Preparing for next round of coronavirus broadband funding

Craig Settles and the Daily Yonder look at the ups and downs and future of COVID-related broadband-focused funding…

Under normal conditions, partnerships are the key to success with technology deployments. But because of the pandemic, billions of dollars went to broadband, telehealth, and other technologies nationwide in just six months and there wasn’t much time to do the partnership dance between communities, co-ops, ISPs (Internet Service Providers), vendors, and other organizations.

There are some ups…

“Itasca County just approved funding that will go to Paul Bunyan, an awesome telephone co-op in northern Minnesota,” said Ann Treacy who works at the Blandin Foundation. “Dakota County partnered with Hiawatha Broadband Communications, an ISP well-known for great work.”

And some downs…

But there are warning signs as well. Deb Simpier, CEO of Althea, recounts, “An Oregon county lined up an ISP for CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] funding with no formal RFP or solicitation of proposals though it is a $1 million buildout. Is that even legal? The CARES Act funding is required to be spent before the end of this year. What happens if the ISP can’t finish and the government won’t pay them?”

 

It looks like there is more funding in the making…

Currently, many in Congress are lobbying for a CARES Part 2, another $1 or $2 trillion, of which much will go for broadband and other technologies. Hopes are to see the legislation this month or in December. Also, the U.S. House has $100 billion broadband legislation waiting for the election dust to settle. That would be $20 billion a year for five years.

There are some tips for better, quick partnerships…

“One of the reasons we were successful, is that we had begun grassroots planning for a regional network long before the stimulus act came to be,” said John Campbell, Board Chair of OpenCape. “You need to be planning now, urgently, for that next round of grants that is likely coming early next year. Get a head start on it. The more you know, the better prepared you are, the more successful your grant application will be.”

Partners within communities also are critical. They show funding agencies the depth of a community’s needs as well as the project’s likelihood of success. Are the Chamber of Commerce and churches on the broadband team? Their participation can drive broadband adoption. Library and schools can turn the tide for telehealth adoption.

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