Tag: "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act"

Posted January 24, 2023 by Karl Bode

LA County is accelerating its plan to deliver affordable broadband access to the city’s unserved and underserved, with an eye toward building one of the biggest municipal broadband networks in the nation. But the county is first taking baby steps, recently announcing target communities prioritized in a pilot program aimed at bridging the digital divide.

In late 2021, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a major new broadband expansion plan. The plan’s first order of business: deliver free broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles County that currently do not subscribe to service, starting with a 12,500-home pilot project.

Last September, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved using a total of $56 million in American Rescue Plan funding to help connect these families to fast, free, and reliable Internet service.

To help coordinate the effort, LA county designated the Internal Services Department (ISD) as the lead agency responsible for managing this and any future projects. The ISD is now working in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to determine which areas of the county should see funding and logistical priority. 

The ISD and LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell recently released a map of priority locations where the County will build low-cost internet for households in the Second District. 

“I joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in the height of the pandemic,” Mitchell said in an announcement. “And it became very clear that access to reliable Internet was critical to our success of emerging out of the pandemic. In the Second District, as much as 30 percent of households lack home internet [access]. This is unacceptable, and Los Angeles County is working aggressively to upend this. We are leading the nation on a plan to crush the digital divide.” 

The map indicates that LA County will prioritize low income residents and marginalized communities...

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Posted January 17, 2023 by Christopher Mitchell

Last Friday was a major milestone in the process of moving $42.5 billion from the federal government to states to distribute mostly to rural areas to build new, modern Internet access networks. January 13th marked the deadline for error corrections (called challenges) to the official national map that will be used to determine how much each state will get. 

As an organization that has worked in nearly all 50 states over the past 20 years on policies to improve Internet access, we spent the last few weeks struggling to understand what was actually at stake and wondering if we were alone in being confused about the process. Despite the stakes, almost no expert we talked to actually understood which challenges – if any – would fix errors in the map data before it was used to allocate the largest single federal broadband investment in history. 

Update: On January 13th, Joan Engebretson confirmed in Telecompetitor that the location challenges deadline was October 30, 2022, and not Jan 13, 2023.

This article will explore what is going wrong with the distribution of that $42.5 billion, the mapping process, and continued failure of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show competence in the broadband arena. And it offers ways to fix these important problems as every jurisdiction from Puerto Rico to Hawaii feels overwhelmed by the challenge. 

The $42.5 billion guarantees each state $100 million and a large additional sum calculated proportionally based on the number of locations in each state that don’t have adequate high-speed Internet service. States that already made significant investments in better rural networks and made strides toward fast universal Internet access for all households - like Massachusetts - will likely not receive much more than $100 million, while extremely large states with many high-cost rural residents - like Texas and California - will receive billions. 

NTIA is tasked with administering and distributing the funds and must use FCC data to determine...

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Posted January 10, 2023 by Karl Bode

From the miraculous benefits of WiMax to the hype surrounding 5G, U.S. wireless companies have long promised near-Utopian levels of technological revolution.

Yet time after time these promises have fallen short, reminding a telecom sector all-too-familiar with hype that fiber optics remains, for now, the backbone of bridging the digital divide. 

From Google Fiber to Starry, numerous companies have promised to use wireless technology as a supplement or even replacement for future-proof fiber. But more often than not these promises have failed to have any meaningful impact at scale. Worse, many wireless services often fail to deliver on a routinely neglected aspect of telecom policy: affordability.

That’s not to say that wireless doesn’t have an immense, integral role to play in shoring up the nation’s broadband gaps. 5G, rural and urban small WISPs, satellite, and other wireless options are all essential in bridging the digital divide and extending access to rural communities and tribal nations (see: the FCC Tribal Priority Window and the beneficial wireless options that have emerged). 

But reality continues to demonstrate that there’s simply no substitute for the kind of high capacity, affordable fiber efforts being deployed by a steady parade of municipalities, cooperatives, and city-owned utilities. And as an historic level of federal subsidies wind their way to the states, the distinction is more important than ever. 

A Rich History Of Wishful Thinking

The industry crown for unwarranted...

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Posted January 4, 2023 by Sean Gonsalves

While many of us were in the midst of celebrating the holiday season, a number of significant broadband developments were being unwrapped in the nation’s capital.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that all 50 states and territories have received critical broadband infrastructure planning funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA); the opportunity to make sure you're represented on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) national broadband maps is closing in a week; and the FCC is kicking off a major initiative to combat digital discrimination which will have far-reaching consequences for the lowest-income households that only have access to low-speed or high-cost connections.

In the days before Christmas, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, kicking off the implementation of a provision required by the IIJA on the “Prevention and Elimination of Digital Discrimination.”

As explained in the Notice, the FCC will “seek to identify and address the harms experienced by historically excluded and marginalized communities; provide a grounding for meaningful policy reforms and systems improvements; and establish a framework for collaborative action to promote and facilitate digital opportunity for everyone.”

More specifically, as noted in a FCC press release, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on:

  • "A proposed definition of ‘digital discrimination of access’ as used in the Infrastructure Act." 
  • "Proposed revisions to the FCC’s informal consumer complaint process to accept complaints of digital discrimination." 
  • "Proposed adoption of model policies and best practices for states and localities to combat digital discrimination based on...
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Posted January 3, 2023 by Sean Gonsalves

As the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is set to unleash an unprecedented amount of federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s “Internet for All” initiative, all 50 states and U.S. territories have now received their initial planning funds.

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is administering the broadband funds in the infrastructure bill, announced Massachusetts as the final state to receive its portion of the planning funds ($6 million) in a joint press conference with outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the end-of-the-year allocation of planning funds for Massachusetts marked a significant milestone in the federal government’s support of state broadband offices rolling out competitive grant programs to build new broadband infrastructure and an array of other initiatives to close the nation’s digital divide.

All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have now received these planning funds. In a matter of months, we’ll begin to see plans from around the country, detailing how each state will connect all their residents to high-speed, affordable Internet service.

With the broadband-related portion of the IIJA made up of two major funding sources – $42.5 billion in the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and $2.5 billion in Digital Equity Act (DEA) programs – each state will receive $100 million in BEAD funding, plus an additional amount based on a formula that includes how many unserved and underserved households are in each state.

The initial planning grants from the NTIA are meant to help states navigate the biggest hurdle of the IIJA:...

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Posted December 21, 2022 by Karl Bode

When it comes to affordable broadband, Vermont has always been a trailblazer. From early adoption of municipal broadband and cooperatives to more recent experimentation with CUD (Communications Union District) fiber deployments, the state’s efforts are inspiring communities nationwide looking for new, creative solutions for the stubborn digital divide. 

CUDs provide individual communities significantly more power and leverage through cross-community alliances and partnerships, allowing them to accomplish more than they could have by themselves.

Now, they’re a major part of Vermont’s plan to bring affordable access to every resident in the state. 

“It really is perfect for what we're trying to do here, because we want community engagement,  but trying to work with every single community in the state—all 252 of our towns—would be logistically a nightmare,” Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) Executive Director Christine Hallquist told ISLR in a phone interview. 

Hallquist gives ample credit to Vermont lawmakers, who first created a legal framework for CUDs to operate under in 2015. That decision helped pave the way for a series of promising alternative deployments, including the East Central Vermont Fiber-to-the-Home network (EC Fiber), the first ever CUD in Vermont to help deploy more affordable access.

In 2021 the Vermont legislature passed Act 71, which ensured CUDs would play a key role in expanding affordable fiber access. A CUD is defined as a new municipal entity created by two or more towns with a goal of building communication infrastructure. In Vermont, municipally-led CUDs can legally fund needed broadband expansions through debt, grants, and donations—but not taxes, though they themselves are tax-exempt nonprofits.  

 “If you look at government bureaucracies, at both the federal and state level, it just takes too long to get things done,” Halquist said.

She added that despite the scale of what Vermont’s attempting, the CUD model winds up being easier to navigate, more accountable, and far more representative of the public interest. 

CUDs have a representative and alternate from every town on their board, and that...

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Posted December 8, 2022 by Christine Parker

In November, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) unveiled its new Broadband Availability Map. Along with a new map style, the FCC also introduced a challenge process that allows everyone – from governments to citizens – the ability to highlight false claims of availability and ensure that every home and business location is accounted for in the map.

With good reason, many are confused about the information shown in the map, the challenge process, and why we should care about helping the FCC make corrections. 

While we too are frustrated about the cost and subsequent quality of this map, we believe it is important to contribute to improving this map to enable an equitable allocation of the $42 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funds to states next year.

Step-By-Step Guide

In an effort to provide a better understanding of the map itself, and the challenge process, we created a short series of instructional videos and a click-through guide. Through the videos we provide:

  • An overview of the map itself, important features to be aware of, and how to navigate the map interface.
  • Walk-through of both the location and availability challenge process (The deadline for submitting availability challenges is Jan. 13, 2023).

The challenge guide is in pdf format and was designed to allow users to click links to navigate to the resources they need. Similar to information shared in the videos (below), this resource includes instructions for both the location and availability challenges, as well as more detailed information about valid reasons for submitting those challenges.

We also include a timeline of the availability challenge process, and links to FCC resources for those interested in submitting a bulk challenge. You can find the challenge guide...

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Posted December 6, 2022 by Karl Bode

After years of efforts, the telecom industry and a range of independent broadband experts are making progress in a quest to make broadband grants tax exempt, a move industry players large and small say is necessary if the federal government wants the historic round of new federal broadband funding to benefit as many un- and under-served Americans as possible. 

During previous broadband grant programs, such as the (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) BTOP and (Broadband Initiatives Program) BIP grants in 2010, the Internal Revenue Service had the authority to unilaterally exempt some grants from taxation. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) required that broadband grants be treated as taxable income. As a result, telecom industry watchers have been warning since March that upwards of 21 percent of new grant awards would need to be paid back to the United States government in the form of taxation, complicating project financing and scale. 

“Entities expecting to receive grant funds would need to budget for the tax bill, potentially requiring a reduction in the scope of their project,” Casey Lide of the law firm Keller & Heckman wrote in a post detailing the implications. “Entities might also consider structuring a project so that grant funds are received by tax-exempt entities.”

With more than $50 billion in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding waiting in the wings, industry players large and small are working to reverse the changes imposed in 2017 before the tax man comes knocking. 

Enter the Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act; legislation introduced last September by a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators including Mark Warner (D-VA) Jerry...

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Posted November 21, 2022 by Karl Bode

Nevada is looking at an historic influx of broadband funding thanks to the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). But state laws designed to shield monopolies from competition have added unnecessary complications to the state’s quest to maximize an historic round of public broadband funding. 

Nevada’s broadband expansion push (the “High Speed NV” initiative) will occur in two phases. First, $192 million in federal Covid relief funding will be used to drive broadband access to roughly 1,000 different anchor institutions. Another $200 million in BEAD funding will be used to expand last mile access to Nevada residences and businesses. 

In many states, cooperatives, city-owned utilities, and municipalities are playing a huge role in ensuring uniform and affordable access to next-generation telecom infrastructure. Such creative, local solutions are increasingly the only meaningful competitive challenge seen by the nation’s politically-powerful telecom monopolies. 

But Nevada is one of 17 states that have passed laws, usually ghost written by those same regional telecom monopolies, greatly restricting the construction and financing of municipal broadband efforts.

Two different Nevada laws (Nevada Statute § 268.086 and Nevada Statute § 710.147) currently state that only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services, undermining efforts to bring more competition and lower pricing to bear in more populous areas.

State Preemption Laws Remain

While the NTIA has encouraged all 17 states to relax or eliminate laws prohibiting...

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Posted November 11, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Joined by an array of leading broadband experts, infrastructure investment fund managers, institutional investors, private equity, and venture capitalists will gather in the nation’s capital next week for a day-long in-person conference to discuss and explore the digital infrastructure and investment asset profile required to support a 21st century information economy.

The Annual Digital Infrastructure Investment conference, which brings the broadband infrastructure and financial services communities together, will be held on Thursday, November 17, 2022, at Clyde’s of Gallery Place in Washington, D.C. And though spots are filling up fast, there is still time to register to attend here.

The conference program will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m. and will feature four panels. The first panel – What’s the State of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)? – will be led by moderator Gabriella Novello, Assistant Editor of Communications Daily, and Glen Howie, Director, Arkansas State Broadband Office. The panel will explore how state broadband offices are feeling about the pace of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in moving the BEAN program forward, what states are doing to prepare for it, how big of an impact the infrastructure bill will have on the broadband industry.

The second panel – Broadband Mapping: Are We on the Right Track or the Wrong Track? – will include Bryan Darr, Executive Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla and Jim Stegeman, President of CostQuest Associates. That panel will get into the nitty gritty of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) quest to publish more accurate broadband maps.

The first of two afternoon panels – Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband – is being moderated by our Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, and will cover how the “Private Sector is from Mars” and “Non-profits are from Venus” attitude is evolving and leading to new approaches in the financing of new networks. That...

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