Connect America Fund CAF Carriers Opt for Seventh Year of Support

Telecompetitor provides an update on the CAF federal funding…

The CAF program offered money to the larger carriers, known as price cap carriers, in 2015 in exchange for committing to deploy broadband to rural portions of their local service territory lacking broadband service. Funding was based on a cost model. Carriers had to accept or reject funding on a state-by-state basis and most of them accepted most of the money they were offered. Funding was for six years, and deployments were expected to be completed by the end of the sixth year, but carriers had the option of electing to receive a seventh year of support. The sixth year of support ends at the end of this year.

In the December 2014 Connect America Fund report and order, the FCC stated that the purpose of the seventh year of support was to provide “a gradual transition to the elimination of support.”

They report on the providers that they know opted for a seventh year…

Over the past week, AT&T, Frontier and CenturyLink sent letters to the FCC electing to accept the seventh year of CAF support. Three other price cap carriers — Cincinnati Bell, Consolidated Communications and Windstream – also were eligible to request the seventh year of support and may have done so at an earlier date.

AT&T and CenturyLink accepted all funding for all states for which they accepted CAF funding. For AT&T, seventh year CAF funding totals approximately $427 million for 18 states. For CenturyLink, the total seventh year funding totals approximately $503 million for 33 states.

Frontier elected seventh year CAF funding for 25 of the 29 states for which it accepted funding back in 2015. The company did not accept funding for Idaho, Montana, Oregon or Washington – the four states where Frontier sold its operations to WaveDivision Capital, which uses the name Ziply for those operations.

The seventh year CAF Funding that Frontier accepted totals approximately $313 million.

The funding has been a mixed blessing in Minnesota. Some areas have seen improvements but they don’t always meet MN standards, CAF speed requirements are as low as 10/1 Mbps; Minnesota speed goals are 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. A connection to 10/1, and really even a connection to 25/3 does not necessarily get a community closer to the 100/20 goal. There have been some projects where state funding has been used to leverage federal funding and push for higher speeds.

Also, we reported in January (2020) that both CenturyLink and Frontier reported that they “may not have met” required milestones in Minnesota. In May, CenturyLink asked for an extension of deadline due to COVID.

Senators Smith and Klobuchar join others to ask FCC to use E-Rate to connect students now

Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar join a list of 30 senators sending a letter to ask the FCC to use e-rate to get students the broadband they need to distance learn if and when they need to do so…

As a new school year begins, students across the country are increasingly returning to virtual classrooms due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. 1 These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas. 2 Without urgent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we are deeply concerned that they will fall further behind in their studies. The current emergency demands that you take immediate action to help our nation’s most vulnerable children.

We specifically call on you to utilize the E-Rate program to close this “homework gap” without further delay. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to start connecting students immediately.

Red the full letter

Looks like the FCC is sticking with 25/3 as definition of broadband

Telecompetitor reports…

The FCC is seeking input on how it should prepare its 2021 annual broadband deployment report. The report, which is intended to determine whether broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner, traditionally generates controversy, and 2021 is likely to be no exception – particularly considering that the FCC is proposing few changes to the methodology and definitions used in the 2020 report.

The most controversial element of the proposed plan is likely to be the minimum broadband speed definition. In a notice of inquiry (NOI) adopted earlier this month and made public yesterday, the commission recommends retaining the definition that has been used for several years – 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream – and to continue to gather information about one lower and three higher speed levels.

In a statement, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel argued that the minimum level should be at least 100 Mbps and upstream speeds should be reconsidered. She also recommended measuring the availability of gigabit speed service.

Hears a pet peeve of mine…

Speed levels measured would include: 10/1 Mbps, 25/3 Mbps, 50/5 Mbps, 100/10 Mbps and 250/25 Mbps.

If you measure 10/1, people will think that’s broadband. By “people” I mean the federal government. There is money still out there to fund networks to 10/1. At that speed, it would be difficult to have one kid participate in online school. It would be difficult to have one person work from home. You might be able to watch Netflix but it would be difficult to interactive or be productive online. To a lesser degree, the same is true about 25/3.

Ten years ago, the National Broadband Plan aimed at 100 million homes with 100/50 Mbps by 2020. What’s amazing is that our upload goal has actually decreased since then – by half! (For the homes outside of that 100 million, there was a goal of 4/1.) Recently I wrote about how Minnesota should rethink their speed goals. I’m going to share the same FCC chart here that I shared there.

It tells a story, especially in COVID-post-COVID America. Any home with four users or devices at a time doing moderate or high use – required “more than 25 Mbps”. It doesn’t even address upload.

 

How do you find yourself living a life without broadband? How does half a country get left behind?

CBS Sunday morning last weekend ran an interesting article on “The great broadband divide.” The stories won’t be new to most readers, but it’s always good to see the case being made in mainstream media.

The point out the discrepancy in deciding how many people are online:

  • FCC says 23 million people don’t have broadband
  • Microsoft says 162 million don’t have broadband

CBS goes on to explain that the FCC gages by census tract. So if one person has access, they say they all do. Which is a little like deciding that everyone in my zip code has a Master’s degree, because I do.

Also CBS tackles the idea that the FCC definition of broadband is not fast enough, which more and more people are finding is the case especially with the pandemic and more people trying to work and learn from home. They mention the efforts school have gone to try to meet the needs of students by handing our hotspots or printing out homework packets – for those who can’t access broadband due to availability and/or affordability.

About 6 and a half minutes into the segment, they go into federal funding for broadband. Gigi Sohn talks about the poor return on FCC’s investment in broadband.

The final  message in the story is that the digital divide is getting deeper.

EVENT Aug 3: Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy

An invitation from the FCC

Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy
Aug 3, 2020
10:00 am – 1:30 pm EDT
Online Only

The Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group of the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE) and the Media Bureau is hosting this virtual workshop to examine the role of U.S. libraries as community hubs to drive digital adoption and literacy. The workshop will be convened via WebEx in light of travel restrictions and other concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and will be available to the public via live feed from the FCC’s web page at www.fcc.gov/live.

The workshop will feature experts from libraries, academia, and civil society organizations who will discuss efforts to support underserved rural and urban communities’ acquisition of digital skills. Experts will consider what constitutes digital inclusion today and the role of libraries and public-private partnerships in supporting digital literacy. Panelists will also address the impact of COVID-19 on advancing digital inclusion, as well as the impact of various local, state, and federal interventions in recent months.

 

 

US Senators introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Accelerate Broadband Access Nationwide

According to a press release from US Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

Today [July 2, 2020], U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mike Braun (R-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, bipartisan legislation that will bolster efforts to expand access to rural broadband nationwide and speed up the distribution of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The RDOF will allocate $20.4 billion to building rural broadband in two phases and this legislation will ensure that some of that money is distributed to communities much faster than the original deadline. The Rural Broadband Acceleration Act also directs the FCC to adhere to the Universal Service requirement in federal law, which is a joint responsibility for the federal and state governments. The Universal Service requirement states that all people in rural areas must have access to telecommunications and information services that are reasonably comparable, in both speed and price, to the services in urban areas. Thus, this legislation will allow rural America to have the same level of broadband service enjoyed by cities and suburbs across the country. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Auction short-form application Open yesterday (July 1) closes July 15

I’m a day off. Not too late but the window is closing as Multichannel reports

The FCC Wednesday (July 1) opened the short-form application window for phase one of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction (Auction 904).

All potential bidders must complete and submit such an application.

Carriers will be bidding on how economically they can deliver service that meets FCC speed and build-out metrics. The money is for fixed voice and broadband service to unserved, high-cost, areas at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.

RDOF is the re-imagined Connect America Fund II subsidy.

RDOF, phase one, is the $16 billion over 10 years the FCC is spending to close the rural digital divide to get broadband to unserved areas. Phase two has another $4 billion to go to underserved areas.

The application window closes July 15 at 6 p.m.

On July 25, the FCC released an updated list of the census blocks it has determined lack the requisite service and thus are eligible for the “unserved” subsidies.

The FCC said that 5,392,530 unserved locations have been “deemed eligible” for carriers to bid on in the auction beginning Oct. 29.

Learn more on the FCC site.

FCC Announces 77 More CARES Act Telehealth Awards: 2 are in MN

The FCC reports

—The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau today approved an additional 77 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Health care providers in both urban and rural areas of the country will use this $29.41 million in funding to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized by the CARES Act, has approved 444 funding applications in 46 states plus Washington, D.C. for a total of $157.64 million in funding.

Here are the two in Minnesota…

  • Family Service Rochester, in Rochester, Minnesota, was awarded $13,234 for laptops, video monitors, mobile hotspots, and videoconferencing software to provide mental health counseling services via telehealth to patients in a six-county area.
  • Ne Ia Shing Clinic, in Onamia, Minnesota, was awarded $350,679 for laptop computers, telemedicine carts, videoconferencing equipment, and network upgrades to implement telehealth capabilities for a variety of medical services, including family practice services, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, and dental care for patients in the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Will SpaceX low-orbit satellite broadband meet required latency to be eligible for RDOF money?

Engadget reports…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it has “serious doubts” that SpaceX will be able to deliver internet service with latency under 100 milliseconds (via Ars Technica). That would not only be bad for users, but means that SpaceX could be at a disadvantage in an auction to distribute $16 billion in federal funds to support rural broadband access. SpaceX strongly disagrees, but it may not be able to prove its case in time.

In a report on the phase I auction for the rural digital opportunity fund (RDOF), the FCC admitted that Starlink and other LEO (low-Earth orbit) providers have advantages over geostationary satellites that operate at much higher altitudes. However, it’s skeptical that latency can be determined by orbital altitude alone, saying it can also be affected by factors like “processing, routing and transporting traffic to its destination.”

SpaceX argued that the FCC’s doubts are unfounded and that Starlink will “easily clear the commission’s 100-millisecond threshold for low-latency services, even including its “processing time” during unrealistic worst-case scenarios. In fact, with altitudes at 335 to 354 miles (compared to 21,750 miles for geostationary systems), SpaceX is shooting for a latency below 20 milliseconds — in line with cable internet.

It will be a race to get there for sure. The top comment on the article (when I visited) wished them luck but also noted that 100ms is still pretty slow for gaming, which might indicate some hurdles for other applications too, if not know in the future.

The 411 on RDOF for potential broadband bidders

The Benton Institute has created a nice outline of info you need to know about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, especially for potential bidders…

This week, the Federal Communications Commission established procedures for the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904, if you’re scoring at home). This initial round of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will provide $16 billion over 10 years to deploy networks that offer voice and broadband service to underserved rural areas. The bidding in the auction is scheduled to begin on October 29, 2020; the application window for potential bidders opens on July 1. The procedures aim to ensure that bidders have the business experience and financial means to deploy networks — and intend to use a network technology that will allow them to meet performance requirements. Here we look at some steps for potential bidders considering participating in the auction.

As someone who has tried to find info on all phases of CAF specifics after the fact, I can say it’s nice to have everything spelled out. There are greater details in the article.

Three MN healthcare facilities get FCC funding

The FCC reports

—The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau today approved an additional 67 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Health care providers in both urban and rural areas of the country will use this $20.18 million in funding to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized by the CARES Act, has approved funding for 305 health care providers in 42 states plus Washington, D.C. for a total of $104.98 million in funding.

And here are the programs in Minnesota that received funding…

  • Fairview Health Services, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was awarded $598,000 for connected tablets to assigned patients in the inpatient setting for video visit capabilities with medical staff and family members, while other tablets will be mobile and used to monitor patients from the nurse station, to provide palliative care services to avoid prolonged potential exposure to COVID-19.
  • New Path Mental Health Services, in Golden Valley, Minnesota, was awarded $15,500 for laptop computers to be used by therapists to continue mental health treatment using telehealth services.
  • Woodland Centers, in Willmar, Minnesota, was awarded $118,294 for mobile hotspots, telemedicine upgrades to computers, video monitors, remote monitoring equipment, and network upgrades to conduct mental health and substance use services by video or telephone for patients across seven counties

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.

CNS shares RDOF Challenged Census blocks

CNS has a pretty complete map of RDOF Challenged Census blocks. What does that mean? RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) is the FCC’s largest distribution of USF (Universal Service Funds). There are two phases:

  • Phase 1: Will provide up to $16.4 billion
  • Phase 2: Will provide at least $4.4 billion

The FCC will award RDOF funds through a descending clock, reverse auction process. Eligible areas include those without current (or already funded) access to adequate broadband service, defined by the FCC as 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream (25/3). CNS’s map shows those areas whose eligibility is being challenged…

Their map shows locations of the approximately 280,000 census blocks identified by ISPS or other entities, filed with the FCC to challenge potentially available census blocks  included in the upcoming RDOF auction. Not all challenge letters provided sufficient and/or accurate data for accurate mapping, and thus, this map, while containing a significant amount of data, is not fully complete. Please see the “information” tab for disclaimer and additional limitations.

For a more detailed map, or questions, please contact Paul Solsrud paul.solsrud@cooperative-networks.com

[Added May 6 noon]

Paul just shared a list of the largest challengers by the number of blocks they challenged and a list of all challengers. So interesting!

CenturyLink Asks FCC for CAF Deadline Extension, Citing COVID-19 Issues

Telecompetitor reports…

CenturyLink has warned the FCC that the company may not meet deadlines for completing broadband deployments funded through the CAF (Connect America Fund) program. In a meeting with senior commission officials this week, CenturyLink representatives attributed the deployment delays to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the commission for a deployment deadline extension.

In a letter that CenturyLink sent to the FCC summarizing the meeting, the company noted a range of reasons why the pandemic was causing CAF deployment delays, including:

  • Some localities have mandated a complete work stoppage that extends to broadband deployment.

  • Numerous permitting agencies are shut down or have scaled back operations, substantially reducing their ability to process permit applications.

  • Higher instances of backorders and product unavailability for electronics, fiber and other equipment needed for broadband deployment.

It’s a shame it’s happening just when end users need it the most.

Mayo Clinic get $1 million for telehealth from FCC COVID-19 fund

HIT Consultant reports…

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau approved an additional 13 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, totaling $4.2M in funding.  The third set of providers will support some of the hardest-hit areas like California and Maryland to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has funded 11 health care providers in 16 states for a total of $13.7M in funding.

That includes…

Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, was awarded $1,000,000 to implement video telehealth services and remote patient monitoring across its Midwest presence of over 50 communities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, to minimize exposure and slow further spread of the COVID-19 virus while maintaining patient care and monitoring standards.