Tag: "connect america fund"

Posted May 2, 2018 by htrostle

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we analyze data and explore public policies to empower local communities. Our initiative staff work on varied issues from composting to broadband, but all these issues affect our daily lives and our communities. In the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, we often analyze high-speed Internet service availability using the best data that is publicly available. Some of this data, however, is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued.

FCC Form 477 Fails in at Least Four Ways

The most common source of this data is the Form 477. It is designed to be standard, uniform, and provide the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with detailed information to make sound decisions. The FCC distributes form 477 to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to collect data on their service availability. This form is only accessible online through a government web portal, and it has an accompanying 39-page instruction document. Some of the information is confidential and stripped away before the FCC releases the data to the general public.

The FCC Form 477 may not accurately reflect broadband availability in four main ways: 

1). ISPs may fill out the form improperly. Some ISPs may misplace key information into the form, creating havoc for those analyzing the data. They may input numbers in Kbps instead of Mbps, causing further confusion. For example, a fixed wireless ISP outside of Rochester, Minnesota, offers a maximum speed of 10 Mbps on their website, but the FCC Form 477 states that this ISP advertises a speed of 244 Mbps. Perhaps the ISP meant customers can usually expect a maximum speed of 244 Kbps? Even then, that doesn’t make sense. 

2). The data is out of date. ISPs submit the form twice a year, but the FCC takes time to process this data. By the time we produce maps and research, the underlying data may already be too old to be useful. Mergers may not yet be adequately reflected. For example, at this writing in May 2018 the most recent data currently available is from December 2016. That means the data, the maps, and the research are about a year and a half out of date.

3). The data only includes information maximum advertised download and upload speeds. What the average customer experiences is likely different. They may have bought a lower tier package (see also,...

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Posted April 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

The application window for the Connect America Fund (CAF) II Auction recently closed among debate about eligibility criteria. A recent editorial from the WVNews, where multiple counties were hit hard by flawed FCC data, urged their federal elected officials to act before rural residents lose more funding opportunities.

Wha’ Happened?

As multiple experts have shown, the Form FCC data collection uses an overly broad measurement by relying on census blocks to show areas with broadband service. The FCC has admitted that their methodology overstates who does or does not have FCC defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This year, seven West Virginia counties that hoped to access CAF II funding have been deemed ineligible because the new FCC Form 477 data indicates that each county has 100 percent broadband access.

Folks in the region are reasonably confused, concerned, and upset. In 2015, the FCC’s data indicated that these same areas were underserved and there have been no deployments to cause such a seismic change.

The editors at the WVNews noted that the chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council described the new FCC determination as “not even close to being correct” and that he had predicted there might be difficulty obtaining CAF II funding.

The president of a local fixed wireless provider offered a useful analogy:

“The problem is, with the Form 477, if one person in that census block gets [broadband], then that whole census block is counted as served…That’s like saying if someone in the U.S. has access to fresh lobster, then they all do. That’s just not really true.”

He also described the dilemma companies like his face because they might want to apply for funding:

“The very data we’re turning in to the FCC that they mandate from a funding standpoint can turn out to be your worst enemy…You turn it in and may say, ‘I shot myself in the foot.’ It’s a complex problem,...

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Posted March 22, 2018 by htrostle

Federal broadband grant programs start accepting applications in the spring. 2018 is an especially exciting year because the Connect America Fund (CAF) II Auction is finally open. This program has been years in the making, but it still has its flaws. Learn more about the federal grant opportunities and how we can improve federal broadband data below.

Due March 30th, 2018 -- CAF II Auction

At noon ET on March 19, 2018, the much anticipated CAF II Auction opened. Application are due by 6pm ET on March 30th, 2018.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will distribute $2 billion to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to build new Internet infrastructure in rural areas. This auction is the latest program of the larger CAF program that started offering funds in 2012. In the past, most CAF funds have gone to the largest incumbent ISPs, such as Frontier or Verizon. This auction is a chance for small rural ISPs to win funding for their communities through innovative projects.

Watch the FCC’s Application Process Workshop Video and then explore the map of eligible grant areas.

Due May 14th, 2018 -- Community Connect Grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced that the Community Connect Grant program is open. Webinar presentations on the process will be available on April 5th and April 10th. Applications are accepted through May 14th.

Community Connect Grants are each $100,000 to $3 million and focus on improving rural broadband infrastructure. Areas are eligible if they do not have access to speeds of 10 Mbps (download) and 1 Mbps (upload). Nonprofits, for-profits, federally-recognized tribes, state governments, and local governments can propose projects. Winners must match 15% of the grant and the program has a budget of about $30 million.

Sign up for a webinar on how to apply for the Community Connect Grants: 

...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Will Rinehart of the American Action Forum in Washington D.C. discusses telecommunications and economics with our host Christopher Mitchell. Listen to this episode here.

Will Rinehart: And I do think that obviously good policy is very very important and that's where you and I agree a lot. You know there's obviously some good policies that can be enacted. There's probably better conversations that could be had in this space and that's also something else that I really do really want to see. You're

Lisa Gonzalez: listening to episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales as a research organization. We here at the institute make it a habit to hear all sides of the debate along the way we make connections with people who offer perspectives on policy that differ from ours. We consider these conversations critical as we analyze factors that help us create policy recommendations and resources for local communities. This week Christopher talks with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum. They got together at the recent broadband community's economic development conference in Atlanta. In this conversation you'll hear the two discuss a variety of topics they talk about the area of telecommunications and economics and the forum's approach. You'll also hear that these different perspectives aren't as black and white as they first appear. Now here's Christopher with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Coming to you from Atlanta sitting practically on a runway at the Atlanta airport with Will Rinehart the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy with the American Action Forum. Welcome to the show. Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me. We're at the broadband community's event here. We just had our second panel which is called a blue ribbon panel and general session kind of thing. And you and I are typically brought on as people who have very opposing points of view.

Will Rinehart: [laughs] To...

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Posted November 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

Christopher went to Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in early November, and while he was there, he touched base with this week’s guest Will Rinehart. Will is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum, a DC nonprofit organization that’s been around since 2009.

Will and Christopher don’t always see eye to eye on issues that affect telecommunications and broadband policy, but both agree that it’s important to have spirited debate to share perspectives. Only by examining issues from different sides can we craft policy that creates lasting benefits.

In this interview, Will describes his organization and his work there. Chris and Will look at compelling issues such as ISP competition, government regulations, and how the FCC’s 2015 upgraded definition of broadband has reverberated in the market. The two get into franchising and ubiquitous broadband, local authority, and connectivity in rural America. It’s a spirited discussion chock-full of issues.

You can tweet to Will, he’s @WillRinehart on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

 

Posted October 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

This fall, nonprofits and other organizations with an interest in constructive broadband policy have worked to help the new administration’s FCC through the public comment process. We’ve let readers know about opportunities to share their thoughts with the Commission and we’ve submitted comments separately and with other likeminded groups.

Modernizing the Form 477 Data Program

The Commission asked for comments on the method in which it collects data regarding where broadband is accessible. ISPs provide information to the FCC based on which census blocks they serve. We’ve often criticized this approach because it grossly overstates where coverage is available, especially in rural areas where census blocks tend to be large. 

Read our ideas for improvements to the Form 477 data collection, which include obtaining more detailed geographic information, minimum and maximum speeds, and pricing information.

Connect America Funding Phase II Bidding Procedures and Program

In order to help bring better connectivity to rural areas, the FCC distributes Connect America Funds (CAF) to entities such as companies and cooperatives to build broadband infrastructure. The process involves bids from these entities. The FCC is considering changes to the current process and bidding procedures, including what types of projects qualify for funding. The Commission asked for comment after proposing a long list of possible changes.

We recently spoke with Jon Chambers of Connexon, who provided more detail about the program and offered his thoughts on CAF and the possible changes.

Read our Reply Comments, that address issues we feel need attention, including the Carrier of Last Resort guarantee, more opportunities for rural cooperatives, and our concern that the FCC will attempt to equate subpar satellite and mobile broadband with high-quality connectivity. We filed our Reply Comments with Public Knowledge, Appalshop, and a long list of other organizations concerned about Internet access in rural America.

Deployment of Advanced...

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Posted October 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

We’ve written about the Connect America Fund (CAF) on multiple occasions and recently alerted interested MuniNetworks.org readers to the FCC’s ongoing efforts to re-examine the CAF Phase II Auction procedures. On October 26th, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is presenting a free webinar on CAF as part of their Grow2Gig+ Webinar Series.

SHLB will be offering a Universal Service Symposium in Washington, DC, on November 2nd and the information presenting in the webinar will help attendees prepare. Even if you’re not planning to attend the workshop, the webinar will offer information that will be useful if you have any interest in applying for CAF funds or if you are monitoring the FCC’s policies moving forward.

The webinar speakers are Carol Mattey and Rebekah Goodheart; John Windhausen will moderate. SHLB describes the event as:

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is a federal program that provides funding to defray the cost of operating and extending both fixed and mobile broadband networks to serve consumers and small businesses in rural, high-cost areas in the United States. CAF was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fulfill the statutory mandate that all Americans have access to communications service that is reasonably comparable to what’s available in urban areas.

Join two former senior FCC officials as they discuss the History of the Connect America Fund, the Phase II  Auction (Performance Standards, Application Process, and Auction Mechanics), as well as Reporting Requirements. 

You can register online at the SHLB website and also review past webinars and check out other events on the calendar. 

Posted September 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time,...

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Posted September 25, 2017 by htrostle

Another addition to our Community Networks Initiative resources! This fact sheet details the most important aspects of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Auction. What is it? What should it do? Who does it affect? And how can you make a difference?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages the CAF program, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to Internet service providers for areas where the cost of building networks is prohibitive. Some large providers decided not to accept some of the subsidies during Phase I - about $198 million annually for 10 years. Now, the FCC plans to host an auction so that providers can submit competing proposals on how best to serve these often rural, high-cost areas. (Check out the map of preliminary areas on the FCC website.)

Before the FCC can hold an auction though, the commission needs advice on how best to conduct it and what criteria they should consider. Jon Chambers, former head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, outlined his concerns about the current proposed rules in his article, The Risk of Fraudulent Bidding in the FCC Connect America Fund Auction. Listen to his analysis on Episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

The first round of public comments has passed, but reply comments are due October 18th, 2017. Read the fact sheet and then submit your own comments at FCC.Gov/ecfs/filings for "Proceedings" Docket 17-182 and Docket 10-90.

Posted September 7, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Jon Chambers of Conexon once again joins the show. This time Jon dives into the details of the Connect America Fund program and discusses the upcoming Connect America Fund auction. Listen to this episode here.

Jon Chambers: Rural Americans, have the same aspirations, the same needs, the same uses of the Internet as everyone else. It shouldn't surprise anyone when I say, rural Arkansans, rural Missourians subscribe to gigabit services too. It does surprise people. It surprises people at the FCC, it surprises policy makers. Doesn't surprise people who live and work and spend their lives in rural America.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 268 of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast from The Institute For Local Self-Reliance, I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As the question of how best to bring high quality Internet access to rural America becomes more pressing, rural cooperatives are rapidly taking a leading role. This week's guest, Jon Chambers, works with electric cooperatives that decide they want to offer high speed connectivity. Jon spent time working for the FCC and has a special understanding of how the agency approaches review and funding for telecommunications. In this conversation, he and Christopher talk about the Connect America Fund. Learn more about Jon's firm, visit their website at conexon.us. Now, here's Christopher and Jon Chambers from Conexon.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at The Institute For Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm once again with Jon Chambers, a partner at Conexon. Welcome back to the show Jon.

Jon Chambers: Thank you Chris. Thanks for inviting me.

Christopher Mitchell: You've been on the show multiple times recently, talking about how rural electric cooperatives can basically solve this problem for all of rural America. Do you want to briefly remind us what Conexon is?

Jon Chambers: Conexon is a consulting firm that was started by my partner, Randy Klindt, who conceived of, designed and oversaw the construction of the very first fiber-to-the-home network built on an electric...

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