Tag: "funding"

Posted November 17, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

If you live in western North Carolina and struggle with the lack of quality Internet access, the Southwestern Commission — a council of local governments for the region’s seven westernmost counties — in cooperation with the MountainWest Partneship are urging residents to take this survey. Counties in the council include Haywood, Swain, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Cherokee, and Clay.

The goal is to quantify the demand for Internet regionally, focusing on individual counties as opposed to census blocks, in order to better determine accessibility issues. It’s an important process to show Internet providers that there is demand, debunking ISPs claim that rural demand for high-speed Internet doesn't justify the investment. Better data can also establish a foundation for future funding opportunities.

Sarah Thompson, the executive director of the council explained,

It’s really in my opinion one of the most important parts of the process. You’re basically showing [internet service providers] that there is demand, it’s showing even when there is service it’s subpar. In order to move forward with projects, we have to have that data to back up the need. To show that there are opportunities.

FCC’s Inaccurate Data Collection

Through the FCC’s form 477 data collection efforts, the Commission attempted to carry out these crucial first steps in showing aggregate demand and problematic broadband service. The data was compiled into the easily accessible National Broadband Map.

Data is collected from ISPs and it provides information to the FCC based on which census blocks ISPs serve. The problem is that this data exaggerates where coverage is available in rural areas where census blocks can be very large. Areas that may appear on the FCCs maps to be served or to be served with better connectivity are often in reality not served or served with Internet access much slower than FCC mapping indicates. Because state and federal entities typically award grants and loans to communities with the greatest need first, incorrect mapping eliminates rural communities from funding opportunities when they need it the most.

Not only... Read more

Posted November 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Just days ago, voters in more than a dozen Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152 the way Rio Blanco County did in 2014. The rural western county has since started connecting residents and businesses to high-quality Internet access via its publicly owned open access fiber optic infrastructure. Due to high demand, they recently announced that they’re making changes in their business plan and taking a more direct role in operations.

Until now, Rio Blanco County has worked with Colorado Fiber Community (CFC) under a three-layered plan in which CFC contracts with the county to perform maintenance and operations on the network that the county owns. Local ISPs LAI and Cimarron use the infrastructure to deliver services to the public and work directly with subscribers. The county has decided to end its agreement with CFC and take over operations and maintenance.

Too Much Good Internet

The popularity of the project created its own problems when the demand for service far outpaced estimates. CFC budgeted $1.5 million to fund connections in a timely manner but quickly depleted those funds. The county had expected a take rate of 40 percent, but this September CFC anticipated a take rate of 75 - 80 percent.

Without additional funding to expedite installations, CFC would have been limited to connecting 10 - 15 premises per month. Such a rate would only meet about ten percent of the expected demand, when considering more than 100 premises had been connected in August.

Rather than dramatically slow the rate of installations, Rio Blanco County Commissioners decided in September that the county would pay for the first $1,160 required to connect each premise. Property owners are responsible for any additional costs. The Commissioners voted to use reserves to fund the remaining drops.

County Commissioner Si Woodruff told the Herald Times earlier this year:

“We promised the people we’d... Read more

Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T... Read more

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... Read more

Posted October 10, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

On August 1, 2017, the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank awarded Grove City, Ohio a $2 million loan to support their construction of a municipal fiber optic network. 

The Grove City Plan

According to the city’s Request for Proposal (RFP), the city is focused on first establishing an institutional network (I-Net) and plan to expand it to serve local businesses over time. The initial fiber optic network will connect Grove City to the South-Western City Schools, the townships of Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO). The goal is to create a network with a baseline of ten gigabits symmetric service, ten times the speed of current connections provided by Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable).

According to Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage, the increase in network speed will attract businesses and will generate a 100 new jobs for the city. Josh Roth, Senior Program Coordinator for Economic Development and Planning, has said “that Grove City has committed to one hundred jobs over the next three years.”

During the August 1, 2017 general session, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners  passed the resolution to authorize the loan to the city of Grove City. 

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce celebrated the project:

“[T]he fiber optics really makes a difference because companies will look at whether to expand or move there [Grove City]. It could be a deciding factor. Those are jobs that are retained that you may not see."

For more information on the positive relationship between publicly owned Internet network infrastructure and reyaining or... Read more

Posted October 2, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates. 

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland's arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “... Read more

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,... Read more

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 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development, which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.

Minnesota Setting The Trend

seal-minnesota.jpg This isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report... Read more

Posted September 6, 2017 by htrostle

Get your applications ready! The United States Department of Agriculture  Rural Utilities Service (USDA RUS) is accepting applications for another round of loans for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. This program provides loans of up to $20 million for rural connectivity. The window to apply opened September 1st, and the deadline is September 30, 2017.

Thousands To Millions Of Dollars For Rural Areas

The USDA RUS has at least $60 million available this funding cycle for this program. All loans will be between $100,000 and $20 million. The program will only consider funding projects that offer speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

For this program, the USDA RUS focuses on completely rural communities where at least 15 percent of households do not have high-speed Internet access. To be eligible, these rural areas cannot have more than two incumbent providers or have previously received USDA RUS funding. 

Although the program is specific to rural communities, most organizations are eligible to apply, including tribal governments, local governments, cooperatives, and corporations. No partnerships and no individuals may apply for funding, however, as the loans must go only to organizations.

This is only one of the Broadband programs that the USDA RUS manages. The agency also handles the Community Connect Grants and the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program. The report “Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in USDA’s Rural Utilities Service” from the Congressional Research Services describes these programs in more detail.

Online Submission Only

The USDA RUS officially began accepting submissions September 1st and organizations have until September 30, 2017, to apply. If you are working in an area with poor Internet service, it’s important to note that this program only accepts applications through an online system. 

Through the online system, RUS staff can review applications and answer questions as they are developed. Once an application is complete and submitted, the staff cannot provide feedback and the organizations cannot edit their applications. 

Learn more... Read more

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