FCC presentation for MN & WI Tribes on federal funding: video

Thanks to the FCC for sharing their recent presentation to folks who could (and would) share information to tribal communities about the potential of federal funding for broadband. They spoke in great details about 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal opportunity. First they heard about all of the policy details, then (after an hour or so) really dove into the technology of 2.5 Ghz.

OPPORTUNITY: FCC & IMLS Partner to address digital divide with CARES

From the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to promote the use of $50 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help address the digital divide during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  The agencies will team up to raise awareness of these funds among libraries and Tribal organizations, which can use them to increase broadband access in their communities.

The CARES Act allocated $50 million in funding to IMLS, the primary source of federal funding for the nation’s museums and libraries, to enable these institutions, as well as organizations serving Tribal communities, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  This includes work to expand digital network access, purchase Internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to their communities.

More than half of this funding was distributed through State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) in all states and territories based on population.  States and territories may use these funds to expand broadband access and prioritize their efforts to high-need communities using data on poverty rates, unemployment rates, and broadband availability.  IMLS has provided additional details regarding this funding availability directly to SLAAs.

Additionally, $15 million of this funding will be awarded through grants to libraries and museums, as well as Tribes and organizations serving and representing Native Hawaiians.  The goal of these grant programs is to support these entities and organizations in responding to the coronavirus pandemic in ways that meet the immediate and future COVID-19 needs of the communities they serve.  Grant proposals may include short- or medium-term solutions to address gaps in digital infrastructure.  For example, libraries may partner with community organizations to develop community Wi-Fi hotspot and laptop lending programs in underserved areas.  Applications are due June 12, 2020 with award announcements anticipated in August 2020.

“Now more than ever, it is critical that all Americans have access to broadband to participate in online learning, get medical care via telehealth, search for jobs, and stay in touch with family and friends,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “And many Americans rely on their local library for this connectivity.  So I’m pleased that Congress has provided funding to libraries and other entities to help them respond to the needs of their patrons during the coronavirus pandemic by bringing digital tools such as Wi-Fi and tablets into their communities.  We look forward to working with IMLS to ensure that our nation’s libraries and Tribal organizations know about this opportunity and how it can help bridge the digital divide, especially in rural and low-income communities.”

“We are called to respond to the urgent needs of our communities,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper.  “IMLS is focusing on bolstering the digital capacity of libraries and museums, helping them address the digital divide with the resources and direction provided by Congress and the White House through the CARES Act.  We are pleased to do this jointly with the FCC, which, under the leadership of Chairman Pai, has also taken a key role in addressing the pandemic and technological challenges in low-income, rural, urban, Tribal, and underserved communities.  This money and this partnership will make a difference in the lives of people across the nation.”

As part of the FCC’s collaboration with IMLS, the FCC will publicize these CARES Act resources, help conduct outreach to libraries as well as organizations serving Tribal communities regarding the CARES Act funding and other IMLS resources available to them, and provide information on broadband service providers that may be able to help.  The agencies will also share information on the availability of broadband and on the connectivity needs of libraries, including in rural areas, and work together to ensure that libraries across the country are aware that community use of Wi-Fi networks supported by the FCC’s E‑Rate program is permitted during library closures due to COVID-19.

For updates on the FCC’s wide array of actions to keep consumers connected during the coronavirus pandemic, visit www.fcc.gov/coronavirus.  For information on Chairman Pai’s Keep Americans Connected Initiative, visit www.fcc.gov/keepamericansconnected.

OPPORTUNITY: $1.5 Billion in New Grant Funding Available from Economic Development Administration for Broadband & Other Projects

CTC Technology & Energy report

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act added $1.5 billion to an existing grant program of the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s (EDA).

This is a significant opportunity, both because of the size of the allocation and its breadth of eligibility. The grants are available to local and state governments, non-profits, and other non-commercial entities that have a compelling case for using infrastructure projects (including broadband initiatives) to ameliorate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis.

This is also an opportunity that demands quick action. EDA will receive applications and make awards on a rolling basis, so applicants with projects in advanced planning stages (and even those with a strong concept and an ability to quickly develop a project plan) should move rapidly to submit their applications.

Broadband Projects That Will Help Address Coronavirus Challenges Are Eligible

The EDA’s significant funding allocation—announced in an addendum to EDA’s notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) on May 7th—can be used for broadband projects (in addition to other types of projects) that will strengthen economic resilience, diversify the economy and workforce, or support recovery in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. (Examples of successful past projects can be found on EDA’s website—though we anticipate the new funding to be awarded to a broader range of broadband projects.)

Trust the Providers who still need to upgrade? Or find alternatives?

It’s very likely that public money is going to be coming for broadband as a result of COVID-19. That may be State, Federal or Local but it seems likely. So it seems like a good time to ask the questions that Doug Dawson is asking about past investment with the big national providers, such as CenturyLink…

It’s time to stop the pretense that CenturyLink or the other big telcos have been busy upgrading rural DSL. I don’t know anybody who thinks that’s happened. I have anecdotal evidence that it hasn’t, My company has been helping rural counties with broadband feasibility studies for many years. In the last four years, we’ve been asking rural customers to take speed tests – and I’ve never seen even one rural DSL connection that transmits at a speed of 10/1 Mbps. I’ve haven’t seen many that have tested above 5 Mbps. I’ve seen a whole lot that tested at less than 3, 2 or even 1 Mbps. Many of these tests have been in areas that are supposed to have CAF II upgrades.

I’ve also never talked to any County officials who have heard from the telcos that their county got rural broadband upgrades. One would think the telcos would brag locally when they were finished with upgrades as a pitch to get new customers. After all, customers that have only had slow DSL or satellite service should be flocking to 10/1 DSL. I’ve also not seen a marketing campaign talking about faster speeds due to CAF II. I’ve been searching the web for years to find testimonials from customers talking about their free upgrade to 10/1 Mbps, but I’ve never found anybody who has ever said that. This is not to say there have been zero upgrades in the CAF II areas, but I see no evidence of widespread upgrades.

The reality is that CenturyLink got new leadership a few years ago who immediately announced that the company was going to stop making ‘infrastructure return’ investments. We have Frontier that miraculously recently found 16,000 Census blocks that now have speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps when I’m still looking for proof that they upgraded places to 10/1 Mbps. Go interview folks in West Virginia if you think they’ve made any CAF II upgrades.

The FCC has a choice now. They can wimp out and grant the delay that CenturyLink is requesting, or the agency can come down on the side of rural broadband. There is no middle ground when it comes to CAF II. This FCC didn’t make the original CAF II decision – but they are the ones that are supposed to make sure the upgrades are done, and they are supposed to be penalizing telcos that failed to make the upgrades.

In January, I wrote about CenturyLink and Frontier not making their CAF II milestones in Minnesota – after receiving millions of dollars. We have providers who have been upgrading connections, expanding to new areas – many are cooperatives, some are local independent providers. Maybe it’s time to look around and see who is poised to meet the needs of rural communities as we consider future funding.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition: Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding – May 18, 2020

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding
Saint Paul, Minn.—The final seconds ticked off the clock of the 2020 Legislative Session on Sunday, May 17, but lawmakers weren’t able to finalize a deal to send additional funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. Competing proposals were debated by the House and Senate in the final two weeks of the session. The Senate passed SF 4494 on May 4 and sent it to the House for consideration. The House amended SF 4494 to reflect their priorities in the Ways and Means Committee on May 15 and moved it to the House floor. There, it awaited legislators to negotiate an agreement that would resolve the differences between the House and Senate positions.
The differences are small but make the two bills drastically different. Both chambers agreed that $10 million should go to the broadband grant program. But they disagreed on how to fund it.
The Senate proposal said broadband funding must qualify for the federal coronavirus relief funds or the appropriation would be cancelled. The House proposal also had broadband funding come from the federal coronavirus relief account, but would spend $10 million from the state’s general fund to cover the appropriation if it didn’t qualify for federal relief dollars. Negotiations between key legislators were ongoing through the final days of session. However, a deal that could pass both chambers and receive Governor Walz’s signature never materialized. The bill would have increased available funding for the upcoming round of grants from $20 million to $30 million.
(Note: A full breakdown of SF 4494 is included at the end of this update.)
Governor, Legislature Eye June 12 For Special Session
Legislative work is likely not done for the year. Broadband was far from the only item that legislators needed more time to settle their differences. An agreement on the state’s biennial infrastructure bill—known at the Capitol as the bonding bill—fell apart on the final day of session. Both the House DFL and Senate GOP majorities brought up bonding bills in their chambers, but neither were able to get the 3/5 majority votes required for passage. Housing, COVID-19 relief, and state employee contracts are just a few other outstanding items.
Legislators indicated on the final day of session that they would need to reconvene to finish their work, possibly as soon as June 12. House and Senate leadership and the Governor expressed their interest in scheduling a special session, but only the Governor can call legislators back to the Capitol now that they’ve adjourned for the year. June 12 is also the day Governor Walz’s emergency powers will expire. If he wants to extend the emergency powers for an additional 30 days on June 12, he will need to call the Legislature back to session so they can vote on the extension. The extension would be approved unless both the House and Senate vote against it, which is unlikely. We should know more about the details of a special session in the coming days, so stay tuned.

SF 4494 Details

Senate Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $8 million for technology reimbursement grant program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Grant applications from the following areas are prioritized:
      • Location of school to an unserved area of the state
      • Percent of students that live in a household without broadband
      • Percent of students that receive their internet service through the school
    • Program reimburses schools that have purchased technology for students that don’t have broadband access at home so they may participate in e-learning during the 2019-2020 school year.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.
    • One-time appropriation.

House Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $15 million for technology reimbursement aid program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Every school in the state is eligible, regardless if they are near unserved areas.
    • A school is eligible for an amount equal to one of the following, whichever is less:
      • The school’s expenditures for technology to connect students
      • $15 million divided by statewide enrollment times the number of students enrolled in the applying school.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.

One-time appropriation.

Federal COVID-19 DISASTER in Indian Country Act

I knew this would be of interest to many readers. From U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland

The Problem: Lack of access to broadband networks has left approximately 1.5 million people living on tribal
lands without access to basic healthcare public safety, and educational services. Due to the increased
necessity of wireless services during this national crisis, lack of connectivity in Indian Country has left Tribes
further behind in the digital divide resulting in devastating impacts of coronavirus on reservations.
These alarming rates are unacceptable during a national emergency. Regardless of where you live, everyone
should have equal access to wireless broadband networks to access to life-saving health care, public safety,
and educational opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Background: Indian reservations are some of the most digitally disconnected areas in the world, with
broadband and wireless penetration rates lower than some third-world countries. Even though the United
States ranks above the world average for fixed broadband services, only 65 percent of Native Americans
living on tribal lands have access to broadband compared to 92 percent of Americans living off-reservation
lands.
The Government Accountability Office found that health information technology systems at the Indian Health
Service (IHS) rank as the Federal Government’s third-highest need for agency system modernization since 50
percent of Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities depend on outdated circuit connections, resulting in slower
response times than any other health facility system in the United States. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian
Education’s (BIE) recent estimates collected from 142 BIE schools have reported that a wide range of students
— up to 95 percent in some cases — don’t have access to broadband at home due to Indian Tribes’
geographically isolated locations and data cap limitations.
COVID-19 Designation of Immediate Special Authority of Spectrum for Tribes’ Emergency Response in Indian
Country Act directs the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wirelesses Telecommunications Bureau
to grant Tribes emergency temporary authority of available spectrum to efficiently support wireless
broadband networks over Tribal lands and Hawaiian Homelands. This will allow Tribes to immediately deploy
wireless services so Native Americans can access basic life-saving resources like anyone else. Specifically, this
bill aims to deploy wireless networks in Indian Country by granting:
• Emergency special temporary authority of available spectrum to efficiently support wireless services
• Grants $300 million to USDA’s Community Facility Grant Program for immediate deployment of
broadband networks, repairs to damaged infrastructure, and technical assistance
• Extends Emergency Special Temporary Authority of spectrum on tribal lands to operate for 6 months

Alexandria Area Community Foundation Funds telehealth and other COVID-19 needs

The Alexandria Echo reports…

Those serving on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus are getting help from the Alexandria Area Community Foundation.

The foundation recently named the most recent grant recipients from the Alexandria Response Fund to support local COVID-19 relief efforts.

Eight grants totaling $40,000 were awarded:

  • $5,000 to support childcare tuition assistance at the Alexandria Area YMCA.

  • $5,000 to support telehealth counseling through the Village Family Center.

  • $5,000 for emergency housing and financial resources for victims of domestic violence to Someplace Safe Douglas County Advocacy.

  • $5,000 for lumber and supplies to Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County.

  • $5,000 to Salvation Army: Northern Division to support COVID-19 response in Douglas County.

  • $5,000 to support the current food purchase budget of Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf.

  • $5,000 to support client access and transition to telehealth through Lutheran Social Services.

  • $5,000 to support basic need supplies through Love INC of Douglas County Lakes Area.