FCC Announces Plan to Launch $9 Billion 5G Fund for Rural America

FCC announces

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit
Pai announced today that he intends to establish the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9
billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile
wireless services in rural America. This major investment in rural America would be allocated
through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or
rugged terrain. The $9 billion Fund also would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for
deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs.
“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including
wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than
today’s 4G LTE networks,” said Chairman Pai. “We want to make sure that rural Americans
enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will. In order to do that, the
Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow.
Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen
across the country. That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G
Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of
that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture. We must ensure that 5G
narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that
come from wireless innovation.”
The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided
federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas. Pursuant to the Mobility Fund Phase II
rules, wireless providers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data in order to help the
Commission target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country. The Mobility Fund
Phase II challenge process gave stakeholders an opportunity to dispute these coverage maps by
submitting speed tests to the Commission. But in a report released today, Commission staff
finds that the 4G LTE coverage data submitted by providers is not sufficiently reliable for the
purpose of moving forward with Mobility Fund Phase II.
Specifically, FCC staff conducted thousands of speed tests to measure network performance
and concluded that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by certain carriers likely overstated
each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground experience in many
The staff report recommends that the Commission terminate the challenge process, audit the
coverage filings of carriers in other proceedings before the Commission, and take additional
steps to make sure that coverage data the Commission and the public rely on is accurate. The
report, which includes additional staff recommendations regarding future collections of mobile
coverage maps, is available here: DOC-361165A1.pdf.
Data files containing the approximately 25,000 speed tests taken by FCC staff and
approximately 20 million speed tests taken by challengers are available for download here:
Chairman Pai praised the work of the agency staff on this investigation and report. “I thank the
FCC’s dedicated staff for their diligence in conducting the investigation that led to this report.
This investigation highlights the importance of drive testing to verify mobile coverage claims.
Staff drove nearly 10,000 miles in the course of conducting speed tests of carrier networks, an
unprecedented effort that provided vital information about the extent of actual coverage on the
ground. Mobile carriers must submit accurate broadband coverage data to the Commission.
Simply put, we need to make sure that federal funding goes to areas that need it the most,” said
Chairman Pai.
The Commission recently created the Digital Opportunity Data Collection and has also sought
comment on how to improve the reliability and accuracy of the data submitted by mobile
broadband providers.

Blandin Foundation is looking for 4 communities to expand local broadband innovation

Good news, Blandin Foundation will very soon be looking for 4 partner communities for the next round of BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities)…

C. K. Blandin Foundation seeks four rural Minnesota communities to participate in the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) Program. Selected through an application process, BBCs will define their community technology goals, receive planning and technical assistance and have the opportunity to apply for resources to implement resulting projects.
The definition of “community” is flexible and based on local definition. Application can be submitted by an individual city or a group of cities, a county or tribal government, or a self-defined region or community of interest. Applicants should be a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization or unit of government. Preference will be given to applications that demonstrate established or emerging partnerships between multiple organizations and entities, including economic development, education, housing authorities, and health care.

If you’re reading the blog, you might already be well versed in the world of BBCs. IN short, it’s a great opportunity for your community to gather around a desire for better broadband access or use. Here’s a little more info…

Once selected, Blandin Broadband Community teams will receive planning and facilitation support, and the opportunity to apply for a $75,000 program grant to fund multiple locally developed projects that address identified community technology needs. Most funded projects require a minimum cash and in-kind match of 25% (1:3) of total project cost; projects funding primarily equipment require 1:1 cash match. Communities must meet a minimum standard of active, cross-sector community participation to be invited to apply for funds.
In addition, participating communities with significant shortcomings in existing broadband services will receive priority to apply for up to $25,000 to conduct a Robust Network Feasibility Study; this program requires a 1:1 cash match. This study is an optional component of the overall program.  More information on Feasibility Studies can be found here: https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/expanding-opportunity/broadband/robust-network-feasibility-fund-grants/ 
Significant commitment on the part of the Blandin Broadband Communities will be expected and required throughout the 18-24 month project period. 

The application isn’t yet available – but soon it will be and Blandin wanted to give a heads up. It’s a great time to contact your local partners about potential interest. The deadline will likely be early 2020 -and luck favor the prepared. With any luck, I’ll be posting more info and a link to the application in a week or so. In the meantime, starting those minds to thinking!

MN’s CentraCare Health get $234K to improve telehealth

Government Technology reports…

CentraCare Health in Minnesota has been awarded a grant $234,648 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve its telehealth services by installing video equipment in clinics.

The grant is intended to address specialty physician shortages in rural areas, according to a news release Thursday from U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Rep. Tom Emmer.

The money will be used to install video equipment at 10 clinics across nine counties. The USDA estimates that expanded telemedicine services could help 2,000 more patients over the project’s two-year period.

New USDA Grants for Telehealth Programs: MN part of one project

mHealth Intelligence reports…

Dozens of telehealth programs across the country will be getting funding from the US Department of Agriculture in the latest round of distance learning and telemedicine grants.

In all, $42.5 million will be disbursed to 133 programs in 37 states and two US territories. Of that number, 74 grants are specifically designated for telemedicine projects that include school-based telehealth, telemental health, substance abuse services, rural telemedicine programs, telestroke services, senior telehealth and specialty care.

Some of that funding will find its way to Minnesota…

More than $390,000 awarded to Avera Health to expand a telehealth network providing specialist consults to 73 new sites in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, serving some 635,000 patients. Another grant of almost $455,000 will be used to improve the telemedicine platform for Avera’s eCARE program in those communities;

Smart Rural Community Grant – deadline Dec 31, 2019

Rural Health Info Hub has info on a Smart Rural Community Grant…

The Smart Rural Community Grant provides funding to support the development and implementation of innovative broadband-enabled solutions to support rural commerce, healthcare, public safety, economic development, education, energy, and other community-oriented initiatives.

Telco members of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association are eligible to apply.
Up to $5,000.
Application Process

Links to application instructions and frequently asked questions are available on the program website.

Completed applications should be mailed to:

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association
Smart Rural Community Grant
4121 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1000
Arlington, VA 22203

Applications may also be emailed to smartrural@ntca.org; however, an original signed copy must also be mailed in and postmarked by the deadline date. [Update Nov 11: deadline moved to Dec 31]

FCC calibrates testing for CAF-supported Carrier networks

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today approved performance testing procedures for carriers receiving Connect America Fund support to deploy fixed broadband networks to unserved Americans living in rural areas, helping to ensure that rural Americans have access to the same high-quality networks as Americans in urban areas.

Here are the specifics…

In response to Petitions for Reconsideration and Applications for Review of an earlier bureaulevel Performance Measure Order, the FCC today maintained the existing requirement that carriers conduct quarterly speed and latency tests between specified numbers of active subscribers’ homes and the Internet, and made targeted modifications to the testing procedures, including:

· Modifying the schedule for commencing testing by basing it on the deployment obligations specific to each Connect America Fund support mechanism;

· Implementing a new pre-testing period that will allow carriers to become familiar with testing procedures without facing a loss of support for failure to meet the requirements;

· Allowing greater flexibility to carriers in identifying which customer locations should be tested and selecting the endpoints for testing broadband connections

OPPORTUNITY: NSF has $1.5 million to invest in seed funding

America’s Seed fund has money to invest…

For 40 years, America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF has helped startups and small businesses transform their ideas into marketable products and services. We focus on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, we award $200 million in funding to entrepreneurs across the country. Our goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in the United States, and companies seed funded by our program have since gone on to tremendous success. We are a congressionally mandated program — Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).

You can find out if you’re eligible. The website is really helpful in terms of walking you through the process. Deadline is Dec 12, 2019.