Tag: "financing"

Posted February 16, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Update: The Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN) notes that it looks like SSB 1184 is dead, having been shelved in committee yesterday. They say the "bill was briefly discussed by a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee on February 16th, but postponed 'indefinitely.'"

Original story:

Less than a year after an attempt to hamstring municipal broadband in Iowa, local opponents are at it again. If you’ve been around the block, Senate Study Bill 1184 will look remarkably similar to SSB 3009 from last January 2020, and that’s because it’s nearly identical. 

Like its last incarnation, SSB 1184 threatens the viability of any new municipal broadband effort by placing draconian financial barriers in the way, and, if passed, handcuffs existing networks as well as those under construction. Though there are no public fingerprints on the bill, the word around the capitol is that Mediacom is behind it. Among its provisions are those that would:

  • Prohibit cities and towns from issuing loans from the general or reserve fund or an existing electric utility to a broadband division at an interest rate lower than the prevailing market rate set by private financing institutions.
  • Prohibit government entities from forgiving debt related to the construction or operation of a telecommunications system.
  • Set a maximum interest rate at which a municipal broadband utility could borrow to finance a new network, cutting off funding avenues
  • Disallow existing municipal networks from responding to the market in setting rates.
  • Prevent municipal network from bundling multiple city services in single transactions.

Individually, any of these conditions would represent a significant win for a provider looking to restrict competition with cities interested in building Internet infrastructure; collectively, they would be a gigantic step backwards in a state that ranks...

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Posted February 16, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The conclusion of the RDOF auction was met with a good deal of drama and uncertainty, leaving many of us working after the fact to understand the policy and practical impacts of its outcomes.

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Jonathan Chambers, a partner at Conexon, a network solutions provider for electric cooperatives around the United States who helped organize a consortium of nearly 100 cooperatives to successfully bid for more than $1 billion in funding from the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction administered by the FCC. 

Christopher and Jonathan unpack the design and implementation of RDOF not only in the context of the current broadband landscape, but the history of FCC auctions and federal infrastructure subsidy policy. They discuss how the funding will support upcoming projects which will bring fiber networks — many of them owned and operated by electric cooperatives — to hundreds of thousands of Americans over the next decade. 

But they also talk about the multitude of winning bids that went for a worryingly low percentage of what it will actually cost to build those networks across the country. Jonathan and Christopher discuss why we saw that happen, but also what kind of guardrails we don’t but should have in place to make sure that public money for broadband infrastructure doesn’t go to waste and, equally importantly, so that households in those areas don’t go another decade without a quality Internet connection. 

This show is 53 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.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-...

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Posted February 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The rate of connectivity in Indian Country lags behind the rest of the country. As of December 2018, only 60% percent of Tribal lands in the lower 48 states had high-speed Internet access. A new case study report [pdf] from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance delves into the experiences of four Native Nations — the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and the St. Regis Mohawk — as they constructed their own Internet service providers. 

The case studies examine the unique challenges Native Nations confront as they seek to build Internet infrastructure and address the digital divide while also retaining the tribal sovereignty that is essential to their identity and heritage. As the report states, “Native Nations are sovereign over their data, and have the obligation to protect that information and use it for the betterment of tribal citizens.” 

Each section of the report contains key takeaways that other tribes could use and learn from. The report also pulls these individual case studies together for comprehensive key lessons that Native Nations, lending institutions, and the federal government can use to improve the process for implementing tribal ISP’s, which include:

  • Improving Access to Capital. Native Nations do not have the same access to capital as municipalities or as private Internet service providers. Due to that fact, lending institutions should address their processes for lending to Native Nations to determine how to better support network projects, and the federal government should regularly evaluate funding opportunities for network projects by Native Nations.
  • Avoiding Single-Purpose Funding. Federal funding is often limited to a single purpose, such as connecting Indian Health Services facilities or schools & libraries, which tends to create Internet “silos” rather than broad access.
  • Recognizing the Preparation Needed to Take Advantage of Opportunities. Native Nations that have already started projects or have plans to start projects can easily jump on new funding opportunities if they have a core team of network professionals ready and waiting for the next funding opportunity.
  • Respecting Native Nations’ Right to Spectrum. The FCC should not lease licenses to spectrum over any...
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Posted February 3, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Where broadband is and isn't available has always been a crucial part of the puzzle for bringing the fastest, more affordable Internet access to everyone in the country. Maps play a particularly important role in this endeavor, and a podcast episode from the Broadband Bunch with Pennsylvania State University's Sascha Meinrath, founder of X-Lab, unpacks how. In the episode, Meinrath discusses how the U.S. went from being a leader in broadband mapping in 2005 to one lagging behind the bulk of the pack today.

Along with the host, he talks about the failure of the FCC to do a central part of its job over the last fifteen years, the current lack of oversight, verification, and punishment for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that misreport their coverage, how we got to a point where bad FCC data has become a proxy for the reality on the ground with significant impact for funding dollars, and what that means for students, seniors, and rural economies all around the country.

Listen to hear more.

Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In a livestream just before Thanksgiving, Christopher was joined by Althea Networks CEO Deborah Simpier and NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) to discuss an innovative financing model for building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with the potential to bring quality broadband connections to the millions of homes around the country that are currently un- or underserved. Best described as a  “fiber condominium” approach, it pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.

In a new video, Shaheen explains how it works in both the short term and over time, with last-mile fiber connections made by leveraging Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) in modest amounts from local credit unions and a payment arrangement that covers everything from the construction to customer service calls. 

The meat of the discussion starts around 6:35, with Shaheen describing how a $60-70/month payment for fiber Internet access breaks down. It covers everything needed, including payments for the HELOC to the local credit union, transit rates for the middle-mile network operator, maintenance fees, and an organizing entity like NetEquity Networks to bring all these stakeholders together and manage the connection.

It’s a fascinating model, with some new relationships that need to be created but no revolutionary technology or fundamentally new financing structures. 

Watch the video below:

 

Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new grant program funded by Truist Bank's philanthropic initiative and administered by the Internet Society will disburse $1 million in funds to seven community broadband projects over the next year and a half. The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program is currently soliciting applications, with grants to be disbursed to eligible communities across the southeast United States, including Washington D.C. and Texas, ranging from $125,000-180,000. The program is aimed at kickstarting Covid 19 relief efforts but also providing essential, locally owned broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities.

From the grant program website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving . . . The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States . . . As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband.

See eligibility requirements below:

  • Timeframe – project must show tangible results within a year of receiving funding. Funding will occur in two stages between April and December 2021.
  • Location – project must be completed in one of the following states: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland.
  • Bandwidth – project must provide a minimum broadband threshold for deployment.
  • Applicant must have an official bank account in their name (based on their legal registration) in order to be eligible for a grant.

In addition, projects will be chosen based on their ability to demonstrate community support with participation from local leaders, a minimum bandwidth requirement, finance skills, an assessment of local ordinances and assets friendly to quick deployment, the participation of local private industry partners, and a summary of the...

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Posted January 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Larry Thompson, CEO of Vantage Point Solutions, a South Dakota-based company which provides engineering, consulting and regulatory services for ISPs of all sizes. The two talk about how the variety of subsidy and grant programs we’ve built to get broadband out into rural areas and make sure folks can afford Internet access came about, and the policy changes we’re likely to see in the near future to make sure existing networks and new construction remains viable. 

In particular, Larry and Christopher spend time talking about the Universal Service Fund (USF) and National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), and how we come to terms with an increasing need for support in the face of a declining base from which to draw funds. Christopher and Larry discuss the USF’s sustainability as the contribution level nears 30%, alternatives to existing models, and what it will take to commit to fast, affordable broadband for all Americans in the decades to come.

This show is 42 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 ...

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Posted January 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In a part of the Prairie State referred to as “Little Egypt,” a small county in southeastern Illinois recently received a big infusion of federal funds to expand its broadband network into neighboring rural counties. 

In October of 2020, the USDA announced that the Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative was awarded a $20 million ReConnect grant and a $20 million ReConnect loan to bring broadband to over 19,000 residents, 462 businesses, 347 farms, 16 educational facilities, three post offices and four fire stations in Saline, Williamson, Franklin and White counties.

The $40 million in total Hamilton County received was a portion of the $600 million Congress appropriated to the USDA in 2018 to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. In April of 2020, the USDA announced it had received 172 applications worth $1.57 billion in Round Two ReConnect requests. 

The funds awarded to Hamilton County in the fall came on top of the $3.4 million from the state-wide Connect Illinois program and ReConnect funds the co-op received in February of 2020 to build out its Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) network to connect more than 600 homes in the rural county with a population just over 8,000 residents.

Decades of Service

Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative was first created in 1953 to provide telephone service to county residents. In 1992, the co-op launched Hamilton County Communications, Inc. to provide Internet service and business telephone system sales and support. In 2011, the network rolled out its FTTP network within the county and, as demand for Internet services increased outside of Hamilton County, in 2014 the co-op created a subsidiary known as Futiva (The Future of Internet, Video and Access) to provide FTTP services outside the county.

“Really it’s...

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Posted January 7, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

As reported by KCHA news, Charles City's progress on municipal broadband has been halted by the covid 19 pandemic and consideration of budget priorities in the coming year. 

 

Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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