Tag: "federal"

Posted June 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department released an updated FAQ clarifying many of the concerns and questions raised by numerous community broadband advocates and members of Congress about the Interim Final Rules (IFR) on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be spent on broadband infrastructure.

The day after the rules were first released in May we wrote about how it appeared the IFR, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure as the rules initially suggested communities were expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” While broadband experts might have felt comfortable with that language, it would almost certainly confuse lawsuit-leery city attorneys that have to sign-off on projects in areas with widespread gigabit cable broadband access.

Clarification to Make Community Broadband Advocates Clap

What does the requirement that infrastructure “be designed to” provide service to unserved or underserved households and businesses mean?

The updated FAQ sticks to the 25/3 benchmark, stating: “Designing infrastructure investments to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses means prioritizing deployment of infrastructure that will bring service to households or businesses that are not currently serviced by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed.”

However, the FAQ goes on to say, “to meet this requirement, states and localities should use funds to deploy broadband infrastructure projects whose objective is to provide service to unserved or underserved households or businesses. These unserved or underserved households or businesses do not need to be the only ones in the service area funded by the project (emphasis added).”

The updated Treasury document further...

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Posted June 2, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The day after the U.S. Treasury published the Interim Final Rules on how Coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan Act can be spent, we sounded the alarm because it appears the rules, if finalized as is, would significantly limit local communities’ ability to invest in needed broadband infrastructure.

Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and eight other members of Congress joined the growing number of community broadband advocates who share those concerns.

On Tuesday, May 25, Sen. Wyden sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her “to ensure any community with service that falls below (the Treasury’s) own standard of 100 (Megabits per second) Mbps upload and download speeds is eligible for funding.”

Two days later, U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-California) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) penned a similar letter that was also signed by Wyden and six other members of Congress (U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Lori Trahan, Peter Welch, and Debbie Dingell). Eshoo and Booker have long led efforts to support local initiatives to expand Internet access with community solutions.

25/3 Not Sufficient  

Even as the Treasury acknowledges that families really need 100/100 Mbps service, as the Interim Rules are currently written it suggests communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline service “reliably available.” About 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by flawed federal estimates, although millions lack service because it is unaffordable or effectively unreliable. And there is no standard for reliability that communities can measure against.

The Eshoo/Booker letter is particularly salient on this point: 

Furthermore, expecting municipalities to determine what areas are ‘reliably’ served by 25/3 is itself a major obstacle. For years, the federal government has failed to develop a map...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Christopher Mitchell

Earlier this year in March, the Biden Administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included, among many other things, multiple sources of funds for broadband infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Treasury was tasked with writing the rules of how local governments can spend the various funds. The Interim Rule has been published and it appears to significantly limit local ability to invest in needed networks. 

The rules say that communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Mbps service reliably available. But there is no measure of what “reliably” means (in federal statute or otherwise). More than 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by best estimates. The result is considerable confusion for urban areas across the nation who no longer qualify for broadband investments under a strict reading of the proposed rules. This is not what the Biden Administration had suggested we should expect in its many press communications about its broadband approach. 

This discussion is about Section 602, which details the direct payments to local governments under the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund. The aid offered to local governments has numerous authorized expenditures, including broadband infrastructure.

The Interim Rule that governs this program was released yesterday and appears to limit broadband infrastructure investment solely to the most rural regions: those lacking wireline connections reliably delivering 25/3 Mbps (Fact Sheet). Though in excess of 10 million children struggled with remote schooling in urban areas, the Biden Administration is not allowing local governments responsible for them in urban areas to build better networks that would meet their long-term needs. Unconnected families may get some temporary help via the Emergency Broadband Benefit or hotspots from temporary aid to schools, but communities cannot use the funds intended for broadband infrastructure to actually build networks that would permanently solve this...

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Posted April 13, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress and the Biden Administration included a multi-billion dollar appropriation to help expand high-speed Internet access. This guide offers an overview of the different funding opportunities for communities interested in expanding broadband services. As application deadlines vary in some cases and other money must be spent within certain time frames, it is critical for states, municipalities, community organizations, and Tribal governments to start planning initiatives now. 

It’s also worth emphasizing that 18 states still put localities at a disadvantage when it comes to spending anticipated funding effectively by preserving laws that interfere with community investment in broadband infrastructure. Much of this money could also be funneled for other purposes due to a lack of good plans and community engagement. 

The amount of funding flowing into communities is unprecedented. Localities should prepare to spend funds on needed, futureproof infrastructure. This is an historic, once-in-a-lifetime investment in Internet infrastructure and communities who develop a clear, actionable plan and are as ready as possible once the money starts flowing will prosper.

Directory

If you’re a homeowner looking for assistance paying your Internet bill…look to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program or Homeowner’s Assistance Fund

If you’re an HBCU or Minority-serving institution looking to expand Internet access to your students, or if you’re a minority business enterprise or nonprofit organization in the surrounding community...look to the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

if you’re a Tribal government, Tribal organization, or Tribal college or university, including native Hawaiian organizations, education programs and native corporations…look to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

If you’re a city interested in partaking in a public-private partnership…look to the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program

If you’re a school or library whose main concern is obtaining remote Internet access devices...look to the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

 

Federal Aid Directly To States, Counties, Localities and Territories

Out of the $1.9 trillion in fiscal relief provided by the...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.  

The State Scene 

Washington 

We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.

Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months. 

Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.

The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region. 

H.B. 1336, which aims to allow PUDs, ports, cities, towns, and counties to provide Internet access services on a retail basis, was amended by Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 25 to increase the requirements that must be met by counties, cities, and towns before they...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

One component of the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 was the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program designed to get families connected to available service that they otherwise might not be able to afford. The program provides a subsidy of up to $50/month (or $75 on tribal lands) for broadband service as well as up to $100 for a device (with a household contribution) for as long as the money lasts.

On this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher is joined by Travis Carter (CEO of USI Fiber), Angela Siefer (executive director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Olivia Wein (attorney with the National Consumer Law Center) to talk about how the Emergency Broadband Benefit will work and what their expectations are. They discuss who will be able to take advantage of the program and try to predict some of the challenges for the people who need it and the small ISPs that would like to participate.

Finally, the group weighs in with how providers can forge partnerships with groups like PCs for People to get hardware into homes, the need for digital navigators to help community members navigate the process of getting and staying online, and the long-term prospects for renewal of the program.

This show is 61 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here....

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Posted March 31, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Join us for Episode 9 of Connect This!, where hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Joanne Hovis (President, CTC Energy and Technology) and Doug Dawson (President, CCG Consulting) to talk about the recently signed American Rescue Plan Act, which has the potential to funnel an unprecedented level of funding to communities which can be used for Internet infrastructure.

Together they'll talk about what can be done with this money, what restrictions exist, and how communities can ready themselves to embark upon broadband projects quickly. Christopher, Travis, Joanne, and Doug will also explore the viability of the variety of technologies available for deployment, and what it would look like for local officials to boldly take the reins and move the needle on locally owned information infrastructure for their communities.

The show will begin on Monday, April 5th at 4pm ET/3pm CT via this link, or watch below.

Subscribe to the show using this feed

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Posted January 6, 2021 by

This piece was authored by Jericho Casper from Broadband Breakfast.

The digital divide afflicting the United States has become even more apparent throughout the pandemic, repositioning the issue of universal broadband access to the forefront of many Washington policy agendas, including that of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Biden presidential campaign’s website early on included a plan for rural America that highlighted how the COVID-19 crisis deepened many of the challenges that were already confronting Americans, including “lack of access to health care, unreliable broadband, and the chronic under funding of public schools.”

The plan further states that “Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed Internet access to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected” and promises to “expand broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American.”

Biden’s Top Four Priorities Convey an Urgent Need for Advanced Infrastructure

Of the challenges facing the incoming administration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it seems clear that universal broadband is critical to each of them.

Biden’s campaign website specifically lists universal broadband as a priority in bolstering economic recovery, fighting climate change, and advancing racial economic equity. Universal access to broadband also underscores  the fourth top policy initiative listed on the Biden campaign website, battling COVID-19, although the incoming administration fails to link broadband as a precondition for this priority.

As a presidential candidate, Biden called broadband a tool to put Americans to work during a visit to Hermantown, Minnesota.

The campaign’s plan for economic recovery specifically links the country’s financial recovery to mobilizing American work forces in the construction of  “modern, sustainable infrastructure” and “sustainable engines of growth,” connecting universal broadband to building a clean energy economy, addressing the climate crisis, and creating millions of “good-paying, union jobs.”

...

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Posted January 5, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

While the bulk of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act proposes to invest $100 billion to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved parts of the country, the legislation also looks to build an essential bridge across the digital divide that goes beyond new infrastructure. An important part of the equation involves addressing laws and policies that have proven to be obstacles to Internet connectivity for tens of millions of Americans.

In our previous installments examining the AAIA, we covered the big-ticket items – the why, how and where the $100+ billion would be invested. This final installment in the series covers the last three major sections of the bill: Title IV – Community Broadband; Title V – Broadband Infrastructure Deployment; and Title VI – Repeal of Rule and Prohibition on Use of NPRM.

These last three sections of the AAIA do not call for any federal appropriations but instead aim to tackle several thorny policy challenges.

Removing State Barriers to Municipal Broadband Initiatives

Title IV – Community Broadband (Section 4001) of the bill is straight-forward. It would prohibit state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that prevent local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.

As it stands now, there are 19 states across the country where state legislators have passed laws designed to shield the biggest corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from competition. Those laws were mostly written by lobbyists for these behemoth monopolies and duopolies, despite the fact that the Big Telcos have failed to deliver reliable, affordable and truly high-speed Internet access to large segments of the population.

In Colorado, for example, legislators in that state passed SB-...

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Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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