Latest RDOF awards announced – none in MN and nothing to LTD

The FCC has announces the the latest rounds of RDOF funding.

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice.

As in the previous round – none were based in Minnesota.

Telecompetitor offers a perspective, noting that many of the top winners have yet to receive money…

There were over 400 winning bidders in the RDOF auction, but the top 10 winning bidders represent more than three-quarters of the total $9.2 billion tentatively awarded.

Over the last 18 months or so, the FCC has authorized funding for many smaller winning bidders and for five of the top 10 winning bidders. But the other five of the top 10 have not yet been deemed ready to authorize and questions have begun to arise about whether those other five will ever be authorized.

Several sources closely involved in the RDOF program have noted that the FCC has no deadline for reviewing RDOF long-form applications and might never approve some or any of those five bidders.

One of them is SpaceX, which plans to use satellite broadband to meet its service commitments. Concerns have arisen about the company’s ability to meet those commitments and about the longevity of that service. Another is LTD Broadband, which has received criticism about its ability to deploy fiber broadband as quickly and extensively as required.

Representative Angie Craig talks up broadband and federal funding

Brownfield Ag News reports

Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig tells Brownfield precision agriculture has made it critical that farmers have access to high-speed internet.

“That is one area where I am so proud we’re going to deliver $100 million to Minnesota in broadband funding on a bipartisan basis, which is pretty hard to come by in the town of Washington.”

USDA recently announced it will award up to $150 million in loans, up to $300 million in loan-grant combinations, and $700 million in grants to bring high-speed internet to rural America.

Craig says the dollars will enable rural communities to expand.

“People can live anywhere and work anywhere these days in a lot of different businesses, so having that in the ground gives these communities options (like) do I want to grow? Do I want to develop? Do I not?”

Gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen puts broadband on priority list at Farmfest

The Duluth News Tribute reports

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen on Tuesday, Aug. 2, outlined a 10-step plan to support Greater Minnesota communities complete with proposals to expand broadband access and speed up the process of getting farm permits.

The article adds…

Walz has supported some of the efforts in his legislative priorities and budget plans at the Capitol, including building out access to biofuels and increasing funding for broadband.

New standards for Lifeline 2023 are announced

The FCC reports on new Lifeline standards for 2023. (Reminder: The Lifeline Program is a government benefit program that provides eligible low-income consumers with a discount on monthly service for voice (telephone), Broadband Internet Access Service (or BIAS, usually called internet service), or a combined telephone/internet service product from a landline or wireless provider.)

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announces updated minimum service standards for Lifeline-supported service as required by the 2016 Lifeline Order.
1
The 2016 Lifeline Order established minimum service standards for certain Lifeline-supported services and
established annual increases in those standards either in the Commission’s rules or pursuant to calculations set out in the Order and the Commission’s rules.2
Accordingly, we announce the newly calculated minimum service standard for fixed broadband data usage allowance. This new standard will take effect on December 1, 2022. Additionally, we announce that the budget for federal universal service support for the Lifeline program for calendar year 2023 will be $2,572,862,300.3
Mobile broadband minimum service standard. On July 1, 2022, the Bureau acted to pause any increase in the Lifeline minimum service standard for mobile broadband data capacity. 4 As such, the standard will continue to be 4.5 GB per month until at least December 1, 2023.
Fixed broadband minimum service standard for data usage allowance. Pursuant to the 2016 Lifeline Order, beginning December 1, 2022, the Lifeline minimum service standard for fixed broadband data usage will be 1280 GB per month, as calculated from the 2022 Urban Rate Survey data.5
Mobile voice telephony minimum service standard. The 2016 Lifeline Order established an automatic update to the Lifeline minimum service standard for mobile voice service through November 30, 2018.6
Accordingly, pursuant to the 2016 Lifeline Order, on December 1, 2022, the Lifeline minimum service standard for mobile voice service will remain unchanged, at 1000 minutes per month.

Kandiyohi County taking more steps toward the Border to Border grant application

The West Central Tribune reports

High-speed broadband internet expansion continues to be a major priority for the Kandiyohi County Board. The commissioner will receive an update on where projects stand and consider sending out letters of support to be included in the county’s Border to Border grant application.

The board meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the board chambers at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building in Willmar.

OPPORTUNITY: Contract Broadband engineering expert to help PUC investigate LTD Broadband

An opportunity from the State to look into LTD Broadband and their ability to help Minnesota fully take advantage of RDOF funding. (Get more background.)

The telecommunications regulatory unit at the Minnesota Commerce Department (Department or Commerce) has the responsibility to conduct investigations on telecommunications matters,  advocate before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC or Commission) and enforce Minnesota statutes, rules, and orders of the Commission pertaining to telecommunications. The telecommunications regulatory unit at the Department is within the Division of Energy Resources. Minnesota Statutes section 216A.07 authorizes the Department to represent the public interest in all Commission proceedings.

The Department requests proposals for a technical expert or experts with engineering, financial and management expertise required to develop and successfully run gigabit broadband networks. The experts will determine whether LTD Broadband, LLC (LTD) has, or reasonably can be expected to obtain, the technical, managerial and financial resources to deploy and maintain a broadband network to meet expectations consistent with requirements of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to serve approximately 102,000 locations, as provisionally awarded by the FCC.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) and required forms are available to view and download on the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s RFP website at https://mn.gov/commerce/industries/rfp/ through the submission deadline.

Proposals must be submitted by no later than Friday, August 22, 2022 at 11:59 PM Central Time. Proposals must be submitted to energy.contracts@state.mn.us. Instructions for submitting proposals are detailed in the RFP. Late proposals will not be considered.

This request does not obligate the State to complete the work contemplated in this notice.  The State reserves the right to cancel this solicitation. All expenses incurred in responding to this notice are solely the responsibility of the responder.

Doug Dawson on why we need to see broadband grant applications

Doug Dawson is on the frontlines of building broadband; he understands funding and policy from the most pragmatic perspective. Hence, his call to make broadband grant applications public

Most broadband grant programs do not publish open grant applications for the public to see. But we are in a time when an ISP that is awarded funding for bringing a new broadband network is likely to become the near-monopoly ISP in a rural area for a decade or two to come. The public ought to get to see who is proposing to bring them broadband so that these decisions are not made behind closed doors.

He gives a specific example, but I think in Minnesota one that comes to mind is LTD Broadband. They applied for RDOF grants. They won the sole opportunity to submit long for applications. Nearly two years later, the funds have not yet been awarded and the proposed communities have bee stuck in a limbo where nothing else has been happening to improve their situation. Some of the communities (notably Le Sueur County) has questioned the ability of LTD to provide the service they claim to be able to achieve for the price; Le Sueur has done feasibility studies and their costs were much higher than LTD’s. Now maybe LTD has a new way or maybe they have been too optimistic in bidding. But before the money is awarded would be a good time to know what’s happening.

But as Doug, says it’s not about the specifics, it’s about the process and a possible early warning system and planning for the future…

The point of today’s blog is that allowing the public to see grant requests can prompt interesting observations and questions like the ones sent to me. Certainly, not all public input will be valid, but there can be issues raised by the public that a grant office might not otherwise hear.

I’m a terrible shopper. I don’t try on the dress before I buy. Every 6 months, I come home with single-ply toilet paper because I forgot to read the small print. But when we are spending real money – as we are with these tax-backed grants, I take the time. Broadband is integral to education, healthcare and economic development. We need to be good shoppers or communities will suffer the consequences for generations.

Letting the public see grant requests is also a way to fact-check ISPs. Most states will tell you that the folks reviewing broadband grants often don’t have a lot of experience with the inner workings of ISPs. This means that it is easy for an ISP to snow a grant reviewer with misleading statements that an experienced reviewer would catch immediately. ISPs will be less likely to make misleading claims if they think the public will call them out and threaten the chances of winning the grant.

I know that publishing grant requests can open a whole new can of worms and extra work for a grant office. But I think the extra public scrutiny is healthy. I would think a grant office would want to know if false or misleading claims are made in a grant request. On the flip side, a grant office will benefit by knowing if the public strongly supports a grant request. Shining light on the grant process should be overall a positive thing. It’s a good check against awarding grants that aren’t deserved. But it’s also a way to make sure that grant offices are being fair when picking winners.

Governor Walz’s 10-year Economic Expansion Plan includes broadband

Yesterday Governor Walz reported

Governor Tim Walz today announced a ten-year economic expansion plan at Wyoming Machine in Stacy, Minnesota. The Governor’s Council on Economic Expansion today released the 28-page report, titled “Minnesota’s Moment: A Roadmap for Economic Expansion,” which offers long-term steps to continue improving Minnesota’s economy.

One of the Actionable strategies is broadband…

Achieve equitable access to affordable broadband Internet

Here’s more info…

Achieve equitable access to affordable broadband Internet
Ensure every child has access to the Internet, appropriate hardware, training and online learning.
Provide affordable access to broadband Internet, appropriate hardware, and training for every person in Minnesota to expand digital equity and access to government services, health care, jobs, community resources, and social connection.
Drive economic competitiveness for Minnesota and enable communities throughout the State to attract and retain residents and businesses by providing affordable broadband access.

And

COMMIT TO INFRASTRUCTURE – IF MINNESOTA’S COMMITMENTS TO INFRASTRUCTURE ARE SUCCESSFUL, IN 10 YEARS WE WILL SEE:
All Minnesota businesses and households have access to high-speed broadband Internet
Increased home ownership, particularly by those who have historically faced disparity gaps
Decrease the percentage of Minnesotans who are cost-burdened with their housing
Minnesota nationally recognized as a transportation leader that supports the workforce

 

The Roadmap to Telehealth Efficacy – broadband is essential to good health

It was amazing, and lifesaving, to see how quickly healthcare could move online during the pandemic. Healthcare facilities stepped up their game by bringing in the technology, patients stepped by learning how to use it and government stepped up by relaxing rules on reimbursement and licensure. To keep up the momentum we must continue to have engagement from all three players – and the one that seems most precarious is the relaxed rules.

The folks at Brookings recognized this and came up with a report that makes recommendations to help continue use and growth of telehealth…

  1. Federal and state governments must continue telehealth availability and use in a post-pandemic environment through codifying its use, especially in legislation.
  2. Modality neutrality must become a standard practice to adequately address digital disparities, and ensure full use of remote health care.
  3. The U.S. must adopt a federal privacy standard to ensure patient/ provider confidentiality and reduce risks to data
  4. The larger health care community must understand that they, too, are part of efforts to close the national digital divide through training, device availabilities, and online consumer engagement.
  5. States and localities must prioritize telehealth in their broadband plan and include local stakeholders.
  6. Telehealth should be incorporated in value-based payment initiatives.
  7. The incorporation of AI into telehealth must prioritize equity and fairness.

I think it’s helpful for those of us outside of healthcare and/or policy field to see all that is required to make or sustain such a social shift in how we do things. But it’s really the fourth and fifth points that will relate to most readers. Access to healthcare is a compelling reason to strive for better broadband, especially in areas where physical healthcare facilities are not nearby. Remember to invite healthcare folks to your broadband planning meetings and remember to include telehealth training into your digital equity efforts.

Broadband still making priority list on MN Farm Bill

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

With a garage door opened to the tall, green corn of the Peterson family, Monday’s midsummer gathering marked the committee’s first field hearing in the Midwest. The earlier stops have been farther west, such as California and Arizona, where conversations revolved around access to water.

The farm bill touches everything from food policy to broadband, biofuels to school lunches. This often leaves priorities in tension — from reducing the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture to providing milk for hungry children.

FCC Proposes Fines of $4.3M Against 73 RDOF Applicants for Defaults – some with MN connections

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed $4,353,773.87 in fines against 73 applicants in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904) for apparently violating Commission requirements by defaulting on their bids between July 26, 2021 and March 10, 2022. The FCC provided clear guidance in its rules and notices on the monetary forfeitures associated with defaults in Auction 904. The bid defaults prevented 1,702 census block groups with 129,909 estimated locations in 36 states from seeing timely new investments in broadband infrastructure.

The applicants defaulted on their respective bids by withdrawing applications in certain areas, or failing to meet deadlines and requirements required in the auction rules after having already placed winning bids in Auction 904. In order to be authorized to receive universal service support, winning bidders or their assignees were required to provide information that demonstrated they are legally, financially, and technically qualified to fulfill the Auction 904 public interest obligations. The Notice of Apparent Liability proposes forfeitures for 73 applicants and two bidding consortia. However, the Notice does not propose forfeitures for applicants who defaulted on bids in response to the FCC’s letters identifying census blocks that may have been already served or raised significant concerns about wasteful spending.

There was one bidders found in default in MN…

  1. Aspire Networks 2, LLC (Aspire); FRN: 0030311583; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033836; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080013. Aspire is a competitive local exchange carrier registered in Delaware and Minnesota that provides internet services to rural locations in Minnesota.9 Aspire’s parent company, Atlantic Engineering Group, Inc. (AEG), a Georgia company, was part of the AEG and Heron Broadband I (Consortium).10 The Consortium timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.11 The Consortium then assigned two CBGs to Aspire, which timely filed its Long-Form Application in Auction 904.12 On February 16, 2021, Aspire notified the Commission of its intent to default on its two CBGs subject to forfeiture in Minnesota.13 WCB declared Aspire to be in default on July 26, 2021, and referred the company to EB for enforcement action.14 The Commission finds that Aspire apparently committed two violations by defaulting on its CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $6,000.00.15 Aspire’s assigned CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $6,470,222.30, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $970,533.34, which is 15% of Aspire’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.16 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 17 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $6,000.00 against Aspire is appropriate here.

LTD was also one of the bidders found in default…

  1. LTD Broadband LLC (LTD Broadband); FRN: 0020926788; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033870; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080047. LTD Broadband is a Nevada company that provides fiber and fixed wireless service to customers, businesses and governmental entities located in rural areas.306 LTD Broadband timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.307 On August 16, 2021, LTD Broadband notified the Commission of its intent to default on certain census blocks.308 On August 25, 2021, LTD Broadband also notified the Commission that it would not seek reconsideration of WCB’s denial of the company’s deadline waiver request for its Kansas and Oklahoma bids.309 The areas where LTD Broadband intended to default cover 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture. WCB declared LTD Broadband to be in default on December 16, 2021,310 and on January 28, 2022,311 and referred the company to EB for enforcement action. The Commission finds that LTD Broadband apparently committed violations by defaulting on 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $2,304,000.00.312 LTD Broadband’s CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $78,496,778.40, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $11,774,516.76, which is 15% of LTD Broadband’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.313 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 314 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $2,304,000.00 against LTD Broadband is appropriate here

All about the National Digital Inclusion Alliance 2015-2021

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) promotes and facilitates digital equity by developing tools for practitioners on the frontlines and providing data and stories to policymakers to help them support digital equity. They play the long game. They find systemic problems in how things are done and do the research to that demonstrates the issues as well as creating solutions.

A lot of readers will be familiar with NDIA; some may not be and I wanted to fix that. Some folks might remember when they held their annual conference in St Paul in 2017; it was fun to be able to showcase what’s happening here and learn from national speakers and attendees.

The NDIA recently released an Impact Report from 2015 to 2022. Here are some of the highlights from the report:

  • Created Digital Inclusion Week, which included 102 events around the world in 2021 (happening Oct 2-7 2022)

Duluth News Tribune looks at library funds to address digital equity and older Minnesotans

Duluth News Tribune recognizes the impact of age on digital equity…

However, virtual as the new normal is exposing an age-based digital divide within our state of Minnesota. Older adults have lower access to the internet, fewer digital skills, and more limited use of technology. The digital divide contributes to increased social isolation, the severity of chronic diseases, and an overall diminished quality of life. The problem is worse in rural areas than metro areas.

A few facts: Minnesota already has a larger 65-plus population than that of school-age children; and, from 2010 to 2030, the number of Minnesota’s older adults will double. Greater Minnesota is home to a larger share of older adults, outpacing metro areas in the ratio of older adults to school-age children.

As 10,000 baby boomers retire daily from now until 2030 across the U.S., retirees are realizing there is no longer an IT department available to them.

And recognizes that the State has an opportunity to address the issue through the libraries…

There is a timely opportunity, however, for Minnesota to achieve equitable digital inclusion and increase digital literacy. The Library Services & Technology Act of 1996 (LSTA) established a federal grant program to identify priorities centered on technology infrastructure. Under the leadership of the State Library Services, Minnesota’s library network of 356 public locations has historically provided community-based digital devices and training resources. Every five years, the LSTA requires state library agencies to submit a five-year grant plan identifying state priorities for LSTA funds. With the 2022-2025 five-year plan due this summer, Minnesota has the opportunity to prioritize digital inclusion and digital literacy programs that champion Minnesota’s rural older adults.

Minnesota has a significant funding opportunity via the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. Linking the development of a state digital-equity plan to existing broadband-access initiatives strategically positions the Minnesota State Library Services to lead digital inclusion and digital literacy, using its extensive statewide footprint.

The broad deployment of digital inclusion and digital literacy programs will enable Minnesota’s growing older adult population to fully participate in the virtual new normal.

The opportunity is now. Baby boomers continue to change the world. We have the population size, voting capacity, and drive to expect positive quality-of-life outcomes throughout our lifespans. In order to ensure equitable participation in the modern digital landscape, we must have IT services accessible to us regardless of where we live in Minnesota. The Minnesota State Library Services has the geographic reach, knowledge, expertise, and savvy to create real change and implement digital inclusion and digital literacy as an essential healthy aging strategy benefiting all of Minnesota.

Duluth approved digital access master plan and State broadband grant application

Broadband and broadband funding has been a hot topic in Duluth these days, as WDIO reports, it sounds like some decisions were made this week..

The Duluth City Council considered several broadband related resolutions during a meeting Monday evening.

The council did approve resolutions approving the city’s digital access master plan and also approved a resolution which will allow the city to submit an application to the state for a $3.2 million development grant.

However, the council decided to send back to administration a resolution that would establish up to $5,000,000 from the Community Investment Trust Fund to support the Duluth open Access Fiber Pilot Project.

More information on all three resolutions can be found here.

FCC Chair proposed an increase to minimum broadband speeds – a lesson for MN?

FCC reports on discussions to change the definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down and 3 up to 100/20. Funny enough those were/are the Minnesota speed goals: 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. We didn’t reach the 2022 goals but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a look at what the FCC is considering for a future goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps …

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated to her colleagues a Notice of Inquiry that would kick off the agency’s annual evaluation of the state of broadband across the country. As part of this assessment, Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed increasing the national standard for minimum broadband speeds and proposed setting a long-term goal for broadband speed.
“The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “The 25/3 metric isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline. That’s why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone
everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”
The Notice of Inquiry proposes to increase the national broadband standard to 100 megabits per second for download and 20 megabits per second for upload, and discusses a range of evidence supporting this standard, including the requirements for new networks funded by the
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The FCC previously set the broadband standard at 25/3 Mbps in 2015 and has not updated it since.
The Notice of Inquiry proposes to set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.