Tag: "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act"

Posted June 13, 2022 by Karl Bode

For more than a year and a half, the nation’s top telecommunications regulator has been stuck in limbo, thanks to a combination of federal dysfunction and industry lobbying. Now the nomination of popular reformer Gigi Sohn to the FCC is facing a full frontal assault by telecom monopolies dedicated to preventing the agency from standing up to monopoly power.

After an inexplicable nine-month delay, President Biden nominated consumer advocate Gigi Sohn to the FCC late last year. Sohn, Co-Founder and CEO of consumer group Public Knowledge and a former advisor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is well versed in media and telecom policy, and broadly popular across both sides of the aisle

Yet since her belated nomination, Sohn has been met with a bevy of telecom, media-industry, and politically constructed allegations designed to derail her nomination, ranging from false claims that she’d harm rural America, manufactured allegations that she hates police, and false assertions that she’s looking to censor conservative voices in media

All of these efforts serve one function: to ensure the nation’s top telecommunications regulator remains mired in partisan gridlock and a 2-2 commissioner voting split. Without a clear voting majority, the agency can’t embrace reforms that are widely popular with the public, whether that’s restoring the FCC’s consumer protection authority, or restoring recently-discarded media consolidation rules.

It also prevents the restoration of net neutrality rules designed to protect consumers and competitors from the whims of telecom monopolies. A recent poll out of the University of Maryland indicates that a broad, bipartisan majority...

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Posted June 3, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) released by NTIA is packed with guidance and regulations for how tens of billions in new funding with be spent. Reading the rules closely gives us a sense of who they might advantage, at least early on, and the line NTIA is trying to walk in giving the money the most bang for its buck while also heading off abuse. 

On a recent episode of the Connect This! Show, Christopher Mitchell, Travis Carter (USI Internet), Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber), and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) tackled what we know, what we don't, and what's likely to happen as states begin to file their letters of intent to participate in the program. Watch the shorts below to see them tackle Congressional intent, supply chain requirements, who we think will apply for these subgrants, and WISPs and overbuilding.

 

Watch the full episode here.

Subscribe to the show using this feed on YouTube Live or here on Facebook Live, on find it on the Connect This! page.

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

Posted May 24, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Mountain Connect 2022 got a big kick off this morning in Keystone, Colorado with a Q&A discussion between National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and Broadband Breakfast CEO, Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

Davidson provided a broad overview of the newly released Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access & Deployment (BEAD) program, which set the table for the multitude of break-out sessions that attracted a who’s who of broadband providers, vendors, policy-makers and vendors.

Under the BEAD program, each of the 50 states will be eligible to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed Internet access, though most states will receive hundreds of millions more as additional funding will be allocated to states based on a formula that takes into account how many unserved households are in each state.

Most States On Board for BEAD

Davidson said that 25 states have already submitted their Letter of Intent (LOI) to seek BEAD funding. In all, 35 states have indicated they will also participate in the program so far as NTIA works with the other 15 states and territories to encourage them to take advantage of the largest ever federal investment in broadband.

While Davidson touted the unprecedented opportunity now being made available to states to close the digital divide, Clark did probe him on several concerns around the requirements of the BEAD application process that a number of broadband advocates and small- to midsize Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have raised since the NOFO was released on May 13.

One question in particular Clark raised was the letter of credit requirement that subgrantees must acquire to qualify for funding. A number of ISPs and local officials interested in municipal...

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Posted May 16, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The window to request an unprecedented amount of federal funds to support state broadband grant programs is now open for business.

On Friday the 13th, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) officially announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access & Deployment (BEAD) program.

The BEAD program, which is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that was passed in November 2021, represents the single largest federal investment in broadband expansion in U.S. history. The program, according to NTIA’s own definition, is designed to allocate the funds to all 50 states (U.S. territories and Tribal governments) to support “projects that help expand high-speed Internet access … (through) infrastructure deployment, mapping, and adoption. This includes planning and capacity-building in state offices. And it supports outreach and coordination with local communities.”

The Application Process Has Begun

We have documented and discussed the BEAD program on numerous occasions, which you can find here. But the big news that comes with the NOFO release are the application deadlines associated with it.

States have until July 18 to submit their Letter of Intent (LOI), a required first step for states to receive a minimum of $100 million in BEAD funds. (States will be allocated additional funding based on a formula that takes into account how many unserved households are in each state).

According to the BEAD application guidelines released with the NOFO, the LOI must include:

  • A statement that the Eligible Entity intends to participate in the program; 
  • Specific information to identify the agency, department, or office that will serve as the recipient of, and administering agent for,...
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Posted April 20, 2022 by Karl Bode

Freshly proposed legislation in Missouri would prohibit towns and cities from using federal funds to improve broadband access in areas telecom monopolies already claim to serve. It’s just the latest attempt by incumbent telecom giants to ensure that an historic wave of federal broadband funding won’t harm their revenues by boosting local broadband competition.

Missouri SB 1074 - Sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R., District 12), proclaims that “no federal funds received by the state, political subdivision, city, town, or village shall be expended for the construction of retail broadband internet infrastructure unless the project to be constructed is located in an unserved area or underserved area.” It passed the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on April 13th.

According to the bill, the Missouri Office of Broadband Infrastructure would certify the project prior to a political subdivision receiving authorization. Before being authorized, the office would be mandated to check with incumbent broadband providers to ensure that they don’t offer service in the specified area. 

The bill prohibits federal funding for any projects in areas where a single provider already receives funding to deliver 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds. If it passes, it also allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to submit written challenges to grant applicants within 45 days. The Department of Economic Development would then be tasked with determining the truthfulness of each challenge. 

Only if applicants can prove they’re servicing an “unserved” or “underserved” area (which again is defined by flawed FCC Form 477 data that routinely overstates existing coverage and speeds using broadband definitions set at ankle height) will the applications be deemed valid. 

But the bill gives incumbent monopolies even greater leverage in the challenge process, by letting them challenge a deployment if an incumbent ISP has “taken affirmative steps to begin the process of construction to provide broadband,” or “has been designated funding through federal programs to support the deployment of broadband” in the targeted areas.

As such, it looks like the current version of the bill would allow incumbent ISPs  to block federal funding to competitors if...

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Posted April 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although we were initially concerned that certain language in New York’s proposed state budget would lock out municipal broadband projects from being able to capitalize on the federal funding bonanza contained in the American Rescue Plan Act and forthcoming money in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill that was ultimately signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul was amended and has some golden nuggets for municipal broadband.

The recently enacted $220 billion budget bill includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative, which Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office calls “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure (that) will leverage public and private investments to connect New Yorkers in rural and urban areas statewide to broadband and establish the first municipal broadband program of its kind in the nation.”

Cultivating a Municipal Broadband Ecosystem

In part MMM of the budget bill, it establishes a “municipal assistance program … to provide grant funding to municipalities, state and local authorities ... to plan and construct infrastructure necessary to provide broadband services.”

Municipal grant recipients, the bill says, will be required to build broadband infrastructure to “facilitate projects that, at a minimum, provide reliable Internet service with consistent speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and at least 20 (Mbps) for upload.” That shouldn’t be a problem as most municipal broadband projects use fiber optics that can deliver far more than that. 

How much of the ConnectALL money will be allocated for the municipal grant fund has not yet been determined. But, community broadband advocates should not lose sight of the significance of the broadband ecosystem that is being cultivated in conjunction with other parts of the budget bill.

The budget bill also includes two provisions that will reduce the cost of building last mile networks. One repeals the fees associated with laying high-speed fiber cables along state highways, which...

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Posted March 23, 2022 by

This week’s episode of our Community Broadband Bits podcast is particularly insightful for communities considering how to leverage the broadband expansion funds embedded in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in November 2021.

Although the funds will likely not be allocated to state grant programs until the end of 2022/early 2023, the time is now for state and local leaders interested in building community-owned networks to best position themselves to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation investment.

Christopher is joined by Nancy Werner, General Counsel of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), an under-the-radar organization that advises local government officials on telecommunication issues.

During the conversation, the two talk about NATOA and its role in supporting community broadband projects with a particular focus on how the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program contained in the infrastructure bill is structured. Christopher and Nancy zero in on exactly how BEAD grant money can be used. Although the bill was written to first focus on mostly rural communities who do not have access to minimum broadband connections of 25/3 Megabits per second, they delve into the nitty gritty of how the funds can be used to prioritize bringing high-speed Internet access to multi-dwelling units even in densely-populated urban centers.

As Christopher notes:

This is important because this is a question of whether we are going to spend the vast majority of this money in areas that are more rural … or if we are going to spend any money in urban areas ... It is incontrovertible that we have neglected the many more millions of people in urban areas. This is a time to make sure that we are not just picking one or the other.

The show ends with an exploration of the promise and shortcomings of taking a simplified approach to setting Right-of-Way and franchise fees, which are areas that are notoriously difficult waters to navigate as new networks are being built.

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

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Posted March 4, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like numerous U.S. counties, large segments of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota (pop. 44,000) lack access to affordable Internet service at modern speeds. So like many underserved communities, the county—situated about ninety miles west of Minneapolis—is looking to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime collision of funding opportunities to help finance a massive fiber broadband expansion across numerous county townships. 

A recent survey by the county unsurprisingly reveals that residents are greatly annoyed by the lack of affordable Internet access options, with 64 percent of locals saying they’re dissatisfied with the Internet service provided by regional monopolies.

Ten Projects on Tap

Hoping to address the shortcoming, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working on ten different projects to shore up Internet access around the county. 

Some of the proposed projects involve partnerships with national monopoly providers like Charter Communications, but others will involve the county and a local cooperative doing the heavy lifting. The county had hoped to fund the projects with a combination of subscriber fees, American Rescue Plan funds, NTIA grants, and upcoming Minnesota state grants.

The first major project closest to being “shovel ready” is a $10 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project in partnership with the Federated Telephone Cooperative of Morris. Federated is expected to finance twenty-five percent of the overall project, with new subscribers expected to pay about $1,250 per household to connect to the gigabit-capable network. 

Kandiyohi County is also eyeing the unprecedented federal funding opportunities created by both the recently-passed infrastructure bill and Covid relief efforts. All told, the country hopes to combine a large chunk of the $8.3 million it’s receiving from the American Rescue...

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Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

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Posted January 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Sworn in earlier this month as president of the newly created Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA), Andrew Butcher says he is ready “to hit the ground running,” shepherding Maine’s efforts to bring universal access to high-speed Internet service in one of the most rural states in the nation.

The MCA, first proposed last year by Gov. Janet Mills and created through bipartisan legislation, will oversee the influx of federal funds the state has received from the American Rescue Plan Act and funds the state will get from the recently passed Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act.

The quasi-governmental agency will remain distinct from (but coordinate with) the ConnectMaine Authority, which administers the state’s broadband grant programs.

In a statement released after Butcher was sworn-in, Gov. Mills said:

I am grateful for the Senate’s unanimous confirmation, which is a testament to their confidence in Andrew’s experience and expertise to lead the Maine Connectivity Authority. With Andrew at the helm, and with the Authority’s Board fully in place, it is time to build on our work to expand access to affordable broadband. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for every person, every family, and every business across Maine, and with today’s vote, we are taking another step forward in our effort to make universal broadband a reality for Maine people.

For his part, Butcher said he was “humbled by (the) unanimous confirmation of the Senate and am honored for the opportunity to serve Maine as we look to build the infrastructure of the future. We can get there from here. Many have forged the path to get here and I'm eager to get to work connecting everyone.”

Getting ‘there from here’

In an...

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