Tag: "federal grant"

Posted September 4, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Applicants in the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant Program requested over $1.4 billion to finance rural broadband expansion, exceeding available funds by more than $800 million. Despite tough competition, much of the funding may go to community broadband networks, since more than half of the applicants are publicly or collectively owned, including electric and telephone cooperatives, local governments, and federally recognized tribes.

As was the case in previous federal programs, most community broadband providers applying for ReConnect funds plan to deploy modern, high-speed fiber networks. Unlike the large telecom monopolies, which are letting their rural networks rot even while raking in government subsidies, community owned networks frequently leverage federal funds to deploy future-proof fiber optics in their rural service areas.

ReConnect Review

In 2018, Congress authorized $600 million for the ReConnect program to expand high-quality connectivity in rural America by providing grants and loans to Internet access providers. The first round of ReConnect applications closed earlier this summer with $200 million available in each of the three funding categories:

  • 100 percent grant
  • 50 percent grant - 50 percent loan
  • 100 percent loan

Earlier this year, Congress approved an additional $550 million for the program, which the USDA will distribute after awarding round one funds.

logo-reconnect-eligible.png Most entities were eligible to apply for ReConnect funds, including for-profit companies, rural cooperatives, local governments, and tribes. The guidelines for which communities qualified, however, were much more restrictive. Proposed service areas had to be rural, as defined by the USDA, and had to have between 90 and 100 percent of the...

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Posted August 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this week, Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren released her Plan to Invest in Rural America, which contained a framework for improving broadband policy and expanding high-quality Internet access.

You can read her full plan on Medium.

Funding Needed, Spent Wisely

Some of Warren’s goals for proposed policy changes include:

  • Passing federal statute that ensures municipalities have the right to invest in network infrastructure
  • Ending anti-competitive behavior from big corporate Internet access companies that engage in activity designed to reduce competition
  • Pass a Digital Equity Act, which will provide $2.5 billion over 10 years to states in order to help them develop digital inclusion projects

Warren’s plan also focuses on financing infrastructure development in rural areas, and creates some guidelines to address the problems with the current system. Her plan includes:

  • Dedicating $85 billion to expand broadband networks with grant funds awarded exclusively to cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, and local government
  • Funding will be reserved for regions that are unserved, underserved, or where there is minimal competition
  • Grants will only go to projects that offer one discount plan and must include a 100 Mbps symmetrical tier, along with specific requirements for low-income subscribers
  • $5 billion will be earmarked for grants to projects that will benefit people on tribal Native American lands

Improving the FCC

Warren also wants FCC Commissioners who will restore network neutrality protections and improve mapping. By making changes in the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, Warren plans to further attack the digital divide for indigenous people.

Read more of Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Invest in Rural America at Medium.

Posted January 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

The federal government shutdown continues to drag on, but people heading up rural broadband projects are not waiting until it’s over to investigate federal funding sources. Tools like the ReConnect Opportunity Map from Cooperative Network Services (CNS) will help reduce some of the uncertainty and time required to prepare an application for this and other funding opportunities.

The GIS tool focuses on the ReConnect grant program’s criteria, which will allow users to quickly identify census blocks across the U.S. that are eligible for funding. CNS has also added special color-coding to display density of households and included information about those census blocks to help complete the applications. Examining density of households per road mile allows planners to more quickly prepare an application and establish a cost estimate. The map digs down even further to give information on housing units, which will help with refining deployment costs.

The tool also allows users to define deployment areas on the map and run reports that include census block identifiers, households, and populations per mile. Even if the specific identified area doesn’t qualify for ReConnect funding, the information can be used for other purposes, such as for a potential project that might qualify for other funding or might be of interest to an Internet access provider looking to expand in the area.

Check out this sample screenshot and the explanation below:

CNStool-screengrab_0.png

View a larger version of the screenshot.

This image of an area in Minnesota indicates census blocks that do not currently have broadband speeds over 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The blocks are color-coded based on the number of housing structures per road mile (darker = more housing units per road mile). Small dark spots are structures. The number of households per road mile shading allows users to quickly identify areas that may make the most sense to target since road miles generally equate to fiber construction corridor miles.

More Than ReConnect

Another feature, the ability to reveal telecom exchange boundaries, can help applicants get a picture of what other ISPs operate in the area. Whether an...

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Posted April 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

When the announcement came out in 2015 that Sanford, Maine, would invest in the state’s largest municipal fiber optic network, media outlets were abuzz with the news. The situation has quieted down as the community has been working to plan for the project. Earlier this month, Sanford released its second Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fiber Optic Construction for the network; responses are due May 2nd.

Read the RFP here.

Second Shot

Back when the city began the process of investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they conducted an original RFP process and selected a construction firm. Before the project began, however, Sanford won a significant award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and, according to the EDA, the city’s RFP process did not conform to EDA bid process requirements. In order to accept the award, the city needs to re-run to RFP process.

The project will cost approximately $1.5 million and, with the federal grant slated to pay for around half at $769,000, Sanford officials see the benefit of taking the time to release a second RFP. The city will use proceeds from the sale of a former school property to fund the remaining. They anticipate construction to begin in July and estimate the project will be completed and the network will be ready to operate by November.

As the RFP states, the project will connect approximately 85 community anchor institutions (CAIs) to a network of about 40 miles of fiber and to the state’s middle mile Three Ring Binder. In addition to City Hall, they intend to connect schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, and public works buildings. There are also a significant number of business locations on the list of addresses that Sanford officials want connected to the network. The community has already chosen Maine’s GWI to operate the open access network. 

You can listen to our conversation with CEO Fletcher Kittredge in episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He and Christopher discuss Sanford...

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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 November 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

After a long and arduous process, the folks in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, were finally able to light up their publicly owned fiber optic network last week. According to resident and Select Board Chair Eleanor Tillinghast, “We are thrilled. We’re going to be the envy of everyone.”

It's Finally Here

As we reported last month, the community was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to finish up the last steps to begin connecting subscribers from the town's 146 premises. Approximately 100 are connected and will take services from local Internet service provider Crocker Communications. In addition to providing Internet access, the ISP will handle billing for the city, provide 24/7 tech support for subscribers, and monitor the network. The infrastructure will be maintained by the company that built it for the city, NextGen Group. Mount Washington owns the infrastructure.

Gigabit connectivity is available, but most subscribers have opted for 500 Megabits per second (Mbps). All speeds are symmetrical, which makes Mount Washington’s network valuable as an economic development tool. Community leaders are already seeing in increase in real estate transactions that they relate to the new network. “People may have ruled Mount Washington out before,” Select Board Member Brian Tobin told the Berkshire Edge. “But we just catapulted ahead of other towns in terms of amenities.” As a potential quiet retreat for New Yorkers located in the Taconic Mountains, Tobin and Tillinghast expect to lure more urbanites who want to work remotely for part of the week. Tobin also has a Manhattan apartment and says that his Internet access speeds in the city are only about 117 Mbps download with slower upload speeds.

A Long Process That's Paid Off

Up until now, many of the community’s residents relied on expensive, unreliable satellite Internet access. The remote nature of Mount Washington kept incumbents from investing in cable and only a few had access to DSL. In 2013, the community formed a broadband working group and began...

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Posted October 12, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

Mount Washington, Massachusetts, is set to light up its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network this month. By “building our own Fiber-to-the-Home broadband network, we are taking an important step in securing our community’s long-term vitality and sustainability,” says Selectboard Member Gail Garrett

Mount Washington Recap

Mount Washington is nestled within the forested Taconic Mountains area located in the southwest corner of the state. The roughly 150 full-time residents have been frustrated with the lack of connectivity. "Everybody's had it with their current connections” said Garret and believes the town “deserves the same opportunity to connect to the internet as those in larger communities.” 

The final estimates for the network came in at $603,000 but the town planned for any unanticipated make ready or dig costs and prepared for a high estimate of $650,000. To fund construction, Mount Washington authorized the use of $250,000 from their stabilization fund in 2015, received $230,000 in federal and state funds from the Massachussetts Broadband Institute (MBI) earlier this year, and established a plan to borrow the remaining $400,000 through a state loan program. This spring, received an additional $222,000 grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which will allow them to pay down the debt sooner and have the network paid off within five years.

The FTTH network is set to provide residents who opted in, over 60 percent of the town, with up to 1 gigabit of upload and download speeds. To opt in, residents deposited $300 per household and committed themselves to three years of data and telephone service on the FTTH network.

map-Mount_Washington_ma_highlight.png According to Mount Washington’s Broadband Business Plan, the town will be charging $75.00...

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Posted October 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Over the past several decades, the population of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, has incrementally jumped up and down, but today's population is the same as it was in 1960. In order to boost economic development and encourage growth with more jobs, community leaders are deploying fiber for better connectivity in several industrial areas.

Financial Help For Fiber Connectivity

In May, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that they would provide a $569,000 grant to the county to help fund the project. The EDA consider the project worth while because they expect the project to retain 20 existing jobs, generate 42 new jobs, and stimulate $25 million in private investment.

County officials intend to combine the EDA grant with an additional grant they received in January from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC grant of almost $949,000 will allow Somerset County to dedicate approximately $1.5 million to run fiber four industrial parks. The County will match the grant award in order to fully fund the 22-mile network, which will expand existing Somerset County fiber infrastructure. View a map of the proposed expansion here.

Lack Of Meaningful Connectivity In Rural Pennsylvania

Recently, the County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a firm to oversee the project. Long-term goals are to improve connectivity for approximately 1,100 businesses and 3,900 households along with local community anchor institutions (CAIs) and other entities. Approximately 18 percent of the people in Somerset don’t have broadband as defined by the FCC (25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload) according to Form 477 data. The number is likely much higher, however, because Form 477 data tends to overstate coverage, especially in rural areas. Shortly after the county received the EDA award, two local Internet service providers expressed interest in delivering services via the new infrastructure.

The largest community is the county seat of Somerset with...

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Posted July 27, 2017 by htrostle

Among the rolling hills and mountains of Appalachia sits the small city of Williamstown, Kentucky, in central Grant County. Home to about 3,500 people, Williamstown is the center of connectivity for the county. The city’s fiber provides high-speed connectivity to local businesses, while its long-running cable network keeps folks connected in the town. Williamstown operates a small Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the southern half of the county and offers much of the rest of the county fixed wireless service.

Williamstown Cable Center of Connectivity

Roy Osborne, the Superintendent at Williamstown Cable told us how this small town had developed so many different projects throughout the county. Within the town itself, the network is a hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) system that supports speeds from 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps download for residents and businesses alike; upload speeds vary from 2 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

For large institutions, Williamstown Cable builds fiber lines to provide reliable, fast connectivity. It serves most county facilities, such as the courthouse and detention center. It even brought a fiber connection to the theme park just outside of town -- the Ark Encounter, based on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Osborne recalled the high level of Internet service in the small town surprised the developers. 

The community was not going to let its rural neighbors remain without connectivity. In 2007, the town started a project to bring fixed wireless service to the surrounding county. Williamstown Cable found a way to bring some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service to a small community of Corinth in southern Grant County in 2010. They used federal funding to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the 200 people in the town. 

How Williamstown Built So Many Networks

Like many communities, Williamstown started providing services because no one else would invest in their rural sparsely populated area. The department first built a cable system in 1984 to provide television service, connecting the small town residents to the news. Williamstown Cable paid its own way, reinvesting money earned from the television service back into the network...

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Posted July 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you live in rural America, chances are you know what it’s like to have inadequate Internet access. If you've heard about the Connect America Fund, however, you probably think help is on the way and your problems will soon be over; you'll get the kind of speeds available in large cities, right? Wrong.

Our short video on rural connectivity and CAF explains how big companies are taking federal subsidies to build networks that provide the same old slow DSL service to rural areas. So, what can people in rural communities do? The video describes how local communities are becoming more self-reliant through publicly owned infrastructure and offers some starting points if you're interested in learning more.

More Of The Same? No Way!

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is offering billions of dollars to build out networks in rural areas, but the companies receiving the subsidies are the same ones that already offer terrible connectivity in most rural communities. Are they using those subsidies to invest in high-speed connectivity for rural areas? No. The DSL connections that those companies are deploying for your home or business with CAF funding is already considered obsolete.

Rather than accepting these substandard solutions, an increasing number of communities have decided to act so they can have the same or better quality of connectivity as urban areas. Rural cooperatives and municipal networks are taking charge of their own telecommunications infrastructure needs. Unless you live in one of these communities, you may have never heard about the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity available from a community network or a cooperative. They’re just doing it and not bragging about it.

YOU Make It Happen

How does a community or a cooperative start offering better connectivity? We’ve created this short video that explains the basics and we invite you to share it with others. It all starts with YOU.

Be sure to check out our other videos, too!

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