Many people were disappointed with the definition of broadband used in the NTIA/RUS NOFA for stimulus funding especially in regards to defining underserved. Specifically they define broadband as “Internet with advertised speeds of at least 768 kilobits per second (kbps) downstream and at least 200 kbps upstream.”
Here’s how that is having an impact on two Minnesota communities:
Red Wing: Red Wing had signed on to partner with Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) for stimulus funding. HBC had planned to use funds to expand their FTTH service. Red Wing was all for it. Part of receiving funding was the assumption that Red Wing would be defined as an underserved community. (Proposals are weighed heavily based on community need.) Unfortunately, Red Wing is not considered underserved, based on this definition.
Now I seem to recall a line (page 28 – paragraph immediately prior to Definition of Unserved header) in the NOFA that states that An area that has access to service at 768 kbps may still qualify as “underserved” – but I haven’t seen an elaboration on that detail. And it does seem to indicate that those communities with 768 kbps would be special cases, which doesn’t bode well for a proposal.
The good news for Red Wing is that HBC is moving ahead with their proposal – they are trying to serve underserved pockets of Red Wing.
Northfield: The situation is similar in Northfield. I’m going to just offer a couple paragraphs from the Northfield News to give you the scoop there:
One requirement for the federal fiber optic grant centered on populations whose communications needs are considered underserved. That’s determined to be true when less than 40 percent of a census block is connected to the Internet at 3 megabytes or faster.
“We’d have to literally knock on doors to find a block that qualifies. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single Minnesota city that would qualify,” Reeder said.
In Northfield, Reeder said, that figure exceeds 70 percent, though she stressed that the benchmark speeds would fall well below the needs of businesses that the city would like to attract with a citywide fiber optic network.
Northfield is going to go after bonding instead to move ahead.
I’m sure that this is just a sample of what’s happening in communities across the state and across the US. It must be disappointing. One thing I like to see though is that both Red Wing and Northfield are looking to move forward regardless.