One of the dangers of federal programs like the broadband stimulus programs BTOP and BIP is that the feds make the rules... and sometimes they just change the rules.
I previously wrote about how the BTOP rules privileged private companies over the public sector (despite Congress' clear intent to prioritize the public sector). As this article notes, NTIA effectively changed those rules along the way -- resulting in what might technically be termed "screwing over" a variety of applicants.
Though the Round 1 rules encouraged applicants to apply for last-mile funds, the vast majority of awards went to middle mile applications. In fact, while in Lafayette, we tried to name more than 5 last-mile grants. Why the change in focus? The most likely reason seems to be opposition from powerful, well connected incumbent companies that did not want to deal with the hassle of competition in small parts of their territories.
So NTIA quietly chose to award funds to less controversial projects. The problem is that the hundreds of applicants poured money and resources into proposals for last-mile projects that they believed would be considered in good faith.
We never miss an opportunity to note that whoever owns the network makes the rules. Well, whoever disburses the funds, makes the rules (and in this case, quietly changes the rules). And in DC, corporate interests all have a seat at the table. When one goes begging to DC for funds, one should not be surprised at the many hoops and frustrations of that process.
Not only are communities better off owning their infrastructure - they are generally better off when they take responsibility for financing the network and do not depend on free money (whether from the private sector or DC). Communities have financed networks with a variety of means -- from a loan from a local bank to bonds (taxable, nontaxable, general obligation, revenue, etc) to slowly expanding networks over a longer period of time.
TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - Robert A. Heinlein
Blue River, Colorado is the latest Colorado municipality to explore building its own broadband network with an eye on affordable access. The town is part of a trend that’s only accelerated since the state eliminated industry-backed state level protections restricting community-owned broadband networks. Town leaders recently hired the consulting firm, NEO Connect, to explore the possibility of building a town-wide fiber network.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) is in the midst of accepting applications for a second round of funding, with nearly $1 billion in grants available. A significant program with important limitations, TBCP has made some changes in round two – including one that could mean the resurgence of old barriers for Tribes. Among other changes, round two introduces new requirements for determining whether a location is eligible for funding, a shift that will likely have significant implications for Tribes.
California has an ambitious $6 billion proposal to shore up affordable broadband access throughout the state, which includes a $3.25 billion plan to build an open-access statewide broadband middle-mile network backers say could transform competition in the Golden State. But while the proposal has incredible potential, digital equity advocates remain concerned that the historic opportunity could be squandered.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently announced it has created a “programmatic waiver” that offers alternatives to the much-criticized letter-of-credit (LOC) requirement buried in the BEAD program. The waiver is good news for independent ISPs and also local and state governments looking to invest in municipal broadband projects or public-private partnerships.
A new chapter in state-Tribal relations is being written as the importance of robust and reliable telecommunication becomes all-too-apparent, especially in the face of more frequent extreme weather events. For the first time, a Tribe in California is building high-speed Internet infrastructure in collaboration with the state, thanks to the resilience of the Hoopa Valley people. With NTIA grant funding now secure, Hoopa Valley is on the cusp of building out a fiber network and more reliable wireless infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet access to over 1,000 on-reservation homes currently without service.
In another set of awards to connect communities in Indian Country to high-quality, reliable, and affordable broadband, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released over $74 million to help fund Tribal Broadband projects across the country.