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.

MN PUC decides that Feds have jurisdiction over Fond du Lac broadband company

West Central Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday, April 16 agreed that their federal counterparts should be the ones to have jurisdiction over the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s community-owned broadband company.

The band had earlier pushed for federal oversight in filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Members of the commission unanimously ruled in the band’s favor during an online meeting Thursday morning, April 16.

The band is looking “eligible telecommunications carrier” for the reservation and three small adjacent areas – where there are apparently three households…

Attorneys for the band have argued that its broadband company, Fond du Lac Communications, should answer to the Federal Communications Commission on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Reservation officials have sought to deal directly with the FCC in their efforts to secure an “eligible telecommunications carrier” designation for the company, something the MPUC normally grants.

Doing so would open up the company to a stream of federal funding through the Lifeline, a benefit program that helps qualifying low-income households to save on their monthly phone and internet bills. Officials say the program could be crucial for the more than 20% of reservation households that fall below the poverty line.

While the program typically provides subscribers with discounts of up to $9.25 a month, those on tribal lands can save as much as $34.25. Only about 50,300 households use Lifeline in Minnesota, according to the most recent PUC data from 2018

It is unclear when or if the band expects its petition for Lifeline eligibility to be approved by the FCC. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Ask the FCC to extend the deadline for 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window

The 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window is…

This window is a unique opportunity for Tribes in rural areas to directly access unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands, subject to buildout requirements. The 2.5 GHz band is suitable for both mobile coverage and fixed point-to-point uses, and is currently used to provide broadband service by legacy educational licensees and commercial providers that lease the spectrum. Depending on your needs, it can play an important role in the deployment of broadband and other advanced communications services on your Tribal lands. Please find more detailed information below, including how to determine whether 2.5 GHz spectrum is available over your Tribal lands.

The Rural Tribal Priority Window opened Monday, February 3, 2020, and closes on Monday, August 3, 2020 at 6PM EDT. Click the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window Submitted Applications link under Related Links to view a list of submitted applications.

Unfortunately the deadline of Aug 3, 2020 has become unrealistic given the state of the nation under pandemic. Stakeholders are sending letters (see sample) to the FCC asking them to extend the deadline.

Webinar Today: FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Portal

Sorry for the late notice – I just got word…

Federal Communications Commission: COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Portal
On Friday, April 10, 2020 , the Federal Communications Commission announced information regarding the Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Portal opens on Monday, April 13 at 12:00 p.m. ET . The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will provide $200 million in funding, appropriated by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to help health care providers furnish connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A webinar presentation to assist applicants in preparing their applications will be available on Monday, April 13, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. ET on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program page at www.fcc.gov/covid19telehealth.