Tag: "funding"

Posted September 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Last December we wrote about Connecticut’s long-awaited victory by court affirmation in the fight to let its cities attach to utility poles at no cost in pursuit of spurring municipal broadband efforts. A similar effort seems to have stalled in its neighbor to the north, with HD 4492 languishing in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. 

The bill, “An Act To Establish Municipal Access To Utility Poles Located In Municipal Rights-Of-Way,” is simple. It modifies Chapter 166, Section 22a of the state’s General Laws to eliminate pole attachment fees for cities working to build broadband networks to reach “unserved or underserved areas” (as defined by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI)), shifting the expense instead to the current pole owner(s). John Barrett introduced the bill and two dozen fellow legislators co-signed it. It calls for: 

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the purpose of safeguarding access to infrastructure essential to public health, safety and welfare, an owner of a shared-use pole and each entity attaching to that pole is responsible for that owner's or entity's own expenses for make-ready work to accommodate a municipality's attaching its facilities to that shared-use pole: a) For a governmental purpose consistent with the police power of the municipality; or b) For the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area.

Up in the Air

For parts of the country where aerial fiber sits at the core of network builds as a result of challenges posed by underlying geology (bedrock), overlying geography (topography), or other concerns that preempt underground construction, utility poles are the answer. Massachusetts has more than a million of them, and for projects just navigating the franchise areas of electric utility pole owners [pds] alone could be a daunting task. Getting timely, affordable access for make-ready work is an obstacle which can easily stall and kill a broadband project even when the...

Read more
Posted September 2, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

That community networks act as a positive force in the broadband market is something we’ve covered for the better part of a decade, but a new study out in the journal Telecommunications Policy adds additional weight (along with lots of graphs and tables) which shows that states which enact barriers to entry for municipalities and cooperatives do their residents a serious disservice. 

“State Broadband Policy: Impacts on Availability” by Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University) and Robert Gallardo (Purdue University), out in the most recent issue of the journal, demonstrates that enacting effective state policies have a significant and undeniable impact on the pace of basic broadband expansion in both rural and urban areas, as well as speed investment in fiber across the United States. 

Digging into the Data

The research relies on the State Broadband Policy Explorer, released in July of 2019 by Pew Charitable Trusts, and focuses on broadband availability across the country from 2012-2018. Whitacre and Gallardo control for the other common factors which can affect whether an area has broadband or not (like household income, education, and the age of the development), and combine the FCC’s Form 477 census block-level data along with county-level data to explore expansion activities over the seven-year period. By making use of an analytical model called the Generalized Method of Moments, Whitacre and Gallardo are able to track all of these variables over a period of time to show that there is a statistically robust connection between specific state policies and their influence on the expansion of broadband Internet access all over the United States. 

The authors zero in on three particular policies that they say have among the most significant impact on whether a community has broadband or not: whether or not the state has passed laws restricting municipalities and cooperatives from building and operating broadband networks; whether or not the state has a broadband office devoted to expansion and staffed by full-time employees; and whether or not the state has a funding program...

Read more
Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

Read more
Posted August 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The United States Office of the Comptroller is hosting a webinar at the end of the month called “Banks Finance Broadband in Rural Areas & Indian Country” aimed at banks and local leaders looking to form partnerships to fund broadband projects for rural and tribal communities across the country. 

In addition to providing basic information on how community financial institutions can work with local governments, participants in a 2017 partnership which brought broadband to Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will be present to discuss their experience and answer questions.

Register for the event by clicking here.

New Rule, New Financing Options

Tribal communities face a host of ongoing connectivity obstacles, all of which have been exacerbated by the current public health crisis. Native student populations are much more likely to be affected by the homework gap, a problem that will remain as states and school districts struggle to put together a cohesive connectivity plan for the upcoming school year.

The program is one of the many that together come from the OCC's participation in the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), passed in 1977. The CRA directs federal financial regulators (including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to push FDIC-insured financial institutions to meet the credit needs of the communities they’re a part of, with emphasis on low- and moderate-income regions.

A new rule allows banks to consider broadband an essential infrastructure for financing projects, giving rural stakeholders wider access to capital for those kinds of ventures under consideration. It was adopted by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, of which the OCC is a member agency, in July of 2016 [pdf]. The Council now cites Internet...

Read more
Posted June 18, 2020 by christopher

As states are considering whether and how to use federal CARES Act funding to improve Internet access, Idaho is poised to enact counter-productive limits on who can use that money by excluding community-owned solutions.

Though many states have been under pressure from big monopoly providers to only fund for-profit business models with broadband subsidies, those voices seem largely absent in this Idaho fight. Instead, it is some local monopoly providers that are threatened by a wave of new community networks that break the old monopoly approach to broadband networks.

Shock and Aww, Come on

As Idaho began considering how to spend its CARES Act funding, it took comments from a variety of stakeholders on how to achieve the state’s broadband goals. That process suggested an inclusive, open-ended approach that could help fund a variety of efforts that would improve resilience in a variety of ways — not just new connections to homes.But when the Department of Commerce stepped up to operationalize those goals into a matching grant program, something came off the rails. The state is taking comments this week from Idahoans on an approach it unveiled Tuesday evening. View the draft grant application and rules.

This draft grant application goes through contortions to give the CARES Act money to private companies. The only entities that can apply are governments, including sovereign tribes, local governments, or Idaho state agencies. But they are purely a pass-through — the money must go to a private company per rule IV of eligible projects: "Include only new broadband service, installed, owned, and operated by for-profit companies and not the applicant."

cooperatives fiberize rural america

Requiring the networks to be built and operated by for-profit entities runs counter to the suggestions of many stakeholders who discussed how this money should be spent. Non-profit business models run by cooperatives have been essential to expanding the highest-quality Internet access in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana, as we have demonstrated in...

Read more
Posted June 17, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As part of its Lunch and Learn series, the Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN) is hosting a webinar next week on New Market Tax Credits. The webinar, scheduled for Tuesday, June 23 at 12 p.m. central, will explore how communities can use the tax credits to help fund and deploy broadband networks.

Registration is free and required. Sign up online.

Who’s Who

CBAN, based out of Iowa, advocates for community-based broadband solutions and assists communities in improving local connectivity. Members of CBAN include local governments, broadband providers, and community organizations.

Shawnna Silvius, director of the Montgomery County Development Corporation, will moderate the discussion. Speakers for the webinar are Myriam Simmons of tax services firm Ryan and Jonathan Klassen of Rural Development Partners.

Money, Money, Money

We’ve covered community broadband network financing options many times in the past.

While many local governments opt to issue bonds or search out state and federal grants to fund connectivity projects, some have taken different, innovative approaches. For example, Ammon, Idaho, is using Local Improvement Districts to build out its fiber network. And in Virginia, Nelson County took advantage of Community Development Block Grants to expand connectivity.

For more, check out our fact sheets on Financing Municipal Networks [pdf] and Creative Funding Sources For Fiber Infrastructure [pdf].

Posted May 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Update (6/18/20)

In response to the $1.25 billion Vermont received from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, lawmakers immediately began discussing using $100 million of it to bridge the state's digital divide, with fully $45 million going to construction of new fiber networks across the Green Mountain State. But they were quickly stopped short by restrictions set on the monies, which stipulated the strict terms by which the funds were to be used. In the end, the state won't be seeing any construction from these funds. Instead a smaller amount — $43 million — will be directed at immediate relief efforts rather than long-term planning:

  • "$13 million in proposed spending to connect Vermonters to broadband internet services. The bulk of that, $11 million, would create a program to be managed by the public service department called Get Vermonters Connected Now [to] provide subsidies to low-income Vermonters who can't afford to use broadband networks already available in their neighborhoods."
  • "$20 million to compensate utilities . . . for the cost of continuing to serve people who stopped paying bills due to COVID-19."
  • "$7.3 million for the Agency of Digital Services to make it more secure for state employees to work remotely and to upgrade the obsolete unemployment insurance computer system."
  • "$500,000 for a "telecommunications recovery plan."
  • "$466,500 for local cable access organizations in recognition of the additional coverage they've taken on during the pandemic."

It's possible that federal regulations could change, but in the meantime Vermonters will have to look inward to solve its connectivity challenges.

Original Story

Vermont’s Department of Public Service recently released an Emergency Broadband Action Plan that is among the most aggressive of all state responses to the coronavirus pandemic. The state currently has 944 cases of COVID-19, with 54 attributable deaths. A full third of households with school children lacked...

Read more
Posted May 7, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has worked for many years to protect privacy and civil liberties online and to support technological innovation and widespread Internet access.

Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at EFF, speaks with Christopher for this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. After explaining EFF's mission, Ernesto shares his background and how he got involved in the organization, before moving on to describe some of their policy efforts in California. The pair discuss EFF's involvement in repealing California's state law that had restricted municipal broadband networks. Christopher notes how AT&T has historically had a strong hold over Democrats in the state legislature, and Ernesto explains how EFF is working to counter that influence.

Ernesto and Christopher also talk about the California Advanced Services Fund and how State Bill 1130 would improve the program to bring better quality Internet access to more Californians. In particular, Ernesto points to the importance of symmetrical speeds and of designing policies that look to the future of connectivity. This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the two explore how the California Public Utilities Commission could help enable distance learning and respond to other urgent connectivity needs.

For more from EFF, listen to episode 145 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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

Read more
Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

Read more
Posted April 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last fall, we reported on the large number of community-owned broadband networks among the applicants for the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect broadband program, which awards grants and loans to expand rural connectivity.

Since then, the USDA has distributed more than $620 million to 70 providers in 31 states as part of ReConnect round one. Just over half of the awardees are community networks, including rural cooperatives, local governments, community agencies, and a tribal provider. The other ReConnect awardees are locally owned providers. Almost all grant and loan recipients plan to build high-quality fiber networks with the funds.

While the impact will be limited by the relatively modest size of the program and restrictive eligibility requirements, the ReConnect awards will nevertheless lead to improved economic opportunity and quality of life in rural areas. These investments will enable more rural Americans to take advantage of precision agriculture, online education, and telehealth visits — services that are now more important than ever as the nation finds itself in the grips of a pandemic.

Co-ops, Munis Win Big

Approximately 30 rural telephone and electric cooperatives in 16 different states are taking home ReConnect grants and loans from the first round of funding. Co-op awards include a nearly $19 million grant for Alaska-based Cordova Telecom Cooperative, a $28 million grant and loan for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and a $2.73 million grant for Emery Telecom for projects in Colorado and Montana.

USDA logo

Several municipal networks are also recipients of ReConnect funding. One of the awardees, Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa,...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to funding