Tag: "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act"

Posted May 16, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The window to request an unprecedented amount of federal funds to support state broadband grant programs is now open for business.

On Friday the 13th, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) officially announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access & Deployment (BEAD) program.

The BEAD program, which is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that was passed in November 2021, represents the single largest federal investment in broadband expansion in U.S. history. The program, according to NTIA’s own definition, is designed to allocate the funds to all 50 states (U.S. territories and Tribal governments) to support “projects that help expand high-speed Internet access … (through) infrastructure deployment, mapping, and adoption. This includes planning and capacity-building in state offices. And it supports outreach and coordination with local communities.”

The Application Process Has Begun

We have documented and discussed the BEAD program on numerous occasions, which you can find here. But the big news that comes with the NOFO release are the application deadlines associated with it.

States have until July 18 to submit their Letter of Intent (LOI), a required first step for states to receive a minimum of $100 million in BEAD funds. (States will be allocated additional funding based on a formula that takes into account how many unserved households are in each state).

According to the BEAD application guidelines released with the NOFO, the LOI must include:

  • A statement that the Eligible Entity intends to participate in the program; 
  • Specific information to identify the agency, department, or office that will serve as the recipient of, and administering agent for,...
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Posted April 20, 2022 by Karl Bode

Freshly proposed legislation in Missouri would prohibit towns and cities from using federal funds to improve broadband access in areas telecom monopolies already claim to serve. It’s just the latest attempt by incumbent telecom giants to ensure that an historic wave of federal broadband funding won’t harm their revenues by boosting local broadband competition.

Missouri SB 1074 - Sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R., District 12), proclaims that “no federal funds received by the state, political subdivision, city, town, or village shall be expended for the construction of retail broadband internet infrastructure unless the project to be constructed is located in an unserved area or underserved area.” It passed the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on April 13th.

According to the bill, the Missouri Office of Broadband Infrastructure would certify the project prior to a political subdivision receiving authorization. Before being authorized, the office would be mandated to check with incumbent broadband providers to ensure that they don’t offer service in the specified area. 

The bill prohibits federal funding for any projects in areas where a single provider already receives funding to deliver 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds. If it passes, it also allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to submit written challenges to grant applicants within 45 days. The Department of Economic Development would then be tasked with determining the truthfulness of each challenge. 

Only if applicants can prove they’re servicing an “unserved” or “underserved” area (which again is defined by flawed FCC Form 477 data that routinely overstates existing coverage and speeds using broadband definitions set at ankle height) will the applications be deemed valid. 

But the bill gives incumbent monopolies even greater leverage in the challenge process, by letting them challenge a deployment if an incumbent ISP has “taken affirmative steps to begin the process of construction to provide broadband,” or “has been designated funding through federal programs to support the deployment of broadband” in the targeted areas.

As such, it looks like the current version of the bill would allow incumbent ISPs  to block federal funding to competitors if...

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Posted April 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although we were initially concerned that certain language in New York’s proposed state budget would lock out municipal broadband projects from being able to capitalize on the federal funding bonanza contained in the American Rescue Plan Act and forthcoming money in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill that was ultimately signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul was amended and has some golden nuggets for municipal broadband.

The recently enacted $220 billion budget bill includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative, which Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office calls “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure (that) will leverage public and private investments to connect New Yorkers in rural and urban areas statewide to broadband and establish the first municipal broadband program of its kind in the nation.”

Cultivating a Municipal Broadband Ecosystem

In part MMM of the budget bill, it establishes a “municipal assistance program … to provide grant funding to municipalities, state and local authorities ... to plan and construct infrastructure necessary to provide broadband services.”

Municipal grant recipients, the bill says, will be required to build broadband infrastructure to “facilitate projects that, at a minimum, provide reliable Internet service with consistent speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and at least 20 (Mbps) for upload.” That shouldn’t be a problem as most municipal broadband projects use fiber optics that can deliver far more than that. 

How much of the ConnectALL money will be allocated for the municipal grant fund has not yet been determined. But, community broadband advocates should not lose sight of the significance of the broadband ecosystem that is being cultivated in conjunction with other parts of the budget bill.

The budget bill also includes two provisions that will reduce the cost of building last mile networks. One repeals the fees associated with laying high-speed fiber cables along state highways, which...

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Posted March 23, 2022 by

This week’s episode of our Community Broadband Bits podcast is particularly insightful for communities considering how to leverage the broadband expansion funds embedded in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in November 2021.

Although the funds will likely not be allocated to state grant programs until the end of 2022/early 2023, the time is now for state and local leaders interested in building community-owned networks to best position themselves to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation investment.

Christopher is joined by Nancy Werner, General Counsel of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), an under-the-radar organization that advises local government officials on telecommunication issues.

During the conversation, the two talk about NATOA and its role in supporting community broadband projects with a particular focus on how the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program contained in the infrastructure bill is structured. Christopher and Nancy zero in on exactly how BEAD grant money can be used. Although the bill was written to first focus on mostly rural communities who do not have access to minimum broadband connections of 25/3 Megabits per second, they delve into the nitty gritty of how the funds can be used to prioritize bringing high-speed Internet access to multi-dwelling units even in densely-populated urban centers.

As Christopher notes:

This is important because this is a question of whether we are going to spend the vast majority of this money in areas that are more rural … or if we are going to spend any money in urban areas ... It is incontrovertible that we have neglected the many more millions of people in urban areas. This is a time to make sure that we are not just picking one or the other.

The show ends with an exploration of the promise and shortcomings of taking a simplified approach to setting Right-of-Way and franchise fees, which are areas that are notoriously difficult waters to navigate as new networks are being built.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via...

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Posted March 4, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like numerous U.S. counties, large segments of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota (pop. 44,000) lack access to affordable Internet service at modern speeds. So like many underserved communities, the county—situated about ninety miles west of Minneapolis—is looking to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime collision of funding opportunities to help finance a massive fiber broadband expansion across numerous county townships. 

A recent survey by the county unsurprisingly reveals that residents are greatly annoyed by the lack of affordable Internet access options, with 64 percent of locals saying they’re dissatisfied with the Internet service provided by regional monopolies.

Ten Projects on Tap

Hoping to address the shortcoming, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working on ten different projects to shore up Internet access around the county. 

Some of the proposed projects involve partnerships with national monopoly providers like Charter Communications, but others will involve the county and a local cooperative doing the heavy lifting. The county had hoped to fund the projects with a combination of subscriber fees, American Rescue Plan funds, NTIA grants, and upcoming Minnesota state grants.

The first major project closest to being “shovel ready” is a $10 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project in partnership with the Federated Telephone Cooperative of Morris. Federated is expected to finance twenty-five percent of the overall project, with new subscribers expected to pay about $1,250 per household to connect to the gigabit-capable network. 

Kandiyohi County is also eyeing the unprecedented federal funding opportunities created by both the recently-passed infrastructure bill and Covid relief efforts. All told, the country hopes to combine a large chunk of the $8.3 million it’s receiving from the American Rescue...

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Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

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Posted January 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Sworn in earlier this month as president of the newly created Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA), Andrew Butcher says he is ready “to hit the ground running,” shepherding Maine’s efforts to bring universal access to high-speed Internet service in one of the most rural states in the nation.

The MCA, first proposed last year by Gov. Janet Mills and created through bipartisan legislation, will oversee the influx of federal funds the state has received from the American Rescue Plan Act and funds the state will get from the recently passed Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act.

The quasi-governmental agency will remain distinct from (but coordinate with) the ConnectMaine Authority, which administers the state’s broadband grant programs.

In a statement released after Butcher was sworn-in, Gov. Mills said:

I am grateful for the Senate’s unanimous confirmation, which is a testament to their confidence in Andrew’s experience and expertise to lead the Maine Connectivity Authority. With Andrew at the helm, and with the Authority’s Board fully in place, it is time to build on our work to expand access to affordable broadband. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for every person, every family, and every business across Maine, and with today’s vote, we are taking another step forward in our effort to make universal broadband a reality for Maine people.

For his part, Butcher said he was “humbled by (the) unanimous confirmation of the Senate and am honored for the opportunity to serve Maine as we look to build the infrastructure of the future. We can get there from here. Many have forged the path to get here and I'm eager to get to work connecting everyone.”

Getting ‘there from here’

In an...

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Posted January 22, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

It can be difficult to track all of the federal funding opportunities out there these days for communities looking to improve local Internet access. Even more difficult is parsing through all the ways they can be used, and charting a path to successfully weave them together to achieve local broadband goals. To help, we published our "Community Guide to Federal Funding Opportunities" in September, followed up by a look at what the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

But Common Sense Media recently put out a Federal Broadband Funding Guide packed with useful information and well worth bookmarking for future use. It breaks down the buckets of broadband money not only in the IIJA, but from the American Rescue Plan, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the other ongoing programs like USDA ReConnect. 

The value of the guide comes from Common Sense including clear and concise descriptions of the legislation, the amount of money allocated in them, who the funds will be flowing to and in what ways, what the deadline is to use the funds, and if they can be dedicated to infrastructure, devices, affordability, or equity and inclusion projects. Check it out here, or download below.

Posted January 21, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Wednesday, some of us joined Broadband Breakfast to talk about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Community Broadband Network approach to infrastructure funding. It was a lively and fun conversation, touching also on the new Treasury Final Rules for the Rescue Plan funding, affordability challenges, the value of competition, and how we hope these funds shape up.

On the panel was DeAnne Cuellar, Sean Gonsalves, Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Christopher Mitchell, and Drew Clark. Watch the session here, or below.

Posted January 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Community broadband advocates in New York rang in the new year celebrating Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement of a proposed $1 billion investment to beef up broadband in the Empire State. If state lawmakers move to enact the initiative, it would be what the Governor’s office describes as “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure.”

During her State of the State speech, Gov. Hochul unveiled the ConnectAll Initiative, which aims to “deliver affordable broadband to millions of New Yorkers and transform the state's digital infrastructure through new investments,” with municipal broadband as a centerpiece of the plan.

In announcing the new initiative – which would be funded with a combination of up to $300 million in state funds, $345 million in federal funds, with the rest to eventually come from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Gov. Hochul said:

The pandemic exposed how without broadband Internet, New Yorkers can be disconnected from school, work, and families. The ConnectALL Initiative will empower local municipalities and state agencies to set up nation-leading broadband infrastructure statewide, ensuring that every New Yorker has access to the Internet when they need it.

Six-Part Strategy

The plan not only creates a new ConnectALL Office, it directs the office to work in conjunction with other state agencies in overseeing the major components of the effort, following a six-part strategy that includes:

The creation of a Broadband Assessment Program and Interactive Map. Administered by the state’s Public Service Commission, the Broadband Assessment Program would build the state’s “first ever, in-depth interactive broadband map” that will show where broadband infrastructure is available and how reliable it is across the state. This would be a central...

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