Tag: "funding"

Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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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 January 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

Iowa communities that suffer from poor connectivity and want better broadband infrastructure now have another possible funding source, but they need to take action before March 15, 2019. Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is now making $1.3 million in grants available to specific areas that want to improve local connectivity.

Learn more here.

In addition to Internet access providers, local governments, utilities, and “other entities that provide or intend to provide broadband service” are eligible to apply and receive funding. Projects that can receive funding must be new projects that have not started installation of broadband infrastructure. “Broadband” is consistent with the FCC’s definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Funding of up to 15 percent of the estimated cost of a broadband project is available.

Targeted Areas

The awards are specifically meant to be distributed to projects that will serve “targeted areas” within the state. Those areas — deemed as locations where no provider offers broadband as defined by the FCC — cover large portions of the state . The OCIO has provided a map visualizing where those many targeted areas are across Iowa. With the “Open Map in New Window” option, users can submit specific information, such as addresses and census blocks, to determine if a location is within a “targeted area.” The blue areas indicate "targeted areas."

2018-01-IA-broadband-grants-targeted-areas-map.png

Important Info

  • Applications are only accepted through the Iowa Grants System between February 18th and March 15, 2019.
  • Applications will not be accepted prior to February 18th, 2019.
  • All questions should be submitted to the OCIO before January 11th, 2019 at ociogrants(at)iowa.gov.
  • For detailed information on the application, check out the OCIO Broadband Grants page, where the office has provided examples, guides, and checklists to help with your application.

Good luck, Iowa...

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Posted January 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.

Grants Are So Good

Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.

Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.

Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.

If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.

The community could,...

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Posted December 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

In early December, the city of Cortez, Colorado, released a request for proposals in their search for a private sector partner to help bring last mile fiber connectivity to premises throughout the community. The city is seeking a way to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire community, but will not expand it’s municipal fiber infrastructure. They're looking for ways to overcome some of the same challenges other small communities face as they attempt to improve local connectivity to every premise.

At A Crossroads

Smith told us that the city is at a crossroads and community leaders think that a public-private partnership (P3) might be the quickest way to get the people of Cortez better services they’re looking for at the affordable rates they deserve. The city faces the challenge of funding the expansion. Approximately $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) funded the Cortez middle mile infrastructure and connections to community anchor institutions (CAIs), including schools, healthcare facilities, and municipal facilities. Cortez is not able to obtain more grant funding from DOLA for last mile expansion.

When we spoke with Smith in June 2018 for episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he described how the city was contemplating a sales tax to fund the expansion, rather than the more common revenue bond funding. Smith explains that, if Cortez decided to go that route, their decision would trigger Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) regulations. Due to the time requirements, any ballot measure on such a funding mechanism could not be voted on before 2020. Once the measure is on the ballot, the city would not be able to promote it in accordance with Colorado law. If Cortez decided to ask local voters to support funding Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with a sales tax, says Smith, the city would have to wait 4 - 5 years before they could promote the service. A survey in Cortez revealed that 64 percent of respondents supported a sales tax to fund expansion of broadband infrastructure to households and more businesses, but community leaders aren't comfortable waiting so long to bring better connectivity that is so desperately needed...

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Posted November 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

As interest in publicly owned broadband network infrastructure increases, local communities seek out new ways to fund municipal networks. Revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans, and avoided costs have been the three most common methods for funding Internet network infrastructure, but local leaders are finding creative approaches to get the job done. The Creative Funding Sources For Fiber Infrastructure fact sheet presents new approaches, pros and cons, and provides examples for further study.

Download the fact sheet.

New Approach to an Ongoing Challenge

Communities that need better connectivity must consider numerous factors when fiber optic network infrastructure is on the table. In addition to the type of model that’s most appropriate, decisions include vendor selection, and the extent of the network footprint. A critical element to every community network are the choice of funding mechanisms local leaders choose to see the project from idea to implementation.

Communities such as Ammon, Idaho, and Kitsap County in Washington are using fresh ideas to fund their infrastructure development. In this fact sheet we describe the way these new mechanisms work and lay out some benefits along with some potentially negative implications. It’s important that communities take a frank look at all the possible repercussions as they move forward. 

This fact sheet will help your own creative funding ideas flow as you look for ways to finance your community’s high-quality Internet access project.

Download the fact sheet.

Posted October 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

Breckenridge was among the list of Colorado communities that voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2016. Now, they’re ready to move forward with design and construction of an open access network. As the resort town prepares to begin work on their fiber infrastructure, several other communities will ask voters to opt out of SB 152 on November 6th.

To the Voters

As we reported in August, Aurora, Cañon City, the town of Florence, and Fremont County had already made plans to put the opt out question on their local ballots. Since then, we’ve discovered that that at least six other local governments want voters to address SB 152.

In Salida, where the town needed to fill a vacated office without delay, community leaders chose to hold their election in September and put the issue on the ballot. The measure to opt out passed with 85 percent of the vote.

Voters will also decide of their towns or counties should reclaim local telecommunications authority in the towns of Fountain and Erie along with Chaffee County and Kiowa County. Over the past several years, more than 120 local communities have asked voters to opt out of SB 152 and local referendums overwhelmingly passed. Many local communities have presented the issue to voters with no specific plans in mind, but do so in order to keep their options open and because they feel that Denver is less qualified than they are in making decisions related to local connectivity.

The Fremont Economic Development Corporation (FEDC) has reached out to voters, urging them to approve the measure with a "yes" vote. The fact that SB 152 still hangs like cloud over the region prevents them from obtaining grant funding to boost economic development.

"We would like to vote to authorize our municipalities to be able to become involved because there is a lot of money out there that is available for the purpose of building infrastructure, but it has to be done through the governmental agency," [Executive Director of the FEDC] said. "We put our shoulder to the wheel on this because we see broadband as a critical element of economic development, as critical in many cases as...

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Shortly after Republican FCC Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality protections late in 2017, state lawmakers began introducing legislation to protect their constituents. California’s AB 1999, introduced as one possible antidote to the FCC failure in judgment, passed the General Assembly on August 29th and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown.

Read the final version of the bill and the Legislative Counsel Digest here.

Let the People Serve the People

As local communities have investigated ways to protect themselves from throttling, paid prioritization, and other activities no longer banned, they’ve looked at investing in publicly owned infrastructure. Rural communities where national Internet service providers are less motivated to deploy have always struggled to attract investment from the same large companies known to violate network neutrality tenets. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999 addresses rural communities’ need for better connectivity, solutions that can preserve network neutrality, and challenges in funding broadband infrastructure.

California’s community service districts (CSDs) are independent local governments created by folks in unincorporated areas. CDSs provide services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality. Residents usually join together to form a CSD and do so to establish services such as water and wastewater management, garbage collection, fire protection, or similar services. A CSD also has the ability to create an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) in order to finance the development of a broadband network.

The EIFD statute granting the authority allows communities, including CSDs, to join together regional projects for a range of financing purposes. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and various bonding mechanisms are a few examples.

The law currently on the books, which AB 1999 will change, requires CSDs to first determine that no private entity or person is willing to offer broadband in their sector before they are allowed to invest to do so. If they manage to get past the requirement but an entity or person enters the picture and is willing to provide those services, the...

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Posted August 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

One of the many states where legislators introduced broadband bills in 2018 was Ohio, where HB 378 appeared to offer a promising answer to funding rural broadband deployment. The bill obtained bipartisan support as it passed through several committees, but prior to the legislature's summer break, enthusiasm cooled.

Looking at Minnesota

HB 378 draws from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program by allocating specific funding for deployment. The bill also creates an entity to manage the funding awards. In Ohio, lawmakers anticipated funding would draw from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier Program, which was originally established to assist tech start-ups. In April, HB 378 passed the House with support from both Democrats and Republicans and seemed on a positive track. Two Senate committees also heard SB 225, a companion bill to HB 378.

A second broadband bill, HB 281, addresses only rural last mile connectivity and came before one committee. HB 281 also appeared to have support, but leadership never fast tracked the legislation. HB 281 allocated only $2 million, a fraction of the $100 million required over two years for HB 378. With one generous broadband bill and one much smaller to choose from, experts were left scratching their heads as to why both bills seemed to stop dead in their tracks.

What’s the Hold-up?

Speculation as to why neither of the bills have been advanced further by House and Senate leadership swirls around Governor Kasich’s administration. Democrat Jack Cera believes that the plans for the Third Frontier Fund has held up the process. Cera and other suggest that Governor Kasich wants to focus Third Frontier Funds in other directions, such as smart highways and autonomous vehicles. As far as Cera and others are concerned, broadband for rural Ohio is the priority:

“I think there’s been some push back on it. I would suggest that if the administration and others don’t want to use that funding that we should move forward to use general fund monies on it. To me, it means that type of...

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Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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