FCC Releases Draft Program Rules for the Affordable Connectivity Program

From the FCC…

The Federal Communications Commission released draft rules associated with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).  Created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act), this new longer-term program builds upon the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB). The program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. It also continues to provide the same one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households that was available as part of the EBB program. 

In releasing the item for public review, Chairwoman Rosenworcel said: “… Given the importance of this program to consumers, I made public the draft for our newest broadband affordability program to invite feedback. We know that programs meant to help the most vulnerable consumers benefit greatly from public input. 

 The Commission is expected to vote on this item next week. 

You can learn more about the ACP by visiting: www.fcc.gov/ACP. 

You can also find ACP program outreach materials for the ACP in our partner toolkit. 

Kandiyohi County and Res Baker and Lang make broadband a hot topic

The West Central Tribune reports…

State Rep. Dave Baker and Sen. Andrew Lang, during a visit to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, agreed with the commissioners on the importance of getting broadband to the rural areas of the county. Both said completing changes to legislation language and grant matches were important priorities for this year’s legislative session.

Broadband was a hot topic…

The topic the group spent the most time on during Tuesday’s meeting was broadband. Since early 2021, the county board has made expanding the reach of high speed broadband a high priority, even pledging up to 75% of its coronavirus relief funds from the American Rescue Plan act to the cause.

“This group of people are very committed to broadband,” said Connie Schmoll, who has been working on county broadband projects on a contracted basis.

In recent months the state and federal government have also brought broadband forward as a priority, in part due to the pandemic and how it showed the need for high speed internet access across the nation. The federal infrastructure bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband infrastructure, some of which will come to Minnesota.

“It has become the new rural electric issue. It is infrastructure, it has to happen,” said Commissioner Rollie Nissen.

However, not everything is running smoothly in getting broadband projects approved, funded and constructed. Some of the rules and regulations attached to state broadband grants and federal funding are making it difficult for the county to put all the pieces together. Kandiyohi County has its eye on both a federal grant and a state Border to Border grant, but those regulations are slowing the process.

One of the biggest issues still be hashed out is whether both the state and local units of government like Kandiyohi County can use American Rescue Plan act dollars to fund the same broadband project. Kandiyohi County wants to use part of its ARP money to fund the 50% local match required of the state Border to Border broadband grant. However, the state might use its ARP money to pay its half of the project as well, and state law doesn’t allow that.

“That would really be helpful, if we would remove some of those barriers applying for those grants,” Imdieke said.

The county would also like to see the match local governments are asked to pay when awarded a state broadband grant, presently 50%, to be lowered, to make it easier for more rural areas to participate.

They have run into a familiar hiccup…

Yet another barrier is the inability for the county, when using the state Border to Border program, to be able to extend broadband to areas already within the purview of a private service provider, whether that business provides the service to that area or not. Incumbent first right of refusal means if an unserved or underserved area is within the service area of a private internet provider, that provider can block a Border to Border funded project from moving forward. The county has run into problems with this rule in the past. Kleindl would like to see that rule removed.

Both Baker and Lange agreed that changes needed to be made to the rules. What may have made sense years ago, such as the first right of refusal or the size of grant matches, might no longer work.

“I think it is policy getting in the way,” Baker said. “Money isn’t the issue.”

The county board, Schmoll and others are pushing for those changes to be made quickly, in time for grants to be awarded and projects to be moved forward for construction.

Le Sueur talks to State Reps and Senator about frustration with RDOF and State grants creating blockage for better broadband

Le Sueur County News reports…

According to a report by the Blandin Foundation, nearly one in four Le Sueur County households are under-served or unserved. But despite the record $70 million in Border to Border grants, Le Sueur County is at risk of not seeing a single cent in state grants.

Many under-served and unserved areas of Le Sueur County are now ineligible for Border to Border grant dollars since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned over $408 million in grants to internet service providers to construct fiber optic networks across northeastern and southern Minnesota.

Of all the companies competing for grants, the largest sum is expected to go to a little-known ISP: LTD Broadband. The telecom provider bid for over $311,000 in 102,000 locations across the state. LTD’s planned fiber optic network encompasses approximately two thirds of unserved and under-served areas in the county.

I’ve written before about the situation in Le Sueur, they have been ineligible for state funding because of the LTD proposed opportunity with RDOF. So far nothing has changed as we wait to hear with LTD gets the funding but Le Sueur has been working to tell the story and on new plans…

Le Sueur County officials and the Board of Commissioners aired these frustrations to state legislators in a meeting on Tuesday. County officials pushed Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake), Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) to bring the eligibility issue to the DEED Office, which distributes Border-to-Border grants, and the governor’s office.

“It seems that the state is going to receive a significant amount of money from the federal government for broadband investments, and if this policy issue isn’t addressed, we’re not going to be eligible for these investments,” said County Administrator Joe Martin.

Draheim responded that the state was tied by conditions attached to federal dollars and believe the county’s concerns are primarily tied to the federal government’s actions.

“I think it stems more from the federal government than the state government,” said Draheim. “I definitely will be in contact with the broadband department and others at the state level to see if there’s anything we could work around, but I think we need to be talking to Washington and not St. Paul.”

Draheim offered to have a non-partisan staff member answer clarifying questions on whether it was a state decision or federal conditions that led to the county’s grant request being denied.

In the future, Draheim advocated for the state to shift its focus away from fiber networks and toward subsidizing rural high speed internet through satellite dishes.

”It’s very disappointing for Le Sueur County that we’re in this position. Moving forward, I think the state legislators are going to have to look at what’s the next step,” said Draheim. “We have literally pumped billions of dollars into internet across Minnesota. Unfortunately, most of those federal dollars go to ‘rural internet,’ but it just connects large cities through rural Minnesota and doesn’t help the people of rural Minnesota.”

I think it’s worth noting Draheim’s focus on satellite. I’m afraid we may see a resurgence of interest in satellite in the legislature because it has gotten better but it still does not compete with the fiber, which is built for today’s need and future needs. People and businesses will move to an area with fiber to build a future; they won’t move to areas with satellite-only.

OPPORTUNITY: NTIA Requests Public Comment on Broadband Programs in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

From the NTIA…

Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it is requesting public comment on a wide range of policy and program considerations associated with new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL): the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. 

The BIL provides $65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the U.S. Of those funds, $48.2 billion is allocated to NTIA to deploy broadband to unserved and underserved locations, create more low-cost broadband service options, deploy middle mile infrastructure, and address the digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities. NTIA is interested in input on the program design, policy issues, and implementation considerations for these new programs in order to meet the programmatic goals articulated in the statute and by the Biden Administration.

“President Biden delivered a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect all Americans to high-speed broadband and close the digital divide for good,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Universal, affordable broadband is essential to our economy, our small businesses, educating our students and keeping Americans healthy. As we begin to set up these essential programs, we are asking for your input. We need to hear directly from the communities who will benefit from these programs so we can fund solutions that appropriately address their needs and meet the challenge before us.”

Development of the programs will also be informed by NTIA’s experience in promoting broadband infrastructure development and digital inclusion efforts through its BroadbandUSA initiative as well as previous and current grant programs. NTIA intends to release an additional request for comment to address the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

“This unprecedented investment in closing the digital divide requires input from a wide range of voices to assist NTIA’s efforts in the design and implementation of the new grant programs,” said Evelyn Remaley, Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information. “This feedback is critical to maximizing the impact of these programs, bringing affordable broadband to all Americans, promoting adoption, and closing long-standing gaps in digital equity and inclusion.”

Commenters are encouraged to address any or all the questions enumerated in the Request for Comment. Written comments may be submitted to regulations.gov by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 4, 2022. All comments submitted will be posted publicly on regulations.gov.

In addition to requesting written comment, NTIA will continue a series of public virtual listening sessions in connection with the BIL programs in January and February 2022. Registration information for these sessions is on the BroadbandUSA website.

Rep Stauber talks about broadband funding and local control of solutions

The Wadena Pioneer Jounral reports…

Rep. John Poston (R-Lake Shore) and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber were invited to speak to a group of Wadena County leaders and other interested citizens about their 2022 priorities on Jan. 3, chief among them was making 2022 better than 2021.

Rep Stauber mentioned broadband, although he voted against the Infrastructure Bill that secured funding

Stauber noted other high level issues he’s concerned about including securing the southern border, the energy crisis and bringing down inflation.

Stauber spoke about the growth of billions of dollars worth of broadband in the state but said the fruits of that infrastructure have not yet been seen.

He later brought up that even more funding for broadband is coming, and he is fighting for more of it to come to rural Minnesota, rather than the metro area. Speaking further on broadband, it’s Stauber’s goal to have local elected officials determine the type of broadband used in their community.

When asked about the Build Back Better Plan passing through the House of Representatives, Stauber shared that he voted against the bill because of the wasted money found inside and that committees were not given opportunities to weigh in on the bill.

OPPORTUNITY: White House Requests Input on Developing Digital, Community-Oriented Health Care Services

From the Federal Register…

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) requests input from community health stakeholders, technology developers, and other interested parties about how digital health technologies are used, or could be used in the future, to transform community health, individual wellness, and health equity. …

To support this effort, OSTP seeks information about: successful models of strengthening community health through digital health technologies within the United
States and abroad, barriers to uptake, trends from the COVID-19 pandemic, how user experience is measured, need for tools and training, ideas for potential government action, and effects on health equity.
DATES: Interested persons and organizations are invited to submit comments on or before 5:00 p.m. ET on [INSERT DATE 60 DAYS AFTER DATE OF PUBLICATION IN THE
FEDERAL REGISTER].
ADDRESSES: Interested individuals and organizations should submit comments electronically to connectedhealth@ostp.eop.gov and include ‘‘Connected Health RFI’’ in the subject line of the email. While email is preferred, brief voicemail messages may be This document is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 01/05/2022 and available online at
federalregister.gov/d/2021-28193, and on govinfo.gov
left at 202-456-3030. Due to time constraints, mailed paper submissions will not be accepted, and electronic submissions received after the deadline cannot be ensured to be incorporated or taken into consideration.

AT&T and Verizon Agree to New Delay of 5G Rollout

As someone who is currently on a road trip to California with plans to fly home, I am pleased to share a recap from Benton

AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their rollout of a new 5G service for two weeks, after the Federal Aviation Administration requested they do so in an effort to mitigate potential interference with airplane safety systems. At Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s request, “we have voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay,” an AT&T spokesperson said. “We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues.” The sudden turn of events came as the Federal Aviation Administration was preparing to soon issue flight restrictions that US airlines worried would significantly disrupt air-travel and cargo shipments around the country. Airlines for America, which represents major passenger and cargo carriers, had planned to ask a federal court to block the 5G rollout slated for Jan 5. The trade group held off once both telecom carriers agreed to further delay their 5G rollout until Jan. 19.

To be fair my concern is more related to my fear of flying that knowing anything about the real risk of 5G.

Paul Bunyan Communications shares info on the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Good info for folks in and out of Paul Bunyan coverage area…

Today, Paul Bunyan Communications announced it is working to help build awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program.  The new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service.

The $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.  The benefit also provides up to a $100 per household discount toward a one-time purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet if the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase through a participating broadband provider.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment opened on December 31, 2021. Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or by (1) going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and (2) contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

CNS Map of RDOF Auction Details

CNS continues to update their interactive map of RDOF Auction Details…

Here’s the latest updates:
We update this map whenever the FCC releases RDOF-related data. The latest update was 12/29/2021 with data released from the FCC on 12/14/21 and 12/16/21. Updates include:

“Bids in Default” DA-21-1582A3 12/16/2021

“Ready to Authorize” batches 1-5 12/16/2021

“Authorized” batches 1-4 12/14/2021

Senator Smith remembers 2021 and investment in broadband through Infrastructure Bill

Duluth New Tribune posts letter from Senator Tina Smith…

As we look ahead to 2022, the historic investments we made this year will power our recovery. The once-in-a-generation, bipartisan infrastructure law we passed this fall will put millions of people in good-paying jobs in Minnesota and across the country by rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids, as well as by expanding broadband networks. And the American Rescue Plan that I helped pass into law in the spring gave us the tools to battle the pandemic, restore lost jobs, and reopen our schools and small businesses.

In November, I joined President Joe Biden at the White House when he signed the historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill into law. I also joined him this past month when he came to Minnesota to discuss the transformative impact the new law will have on the lives of Minnesotans, by creating a generation of good-paying jobs and economic growth.

I pushed hard to enact this law because it will make badly needed improvements to our state’s roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids. It provides the support to bring high-speed, affordable broadband networks to Minnesota families and businesses — especially those in rural areas. The new law also includes strong buy-American provisions so things like steel will be mined, melded, and manufactured in the United States.

Daily Yonder looks how how states are poised to handle influx of broadband funding – MN has veteran standing

The Daily Yonder reports

The recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes significant funding to expand broadband access, to help households pay for their monthly broadband connections and to help people learn how to productively use those connections. This legislation represents Congress’ first formal recognition of the essential nature of high-speed internet.

Historically, broadband funding has been distributed from federal entities like the Federal Communications Commission or U.S. Department of Agriculture directly to internet providers. The Government Accountability Office, which monitors and audits government operations, has been critical of these efforts.

This time, however, states are at the center of the funding that is coming down the pipeline. The US$42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, known as BEAD, requires each state to generate a five-year action plan laying out how it will use the funds, including a process for prioritizing locations that are classified as “unserved” or “underserved.”

Similarly, the $2.7 billion Digital Equity Act requires each state to establish an organization responsible for developing a digital equity plan, which will help to disburse subgrants. Digital equity means ensuring that every community has adequate access to the technologies and skills needed to fully participate in society.

They take a look at how each state is poised to handle the funding. When it comes to years in the field, Minnesota is looking pretty good…

FCC commits $603 million to close homework gap – MN to get $57+ million

The FCC reports

—The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is committing $602,985,895.13 in its latest wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund program support, which will connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. These additional commitments bring the current total commitments to over $3.8 billion, supporting students, school staff, and library patrons in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework and virtual learning, as schools and libraries continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. …

Today’s announcement marks the sixth wave of commitments and includes over $367 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and nearly $236 million in commitments from Window 2 applications. This round of commitments will support 1,651 schools, 85 libraries, and 14 consortia, which are approved to receive nearly 1.2 million connected devices and over 790,000 broadband connections. Total commitments to date are supporting over 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections. More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found at https://www.fcc.gov/ecf-current-funding-commitments.

Minnesota will get $57,412,673.35 in total doled out in waves of:

  • $19,830,464.06
  • $10,347,442.23
  • $6,601,893.82
  • $3,854,319.44
  • $10,865,203.54
  • $1,468,881.00
  • $4,444,469.26

MN Broadband Task Force finalizes annual report

Today the MN Broadband Task Force was all business getting through the brass tacks of the annual report. There were a couple of hot topics or sticky issues. First, in the draft, there was a waiver to allow state funding to go to projects that did not meet the 100/100 standard in areas that are difficult to serve. That has been removed. The reasoning was that public funding should not go to invest in short term solutions, especially when we are in a flux of unprecedented federal funding. There was a lot of discussion on whether to say all recommended funding should come from base budget. Lots of discussion on how to describe satellite – is it a gap technology, is it good enough for people who choose to live in otherwise unserved areas, is it affordable? There was a brief discussion about removing the $5 million cap on state grant projects. It would allow for bigger projects but the group decided to leave that discussion to next year, when hopefully the Office of Broadband Development will be looking at what to do with $180 million proposed funding for broadband. (Fun note – the proposal to get that funding was submitted today.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have a PDF of the document today but with the new PPT format, it’s easy to follow along with the action in the video. I guess that’s a silver lining of COVID – better archive of public meetings.

EVENTS various Wednesdays: NTIA to hold virtual listening sessions for new broadband grant programs

NTIA announces listening sessions for new broadband grant programs…

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will host five virtual listening sessions to gather stakeholder input regarding implementation of five new broadband grant programs authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  The new programs include the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program; the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program; the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program; the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program; and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

NTIA will hold the public virtual listening sessions based on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, December 15, 2021, from 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, January 12, 2022, from 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, January 26, 2022, from 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, February 9, 2022, from 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, February 23, 2022, from 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET

These listening sessions will be hosted via NTIA’s virtual platform and conducted as a live public listening session. NTIA will post registration links on its BroadbandUSA website 7 days prior to each session at https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/events/latest-events.

The MN Spokesman Recorder talks to Senator Smith about federal funds for broadband

The MN Spokesman Recorder asked Senator Smith about the new infrastructure bill…

How does this bill differ from Build Back Better plan?

The Infrastructure Bill is gonna be a big deal for our state… It includes historic investments in transportation and in broadband, including in transit.

What that means for Minnesota is billions of dollars that will come to help us improve and repair our road system. And it’ll mean dollars for, I’m sure now, transit, which is so important for getting people out to their work, into their jobs, and getting around their community, and much-needed investment.

And I might just highlight the stuff, the work that we’ll be doing in broadband, to expand broadband, including helping to make broadband more affordable. There is a special program called the Digital Equity Act, which will end digital redlining, which is a real problem for poorer communities, marginalized communities when we find that the big cable companies just don’t serve them at the same level as they serve other communities.

More details on how funding will help…

When it comes to broadband, people think a lot about how there are real gaps in connectivity for people living in rural communities. But I know from my many conversations that there are many, many folks that live in the central cities who can’t afford the broadband connection because it’s too expensive, or because they lack access to tablets for example or laptop computers.

How will broadband money get distributed…

When it comes to broadband, we actually have a good program in Minnesota to distribute broadband dollars in partnership with local for-profit providers. I would expect that in Minnesota, it’ll be up to the governor. But I would expect that the governor would use his border-to-border broadband program to distribute those dollars because it’s a way of accessing help that communities are already used to.