Tag: "grant"

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 4, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

 

The new year is upon us, but don't let the mountain of emails in your inbox distract from a fantastic opportunity coming down the pipeline.

A philanthropic effort via 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 to support communities to achieve digital equity is through comprehensive Broadband Master Plans.

EntryPoint Networks specializes in software-defined, open access networks. The firm worked with Ammon, Idaho, and continues to collaborate with communities around the country. Biarri Networks specializes in design and engineering services.

This looks like a unique opportunity to kickstart local efforts, get organized, and set up for success as lots of funding comes down the road. Read the FAQ here, and apply todayApplications are due January 14, 2022. 

Posted January 3, 2022 by Karl Bode

Over 230 communities have applied for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program grants. But community leaders increasingly say they’re facing costly, unnecessary challenges from incumbent broadband providers, who are exploiting unreliable U.S. broadband maps to overstate existing coverage and defend the status quo.

The NTIA’s $288 million grant program - and the looming $42 billion broadband infrastructure investment plan - will help bring affordable broadband to the roughly 20-30 million Americans without broadband, and the 83 million Americans currently living under a broadband monopoly.

In Grafton County, New Hampshire, 39 municipalities are part of a growing list of communities exploring home-grown broadband alternatives. They represent a grassroots movement driven by frustration with market failure that accelerated during the Covid-19 crisis. In response they’ve bonded together to apply for a $26.2 million NTIA grant to improve the region’s substandard broadband.

A Little Something Called Competition

Grafton hopes to use the NTIA funding to provide a middle mile fiber network, making it easier for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to service each municipality and the county’s 90,000 residents. The network will be open access, inviting numerous ISPs to compete over the same shared infrastructure. Studies have repeatedly shown such open access models result in better, cheaper, faster service

“The whole idea is that we want to facilitate competition,” Bristol town administrator Nik Coates shared in a recent phone interview. “I get at least an email a day from people contacting me about how bad their service is.” According to the FCC Form 477 data (which can dramatically overstate access), there are more than 5,300 people in the county completely unserved by wireline connections capable of speeds at 25/3...

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Posted December 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

In an effort to facilitate the deployment of innovative broadband solutions in underserved areas - both urban and rural - the nonprofit organization US Ignite recently partnered with National Science Foundation (NSF) and Schmidt Futures to launch ProjectOVERCOME. 

The Benton Institute released a report in November naming the seven communities that the project will focus on: Blue River, OR; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Clinton City, MO; Detroit, MI;Loiza, Puerto Rico; and Yonkers, NY.

In the report that was released, Benton spotlights each community and the technologies they will use. The technologies include Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), fiber, fixed wireless and hotspots. 

According to the initiative's guidelines, these communities were chosen because of how they vary in population, demographics, regions of the country, housing, and industry. The program will work with these communities to experiment in deploying innovative Internet connectivity solutions on a 12-month timeline. 

The projects will collectively result in not only education, outreach, and local broadband organizing development efforts, but provide direct connectivity to more than 700 households.

For example, in a CBRS deployment in New York,

The Project OVERCOME pilot in Buffalo will provide equitable broadband access, enabling community members to engage with educational, telehealth, and government services. These services have been unattainable due to high internet costs and digital redlining. As part of the project, four Long-Term Evolution (LTE) antennas are being installed on top of the Buffalo General Medical Center (BGMC). These antennas will broadcast signals to the Fruit Belt using the newly available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Customer premise equipment (CPEs) and Wi-Fi access points will be installed at participants’ houses to catch the LTE signal and create a Wi-Fi network for home internet access. Through the installation of the LTE antennas, up to 140 households are projected to gain broadband service, with potentially hundreds more...

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Posted December 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities. 

But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totaling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.

Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well. 

First, it gives explicit preference for projects that are community-driven, with CTC Technology and Energy writing of the “preference for local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives as applicants and additional points to those applications.” Second, it will likely result in at least a little more marketplace competition, by not only providing significantly more flexibility in defining proposed funded service areas, but in giving additional points to open access networks as well. Third, it lets applicants demonstrate eligibility completely separate from the FCC’s Form 477 data. Fourth, for the first time the program awards extra points to applications that will bring connectivity solutions to “socially vulnerable...

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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...

Read more
Posted November 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).

Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:

Specifically, LTD had not complied with the Board’s February 22, 2019 order, as LTD had not yet filed a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on its DPRS assessment, and had not yet filed an annual report with the Board for reporting years 2019 and 2020. 

[B]eyond the procedural flaws in LTD’s Application, the company’s responses to Board . . . illustrate that LTD has routinely submitted regulatory filings with obvious errors, if filings were submitted at all . . . It is for this reason that the Board takes seriously LTD’s history of inconsistent compliance with this provision, as the regulatory burden is minimal and the consequence of failing to uphold the obligation ETCs pledge to carry out impacts the rest of the industry, the Board, and most importantly, the Iowans served by the program.

But the regulatory board took its comments a step further, basing its ruling also on the fact that the company's behavior in the state betrays what looks like a lack of ability to meet its bidding commitments during the auction:

The record in this docket does not merit the expansion of a credential that signals to the public that LTD has evidenced the technical and financial capabilities required to carry out the public interest obligations of those entrusted with federal funds. LTD’s responses and actions lack the candor that the Board would expect from a carrier seeking to evidence the expertise to take on this degree of expansion.

...
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Posted November 10, 2021 by Jericho Casper

The Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC) has worked to meet the communications needs of its members since its inception by the citizens of rural Brunswick County, North Carolina who were without telephone service in 1955. Nowadays, ATMC believes meeting members’ communications needs means ensuring all co-op members have access to gigabit fiber Internet service. 

High-speed Internet access is currently available throughout 100 percent of the co-op’s service area in southeastern North Carolina. Most co-op members have access to fiber Internet service already, except for those living in ATMC’s Brunswick County service territory, where ATMC originally began offering Internet services.

Brunswick County is the last county ATMC needs to upgrade to fiber, in order to complete an overarching goal of delivering fiber-to-the-home Internet service to all existing members. The co-op recently announced it will soon start a project to replace all of its copper and coaxial wires in Brunswick County with fiber optic cables. It will cost $100 million dollars and take eight years to complete, but at the end of the project, all of the cooperative’s members in Brunswick County currently served by legacy infrastructure will be upgraded to fiber, offering even faster Internet access speeds and far greater reliability.

In the meantime, ATMC has increased the maximum broadband speed delivered to co-op members in Brunswick County from 200 megabits per second (Mbps) to 600 Mbps, a company press release states. Over 22,000 customers had their download speeds doubled without an increase in price.

“The project is slated to start in January 2022,” according to an ATMC press release announcing the project. “By constructing in the most densely populated communities first, the cooperative estimates that it can convert as many as 75 percent of homes and businesses to the new fiber optic network within the first 60 months.”

“ATMC’s future is in providing our members and customers with the very best high-speed Internet services possible,” said ATMC General Manager and CEO Keith Holden at the company’s...

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Posted November 5, 2021 by Maren Machles

Cedar Falls Utilities is bringing 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access to the last 700 residents in its electric service area. With the help of a $2.3 million state grant, Cedar Falls Utilities fiber ISP - CFU FiberNet - will be connecting rural residents to the west and north of Cedar Falls city limits. 

Up until this point, CFU FiberNet has offered rural residents in the utilities service area without a fiber connection a fixed wireless option called WaveNet Wireless with two speed options: 9/1 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $56/month and 18/2 Mbps for $75/month. We do not know if WaveNet Wireless will continue after the expansion into these rural areas is complete. 

The funds were awarded through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program which had nearly 180 applicants hoping for a grant from the $97.5 million pot of money. Ultimately, 38 projects were chosen. Winning bids aimed were aimed at two groups of households, with the requirement to deliver at least 100 Mbps symmetrical service to what we usually call “underserved” areas (where service is greater than 25/3Mbps but less than 100/100 Mbps), or 100/20 Mbps service in areas where broadband access is currently less than 25/3 Mbps. 

The challenge for these CFU electric subscribers to get onto the fiber network was the $7,500 cost of the drop; households in rural areas all around the country face a similar financial obstacle, even when excellent broadband service is nearby. With CFU contributing an additional $3 million to the effort (making the total project cost $5.3 million) these residents will no longer have the burden of making that hefty financial decision. 

Cedar Falls was one of the first cities in the nation with fiber optic infrastructure, connecting it’s first customer in 1996. In 2013, CFU completed its citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, and in 2020 it became the...

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Posted November 2, 2021 by Jericho Casper

The U.S. Department of Treasury, tasked with writing the rules on how state and local governments can spend various federal relief funds made available for broadband expansion by the American Rescue Plan, recently released the guidelines [pdf] governing the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) — a $10 billion pot of money available to states, territories, and Tribal governments [pdf] to confront the need for improved Internet connectivity exposed during the pandemic.

Compared to when Treasury released rules governing the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds earlier this year, this go ‘round brought cheers instead of jeers from community broadband advocates, as we are seeing federal broadband policy break new ground.

The flexibility the Capital Projects Fund gives state and local governments to decide how to spend the relief funds is what broadband advocates are most excited about. CPF applicants are able to use the money in creative ways to respond to critical needs in their community laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic, as long as the resulting project directly enables remote work, education, and health monitoring. 

The Treasury’s guidance for CPF [pdf] takes a holistic approach as it not only invests in deploying broadband infrastructure, it directly addresses affordability and digital literacy, which are barriers to broadband adoption long-overlooked by federal broadband programs. In addition,...

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