We started the day with a look at federal policy. I am going to post my scattered notes in deference to getting information out there – please feel free to send questions to us during the conference at #mnbroadband. You can track the conversation here: http://mnbroadbandtalk.com/
Moderated by Bill Hoffman, Connect Minnesota
Diane Wells, Office of Broadband Development
Connect America Fund started 3 years ago. It transformed the high cost program into CAF – a recognition that broadband has gone from luxury to necessity. 83% of Americans without broadband were in Price Cap territories (big providers). So they tried to find a way to incent those providers to upgrade service. In Phase I they offered a set price per home to provide service. In Phase II they went more granular. The Price Cap Carriers can agree to funding and serve all areas – OR those areas will be put up for a competitive bid.
The FCC has also been working on Rural Experiment Funding. They are starting to think about faster broadband speeds. They will be giving money based on price models. You can learn more here: http://www.fcc.gov/document/rural-broadband-experiments-draw-interest-nearly-200-applicants We’re hoping to have more info on the applications by the end of 2014.
Lindsay Shanahan, Connected Nation
We have Connect American Fund, E-Rate, Rural Experiments and ConnectED. We’re also hearing about mergers, Net Neutrality and FirstNet.
On Monday the FCC proposed a permanent $1.5 billion (62%) increase in funding for E-Rate. They will vote on it on Dec 11. Funding could go to a range of things such as wireless networks in the school.
Tom Jensen – USDA Rural Development
USDA is a federal bank that will loan money to providers. We focus on Rate of Return providers (the smaller guys – mostly family-owned or coops). To get a loan they require business plans that look back 5 years and look 5 years forward. Re-classifying broadband would help with the loan process.
Questions from the audience:
Q: Lifeline – does that include a data plan? They are trying to transition to broadband for low income. E-Rate is looking too.
Q: Price Cap is getting first chance to serve BUT we haven’t had good experience with them. It seems like a non-answer. So why give them another chance?
The FCC is going with incumbent and in its acceptance they have to commit to providing service but timeframe and speeds are still in question.
Q: Any chance for forgiving USDA loans?
Not much chance – out default rate is very low. We want to keep your tax money safe. Through ARRA we worked with grants – but those are no more.
We do have Distance Learning Telemedicine grants through USDA.
Q: Sometimes E-Rate is a frustration because it’s unreliable. It’s hard to budget with that unreliability. We have heard this before. Be sure to file a complaint.
Q: Why is funding still in silos and not for a broad community effort? No real answer.