Tag: "american rescue plan act"

Posted October 14, 2021 by Jericho Casper

North Louisiana has more premises unserved with high-speed Internet access than any other region of the state. In an effort to bring reliable Internet access to its members who have gone without service, directors of the Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative (NELPCO) recently agreed to pursue a $54 million fiber buildout. 

During a special meeting called on June 29th, NELPCO’s Board of Directors voted 5-2 to begin providing high-speed Internet access across the seven rural parishes the cooperative serves through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Volt Broadband LLC.

The exact details of the project and how it will be funded are still being worked out. But, the cooperative is preparing to bond for $50 million to deploy fiber infrastructure across its 2,180-square-mile service territory, which runs from “south of Turkey Creek Lake in Franklin Parish north to the Arkansas line, and extends into Morehouse Parish,” according to the cooperative’s website.

Construction of the fiber network will be completed in segments, beginning in the most populated regions and extending to the most rural, to eventually serve all 11,000 co-op members.

The cooperative will put up the majority of its capital credit – $30 million – as collateral to secure the bond. “Capital credits are retained margins left over at the end of the year at nonprofit electric cooperatives such as NELPCO,” Board of Director member Thad Waters told The Franklin Sun. “This is the most significant source of equity for most cooperatives, and capital credits reflect each member's ownership in the cooperative.”

Aiming to Reinvigorate Industry

Positioned in the delta of rich soils between the Ouachita and Mississippi rivers, agriculture has dominated the economy of Louisiana’s northeast region for centuries. Where once cotton was king, driving through the region...

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Posted October 5, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Following hundreds of requests from community members urging the local Public Utility District (PUD) to address the lack of Internet access in Lewis County, Washington, the Lewis County PUD is answering the call with a proposal to construct an open access countywide fiber-to-the-home network and a relentless pursuit of broadband construction grant opportunities on behalf of its 33,000 members.

The plan to construct the 110-mile-long fiber backbone – anticipated to cost between $110 and $130 million to build – is months in the making. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the PUD has applied for over $30 million of state and federal broadband grants. 

In August of 2020, the PUD applied for a $5.5 million grant through the Washington State Public Works Board to provide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services to residents of four communities in the western region of the county – “from west Chehalis to Adna and Pe Ell along Highway 6, and down through the Boistfort Valley,” according to the PUD’s website

When that grant application was not awarded, the PUD turned to the USDA’s Community Connect program to propose a smaller project that would serve three of the four aforementioned communities. The USDA is expected to announce those grant recipients soon. 

Lewis County PUD’s most recent attempt to access funding for the project was in May of 2021, when the PUD’s Commissioners requested that Lewis County Commissioners reserve $1 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the countywide broadband project. The PUD, hopeful that county officials will honor the request, is...

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Posted September 28, 2021 by Jericho Casper

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA). 

In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.

This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.

Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide. 

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks...
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Posted September 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

With the first traunch of American Rescue Plan funds going out to counties and cities earlier this summer, many local leaders have begun to propose projects and seek input from citizens about how they should be used. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) represents an unprecedented amount of money flowing to local governments, but the consequences of operating for more than a year and a half under the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic are such that there seems to be so many things that need attention.

Access to universal, affordable, fast Internet access is among them, but the road from recognizing the need and implementing thoughtful policies is not an equally smooth one for all. Sometimes, a little inspiration is all it takes.

That's where our new resource comes in. Our Big List of American Rescue Plan Community Broadband Projects documents the ongoing list of city, county, and state projects which are under consideration, have been announced, or are under way. Arranged alphabetically by state and organized by whether they are under consideration or are planned, the below are those broadband expansion projects being pursued by cities and counties as they look to expand access via telephone and electric cooperatives, nonprofits, community-owned solutions, or private providers. 

This resource will be updated in the coming weeks and months, but if you have any corrections, additions, or updates, please email ry@ilsr.org

Read Our Big List of American Rescue Plan Community Broadband Projects here.

Posted August 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

There’s a sign in the middle of Lempster, N.H. that reads: “On nearby Allen Road on December 4, 1939, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative set its first utility pole, an important event in bringing electric service to the farms, mills and homes of the New Hampshire countryside.”

Richard Knox, chairman of the citizen group New Hampshire Broadband Advocates and a member of Broadband Advisory Committee in the town of Sandwich, wrote in the New Hampshire Union Leader about the history behind the sign and why modern-day co-op members are once again celebrating:

When the lights first switched on back in that long-ago December, Lempster schoolchildren marched to the first pole behind a 23-piece band … Residents danced in the streets and partied well into the night … Eighty-one Decembers later, Lempster can claim bragging rights to another momentous first. On December 15, local and state officials joined leaders of the Electric Co-op to celebrate the light-up of its new fiber-optic broadband network.

Expanding Town-by-Town

As we reported then, after New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) members voted to authorize the co-op to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity to its 84,000 members spread out across 115 towns and cities in the Granite State, just weeks later, NHEC connected its first 900 households in Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook and Stewartstown to its core network, funded with a $6.7 million grant from the state’s Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Program.

Last month, having been...

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Posted August 18, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Nonprofit Alleghenies Broadband is leading a cohesive effort across a six-county region in south-central Pennsylvania to bring high-speed Internet access to areas that are unserved or underserved by reliable networks.

Part of its work is a recently completed Request for Proposals (RFP) in search of forming a series of public-private partnerships to help identify target areas and offer robust solutions to bring new infrastructure to the businesses and residents who need it most. As that process continues to unfold, however, the nonprofit is already working with city and county leaders to pursue a range of wireline and fixed wireless options that will result in better service and publicly owned infrastructure. 

A Regional Approach

Formed in October 2020, Alleghenies Broadband is part of the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission. By coordinating efforts in six counties (Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset, collectively representing about 500,000 residents), it hopes to address the broadband gaps scattered across the region. Somerset, Fulton, and Huntingdon seem to be in the worst shape at present: while many residents have access to cable service, large swaths of the counties are stuck with DSL or satellite service only, leading to median download speeds of just 3.7-8 Megabits per second (Mbps) (see Fulton and Huntingdon coverage maps below, with satellite-only areas in grey). The remaining three counties also have significant gaps where no wireline access is available, representing thousands of households with poor or no service.

The recently closed RFP from Alleghenies Broadband offers collaboration with the “six boards of county commissioners in the Region, [as well as]...

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Posted August 13, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Jamestown - home to 30,000 residents, the largest population center in western Chautauqua County - could become the first city in the state of New York to construct a citywide municipal fiber network using American Rescue Plan relief funds.

In April, Mayor Eddie Sundquist formed a task force to assess the potential for a municipal fiber network in Jamestown. The city is currently working with EntryPoint Networks on a feasibility study to estimate the overall cost of the project, as well as surveying residential interest in building a municipally owned open access broadband network in Jamestown. 

If the city's American Rescue Plan spending plan is approved by the Jamestown City Council, Jamestown will be the first city in New York state to embark on a municipal fiber build. Although many cities across New York state own dark fiber assets, and cooperatives in the southeastern and northern regions of the state are serving some residents, no city in the Empire State has moved forward with building a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.  

Idea Dating Back to Sundquist’s Mayoral Campaign 

Connecting citizens to new technology was a component of Mayor Eddie Sundquist’s 2019 mayoral campaign, centered around efforts to enhance economic development and community revitalization projects.

“Who says that we can’t become a technology hub attracting businesses around the country with our low cost of living and rich resources? Who says we can’t wire broadband and fiber to every home and business in this city at a lower cost?,” WRFA reported Sundquist campaigning in 2019.

In an interview with ILSR, Mayor Sundquist recalled that the message was well-received by Jamestown residents, and that even pre-pandemic, city residents were calling for more reliable Internet access offering higher speeds. 

Jamestown residents are currently stuck with one or two Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to choose from: Charter Spectrum and Windstream. In the process of conducting the...

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Posted July 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

New Jersey establishes state committee to strategize deployment of community broadband networks

Louisiana Senate amends bill, opening state grant program to municipally-owned providers

Washington laws expanding municipal authority to provide retail service take effect

The State Scene

New Jersey 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on July 7, enacted legislation (A.B. 850) establishing a new state committee tasked with evaluating where community broadband networks should be established across the state, by surveying areas where public networks would be most feasible to deploy.

The 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission “will consider the logistics of deploying community broadband networks and report on its findings to the Governor and the Legislature,” reports ROI NJ. “The mission includes completing a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the nation, the costs of constructing and maintaining networks, and the costs to subscribers for monthly access.” 

The Commission will also evaluate impediments to broadband access in the state, including those related to physical access, affordability, and digital literacy. After submitting recommendations to the state Governor and Legislature, the committee will dissolve within a year of its first meeting. 

Louisiana 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a bill (H.B. 648) allocating $180 million of incoming federal relief funds toward establishing a grant program - open to both public and private broadband providers - aimed at jumpstarting the buildout of Internet infrastructure to unserved communities across the Bayou State. 

Before the bill passed the Louisiana Senate, it was amended to remove an exclusion that would have required local governments using the grants to contract with...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection

California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network

New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor

The State Scene 

Maine

The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24. 

The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025. 

Members of the ConnectME Authority are one step ahead of state legislators. During a June virtual emergency meeting, the ConnectME Authority voted (5 yes-1 abstention) to set the statewide definition of what constitutes “broadband” as a symmetrical 100/100 megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. The public board also moved (5 yes-1 no) to redesignate what “underserved” means, defining it as areas which lack access to Internet connections at 50/10 Mbps. 

Before...

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Posted June 30, 2021 by Jericho Casper

ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, for a live discussion centered on the “Investment Implications of a Federal Broadband Infrastructure Bill.”

During the discussion, Christopher breaks down the various pots of money the federal government has dedicated to expanding Internet infrastructure and access to date. He points to the shortcomings of current federal programs, among which are provisions that set aside funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund going to short-term, incumbent-friendly solutions.

Christopher noted that while the Emergency Broadband Benefit has helped income eligible households by providing $50 to $75 a month subsidies for home Internet subscriptions, it leaves uncertain what the future holds for these communities when the funds run out. Similarly, he points to restrictions placed on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which limit the ability of schools and libraries to use the funds to build their own networks. Throughout the discussion, Chris maintains that public dollars should be spent on more sustainable, long-term solutions. 

Christopher and Drew also discuss what states are planning to do with the windfall from the federal government by way of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. Each state is receiving a minimum of $100 million for broadband projects enabling remote work, education, and health monitoring. Mitchell highlights the plans Maryland and California developed to use the incoming federal funds as leading examples in contrast to Idaho which is set to funnel the money entirely to private...

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