomed a representative from Charter Spectrum to talk for nearly 30 minutes.

Knox County Commissioners are now getting pushback from local municipal leaders and their constituents who are accusing the Commissioners of not adhering to the budget approval process mandated by the county charter and failing to represent constituents in the county’s ARPA funding priorities. They also say the County Commissioners are in violation of Maine state law for forgoing a public comment period.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Knox County Commissioners had informally awarded $4.1 million of the county’s ARPA funds to project proposals addressing affordable housing and food distribution. Yet, some municipal leaders refuse to go quietly into the night, skeptical...

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Posted October 21, 2021 by Maren Machles

Situated in rural Central New York, Madison County (pop. 71,000) was named in honor of America’s fourth President, James Madison. But it was the region’s history of growing hops for beer that really put the county on the map. By 1859, New York state produced 80 percent of all hops grown in the U.S., thanks in no small measure to the crops in Madison County.

Today, while the community still celebrates this history at the annual HopFest, county leaders are now focused on the future and how to ensure the region does not get left in the dust by missing out on an essential economic development ingredient: high-speed Internet connectivity. In a modern economy, broadband infrastructure is indispensable in general terms and specifically for the efficient operation of precision agriculture

With a focus now on the digital landscape, Madison County planners have embarked on a project to bring fiber to the farm as well as thousands of other other residents and businesses across the region.

What really got things off the ground, or rather into the ground, was the county being awarded a USDA ReConnect grant last year. Madison is the only county in United States to directly receive ReConnect grant funding in FY 2020.

In July, the USDA announced it would grant $10.1 million in ReConnect funds in support of the project to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 2,170 people, 50 farms and 30 businesses to high-speed broadband in Madison County as part of a larger countywide project. The county will work with private Internet Service provider (ISP) Empire Access to eventually bring fiber connectivity to nearly 7,600 households in the region.

A Fertile Land For Fiber

Two years ago, Madison County officials decided to make broadband a top priority. The most underserved area of Madison is in the southern part of the county, where DSL and satellite were primarily offered, with limited addresses eligible for cable access. 

The county held community forums. The response was overwhelming: frustrations with the limited, unreliable options had been long brewing in...

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Posted October 18, 2021 by Maren Machles

More than $34.6 million in COVID relief funds were awarded in August to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state as part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The grant program was created to support Minnesota’s COVID-19 response efforts with the help of a special allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds from the CARES Act fund. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) administered the grants which can be used for projects like housing assistance and commercial rehabilitation, but the majority of the funding - approximately $32 million - will be used for broadband projects. 

“The pandemic has made clear how vital broadband is to the lives of Minnesotans and to the economic vitality of our state,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a DEED press release. “These grants will help communities fund broadband and other important projects as we write the next chapter of our economy.”

Aitkin County, receiving the largest grant of $4.8 million, submitted an application to work with the Mille Lac Energy Cooperative on a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that would pass approximately 565 homes across seven communities, six of which don’t even have access to 10/1 Megabit per second (Mbps). The application projected it would take approximately 93 miles of fiber and $9,000 per passing location. In its application, the county shared that while the median household income across Minnesota is $71,300, the median across these communities is $45,990, demonstrating that there is a clear issue of infrastructure and access, but also affordability. As part of its application, Aitkin County and MLEC announced the latter would include a low-cost plan to help address the digital divide: 

MLEC will offer a discounted plan at $39.95 with speeds of 50Mbps/50 Mbps to qualifying residents.If the Emergency Broadband Benefit is continued after the initial funding period" MLEC hopes to participate in this program and will discontinue the discounted...

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Posted September 28, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA). 

In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.

This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.

Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide. 

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks...
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