EVENT Jan 31: Information Session: Your role in creating Minnesota’s digital equity plan

While this event is aimed at librarians, it’s open to everyone. Librarians are pretty welcoming and ask good questions so it could be an interesting way to learn more about the Office of Broadband Development’s plan for digital equity…

Throughout 2023, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is developing a statewide digital equity plan to improve internet affordability, access to internet-enabled devices, and availability of digital skills training. This plan will help direct millions of federal dollars to Minnesota for future digital-equity initiatives.

As established leaders in digital equity, libraries have an important role to play in this planning process. On Tuesday, January 31, at 2:00 p.m., please join us to learn from OBD staff about some special opportunities for libraries to contribute to the plan, including through Digital Inclusion Planning Teams, regional gatherings, and a non-competitive grant round.

Register online.

US Farm Bill may mean more broadband funding in the future

Fierce Telecom reports…

Congress already allocated $65 billion for broadband in 2021 via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), but as negotiations over the 2023 Farm Bill get underway some are angling for even more cash to boost rural broadband.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Farm Bill is a sprawling piece of legislation covering agricultural and food programs that is revisited every five years or so. The last Farm Bill was passed in late 2018, meaning it is up for renewal in the back half of 2023.

Though you might not immediately associate internet infrastructure with agriculture, rural broadband programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been a part of the Farm Bill since 2002. The ReConnect Program is probably the best-known of these, but the USDA also oversees the Telecommunications Infrastructure Program, Rural Broadband Program (RBP), Community Connect Grant Program (CCGP), and Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLTP).

Annual appropriations for the last three – $350 million for the RBP, $50 million for the CCGP and $75 million to $82 million for the DLTP – were included in the 2018 bill and are set to expire on September 30 of this year. The ReConnect Program has received funding sporadically through separate legislation, including $2 billion from the IIJA in 2021. But the Congressional Research Service noted Congress could consider a longer-term funding mechanism for ReConnect in its 2023 Farm Bill.

Institute for Local Self Reliance parses out FCC maps and potential federal funding

The Institute for Local Self Reliance is keeping an eye on the local, state and national policies that impact access to broadband. This week, they took a look at the FCC Maps, which will have an influence on how much federal funding each state will get. My intention is to whet your appetite enough to have you read the whole article but here are the highest level points…

This article will explore what is going wrong with the distribution of that $42.5 billion, the mapping process, and continued failure of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show competence in the broadband arena. And it offers ways to fix these important problems as every jurisdiction from Puerto Rico to Hawaii feels overwhelmed by the challenge.

The $42.5 billion guarantees each state $100 million and a large additional sum calculated proportionally based on the number of locations in each state that don’t have adequate high-speed Internet service. States that already made significant investments in better rural networks and made strides toward fast universal Internet access for all households – like Massachusetts – will likely not receive much more than $100 million, while extremely large states with many high-cost rural residents – like Texas and California – will receive billions.

The process is faulty…

To recap – the FCC is required to allow challenges to its data because of its history of inaccurate broadband claims. The FCC created a proprietary fabric with a hasty contract with Costquest Associates, trying to tackle an extremely difficult problem on a short timeline. States had an early shot to fix errors in the fabric, but at a time when many state offices were still seeking people to work in their broadband offices. The data only became publicly available after the deadline passed to fix what could be millions of omitted or incorrect locations, at which point the FCC and NTIA encouraged people to submit challenges (during the December holidays) to fix both the fabric and the overstated claims of availability.

The maps are faulty…

In a discussion about the current mapping process, Executive Director of the Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance Garland McCoy argued that the new maps are going to be the same as the old maps (around 45 min in). The maps continue to rely primarily on claims by ISPs regarding what they advertise to locations without any pricing information.

Here are some recommendations…

To ensure the $42.5 billion finally resolves the digital divide, both the FCC and NTIA need to change course. NTIA needs to use some flexibility in the BEAD program to push some initial money out to states while waiting on final estimates from FCC maps that better reflect reality. Both agencies should seriously explore how and why the confusion and misinformation conflating availability challenges with location challenges happened. To resolve the problems identified above, we recommend the following:

  • NTIA should not make final BEAD allocations using data from the current FCC data collection where only some states were able to offer fixes for their many missing locations.
  • The Senate should confirm Gigi Sohn and break the FCC deadlock.
  • The FCC must develop a data source about Internet access availability that reflects the actual service available to homes and businesses.
  • The FCC needs greater independence from the biggest cable and telecom companies.

  • States need to develop their own mapping capacity rather than relying solely on the FCC and to ensure they spend Internet access subsidies wisely.

Federal Hearing on Broadband sound like MN hearings – with only one side speaking

Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) is taking a look at federal hearings on Broadband Grants. It looks like the large national providers may be having their day to be heard…

But that doesn’t seem to be the intent of these hearings. The hearings want to look at two issues. The first is to make sure that the grants are only used for connecting to unserved locations and not used for ‘overbuilding’. This has been a major talking point for the big cable companies for years – they don’t want to see any grant money used to encroach on areas they think of as their service territories. The whole idea of not using grants for overbuilding is ludicrous – there are not many homes in the country where at least one ISP can’t provide service – so every new broadband network that is constructed is overbuilding somebody.

The second issue…

The issue that has the big cable companies up in arms is that the IIJA grant legislation says that once a state has satisfied bringing broadband to unserved and underserved locations, grant funding can be used to improve broadband in inner cities and places that the big ISPs have ignored. There will not likely be a lot of BEAD grant money that goes to this purpose, but there will be some.

The third issue…

The other stated purpose of the hearings is to make sure that the grants don’t have waste, fraud, or abuse. It’s going to be really interesting to see where this leads in hearings. The only big historical cases of grant waste and abuse I know of are the way the big telcos often took CAF II funding and made no upgrades. I don’t picture these hearings dredging up past abuses by the big ISPs, so I’m having a hard time imagining where else this line of inquiry might go.

Why?

These hearings only make sense as a way to appease the large ISPs which contribute heavily to politicians. It’s hard to imagine that these hearings will change anything. Congress can change the BEAD grant rules any time this year, but that will take bipartisan cooperation – something that seems to have disappeared from Washington DC. But the hearings will only allow for the airing of the big ISP grievances, and I guess that is something.

This makes me nervous because I have been tracking broadband conversations at the Minnesota State Capitol and have been seeing a lack of consumer protection or community representation. The providers get a chance to speak. And the impact of provider perspective seem to permeate the questions that legislators are asking. The last meeting at the MN Senate there was concern about staffing issues and potential supply shortages as well as the Office of Broadband Development getting into digital equity.

MN House bonding committee hears of billions in federal funds available for MN capital projects – including broadband

I’ve said before, I just can’t hear enough about the federal funding coming for broadband. It’s confusing and the numbers are huge. (Huge but not sufficient to get border to border broadband.) If you feel the same, this is another concise view of the funds coming it. This look was different for me because it wasn’t just broadband-focused. Interesting to compare to other capital projects. (You can keep track on the MN Management and Budget IIJA website.)

And here’s the recap from the MN House…

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The federal government has promised about $1 trillion to the states through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Minnesota is expected to receive more than $7.4 billion in formula funds over the next five years, but a majority require a state match.

State agencies have been coordinating with each other and local agencies to maximize the impact of the federal dollars, said Liz Connor, MMB’s strategic initiatives manager. She highlighted the state’s IIJA website, with information for local governments and others on technical assistance and resources, as well as a grant opportunity tracking form.

Minnesota has been awarded nearly $5.9 billion to date, but that doesn’t mean there is authority to spend it, Connor said, though MMB has a handle on what the state will be pursuing. Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget — scheduled for release Jan. 24 — is expected to include proposals for matching funds.

Questions the committee must answer, said Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), include how much money is available, how much the match is, and how much the state needs to unlock federal funds.

American Rescue Plan

Minnesota was also awarded $180.7 million through the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. To access the fund, capital projects must:

  • directly enable work, education and health monitoring;

  • address needs arising from, exacerbated by or identified following the COVID-19 pandemic; and

  • address a critical need of the community served.

To date, $130.7 million to expand access to broadband in Minnesota has been approved by the U.S. Treasury Department. This includes $15 million for a new program to help homes and businesses defray the construction costs of bringing broadband services from the road to the door.

The state is awaiting a federal response — possibly by fall 2023 — on another proposed $50 million for multi-purpose community facility projects that’d be administered by the Department of Education. Examples of eligible projects include improving internet access at libraries or creating employment centers at community health care sites.

Adosh Unni, the department’s director of government relations, said the expected 2- to 2 ½-year turnaround to spend funds once they’re allocated is manageable.

MN awarded $5.8 Million in Internet for All Planning Grants

NTIA reports

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that Minnesota received its first “Internet for All” grants for deploying high-speed Internet networks and developing digital skills training programs under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All initiative. Minnesota is receiving $5,881,905.10 in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Biden, to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet service throughout the state.

“Closing the digital divide is essential for Minnesotans to access healthcare, obtain good, high-paying jobs, and connect rural communities who have far too long been disconnected,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “I appreciate Governor Walz and his team for their commitment to connecting Minnesotans to affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service.”

“These resources, based on my legislation to bring high-speed, affordable broadband to all corners of our country, will ensure that more Minnesotans can connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and help families across our state reliably access the high-speed internet they need.”

“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st century – it isn’t just nice to have, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith. “This funding, made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will expand access to affordable, high-speed internet to thousands of Minnesotans. It will also fund programs aimed at promoting digital equity and inclusion so that every Minnesotan, no matter their zip code, has internet access. I’m proud of our work to secure these investments and will continue looking for ways to close the digital divide.”

All 50 U.S. states and six territories applied for planning grant funding for the Internet for All initiative’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Digital Equity Act program. Grant awards for all 56 eligible entities will be announced on a rolling basis.

About Minnesota’s Planning Grants

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program

The BEAD Program provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed Internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs.

Minnesota will receive $5 million to fund various activities including:

  • Identification of unserved and underserved locations;
  • Efforts to support local coordination including outreach to diverse stakeholders across the Minnesota;
  • Planning and capacity-building of the state’s broadband office;
  • Local engagement with unserved, underserved, and underrepresented communities to better understand barriers to Internet adoption.

Digital Equity

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. The first part of NTIA’s execution of the Digital Equity Act is to fund digital equity planning efforts.

Minnesota will receive $881,905.10 to fund various activities including:

  • Development of a statewide digital equity plan to close the digital equity gap;
  • Recruiting staff to help develop the plan;
  • Engagement of local community members and stakeholders on digital equity issues.

Internet for All

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a historic $65 billion investment to expand affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in communities across the U.S. NTIA recently launched a series of new high-speed Internet grant programs funded by the law that will build high-speed Internet infrastructure across the country, create more low-cost high-speed Internet service options, and address the digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities.

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) 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. Visit AffordableConnectivity.gov to learn more.

For more information on the Biden-Harris Administration’s high-speed Internet service programs, please visit InternetforAll.gov.

Recap on MN investments in broadband from Benton

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has compiled a nice recap of what’s happening in Minnesota in terns of broadband investment…

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program is the state’s financial tool to address the primary cause for the lack of broadband in unserved areas: high costs and lower population densities resulted in unsustainable business plans and thus broadband installations are not feasible. This month, Minnesota announced new grants that represent a significant acceleration of the Border-to-Border Program: previously, the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s (DEED) Office of Broadband Development had provided nearly $130 million in Border-to-Border grants—matched with over $180 million in private and local matching funds—to connect more than 57,000 homes and businesses around Minnesota to high-speed internet since the program’s inception in 2014.

In May 2022, Minnesota enacted HF3420, which included $210 million for broadband resources:

  • $25 million in fiscal year (FY) 2023 and $25 million in FY 2024 in general fund spending directed to the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program, which provides 50% matching funds for broadband development costs for a qualifying project in unserved and underserved areas;
  • $60.703 million directed from the state’s share of the federal Capital Projects Fund authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act to be used for broadband grants under the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program, with the remaining $50 million reserved for the Walz administration to spend on any other eligible expenditure within the program’s guidelines, including digital inclusion efforts;
  • All of the state’s appropriation of at least $100 million directed from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to be used for broadband infrastructure deployment under the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program;
  • A set aside of $10 million from the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program funding and $30 million from the state’s BEAD grant share for the Low-Density Pilot Program to provide broadband service in areas of the state where a 50 percent match formula is not adequate to make a business case for broadband infrastructure deployment and allows up to 75 percent of the total project cost to be covered by Border-to-Border broadband grant funds;
  • A set aside of $15 million for a new Broadband Line Extension Program, which would fund smaller-scale broadband line extensions to individual homes and businesses that still lack access; and
  • A set aside of $15 million from the state’s BEAD grant share for comprehensive statewide broadband mapping efforts.

Update from DEED on BEAD at MAPCED: Border to Border grants out soon – the FCC maps are important

Today I attended the MAPCED conference session on Internet For All & Office of Broadband Legislative Priorities with Bree Maki & Hannah Buckland, Office of Broadband Development, DEED. Here are some of the highlights:

  • $100 grant awards will be announced soon. And hope to announce the next round soon after with the low density awards.
  • DEED will do what they can to help the Broadband blog continue.

BEAD at DEED from Bree

  • Minnesota is ahead of the game for digital planning. Looking forward to the shift to working on use as well as infrastructure.
  • $100 million for infrastructure – including whatever the FCC maps indicates for need.
  • Working on a kickoff meeting for the end of January
  • More on FCC mapping –
    • Go on the map and challenge locations
    • Multiunit dwelling show as served if one household is served
    • DEED is doing review of maps
  • BEAD Plan is 5 year plan
    • Need to education state policymakers
    • We are getting a lot of money but Minnesota is a big state and a lot of work needs to happen
    • Line extension is open and 75/25 match as opposed to 50/50 in border to border grants
    • We still need to talk some people into understanding why broadband in important – it’s a great grandkid magnet

Digital Equity from Hannan

  • Digital Inclusion has 3 parts: broadband, device and skills to use it – as well as trust, safety and relevance
  • Funding
    • Planning of $60 million – MN gets almost $900,000. Once money is awarded MN gets a year to plan
    • Capacity $1.44 billion –
    • Competition grants $1.25 billion – administers by NTIA not OBD
  • Plan will include
    • Local inventories
    • Local community engagement
    • State digital equity goals

Questions:

What role can attended participate in the process?

  • Come to the January kick off.
  • There will be work groups and we’ll look for participation – such as workforce.
  • If you have a digital equity or broadband plan – please let us know

What’s up with the Test it app?
Available at NaCO website and apparently the FCC will pay attention to those results.

Should we ask policymakers to push back on FCC mapping deadline?
It’s worth starting the conversation. This is a tough time of year. But we don’t want to push for far that it holds back the money.

RESOURCE: NDIA Releases State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports…

The Digital Equity Act (DEA) is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design systems that will enable true digital equity. Congress and NTIA outlined specifics for states to include in their digital equity plans. The NDIA State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit provides guidance on how to compile the plans.

It is a nice step-by-step guide. It really is a gift to folks who need to be gathering the information to make a case for optimal federal funding from BEAD and any other federal resources. I’ve said it again and again but never hurts to remind folks that unprecedented amounts of funding will be invested in broadband over the next few years and now it the time to make the case that it should come to us in Minnesota. (Or wherever you live!)

Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework: A tool to help you assess your community digital equity resource level

The opportunity for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding has communities wondering if they are well poised and doing the right things to maximize their opportunity to get funding. Colin Rhinesmith and Rafi Santo have come up with a tool (Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework) to help communities assess their preparedness. The tool looks at three things:

■ Coalition Health – The coalition health level speaks to the coalition’s structure and enactment: to what degree are members participating in coalition activities? Do they have strong relationships? Do they believe they can accomplish the goals they set out together? Is effective and equitable governance in place?

■ Member Strength – The member strength level speaks to the ability of coalition member organizations to carry out activities that promote community level outcomes: what issues are member organizations focused on? Where do they work, and with whom? How strong is their capacity in different areas?

■ Community Impact – Finally, the community impact level speaks to the on the ground issues that are of primary importance to the coalition: what is the nature of digital access issues in the community? Do community members have the digital skills they need to participate in society? Is the community collectively empowered in relation to the technological world?

The worker-be in me loves the worksheet-style information that includes aspects to measure and how to measure them. You can see a sample below:

There are recommendations for moving forward…

1. As coalitions move forward and aim to bring the ideas shared in this report into practice locally, there are several critical steps that we recommend: 1 Establish a collective process for determining why your coalition wants to engage in measurement, and what should be measured to achieve those ends. Questions of how and what data will be collected, how it will be analyzed and by whom, and many other important implementation issues around measurement in practice are downstream from these foundational questions. Establishing why a coalition wants to engage in measurement should serve to specify what kinds of indicators are important to collect data on, which can then help specify an overall approach to measurement. Critically, in coalitions, the process of answering these questions can be one that all stakeholders can be involved in in some way. While backbone organizations are often the natural stakeholder to lead such a process, as with other areas of governance, determining a high level measurement strategy is both more equitable and effective through the participation of members and other stakeholders. This is especially important if part of what will result from a new measurement strategy is members being asked to participate in things like surveys and coalition self-assessment activities, not to mention the creation and use of shared data collection mechanisms.

2 Articulate a coalition theory of change and associated logic model. As noted earlier in the report, if a coalition does not already have a developed theory of change and logic model, the process of developing a measurement strategy presents an important opportunity to do so. Articulating short term, medium term, and long term outcomes, as well as how specific coalition activities aim to “move the needle” on them, can provide an important localized model to guide measurement that can draw on the DEEM framework. With a logic model in hand, a coalition can then determine which areas of activity are most important to focus on within a data strategy based on the measurement uses it’s identified.

3 Develop data collection, analysis, and use plans. Having answered questions about why it wants to engage in measurement and what measurement should focus on, a coalition is then ready to begin determining how to go about measurement activities including data collection, analysis, and use. This includes matching indicators to potential data sources and measurement approaches such as tracking databases, surveys, publicly available data, etc. Plans around how these data will be analyzed, and then the contexts of data use and representation should be well envisioned as part of this stage of developing a coalition measurement strategy

4 Actively incorporate plans around data consent, privacy, harms, and security. As digital equity advocates know well, histories of harm are all too common when it comes to uses of data. A key element of a coalition measurement strategy should be a clear articulation of what data will be collected, how it will be stored securely, how it will (and will not) be used, how privacy will be protected, and how those providing data will have fully informed consent within data collection activities. Within this, questions of data de-identification, especially around data from vulnerable populations, should be paramount. 5 Engage in iterative development of measurement strategies. The process of developing and implementing a coalition measurement strategy is not a ‘one and done’ activity. As with all other work, measurement strategies require iteration in order to both improve existing approaches as well as to modify focus based on shifts in coalition activity. Creating mechanisms for reflection around a coalition data strategy can help articulate the utility and limitations of certain measurement approaches, as well as help identify new areas of need when it comes to measurement.

Will BEAD fund unlicensed spectrum? Good question and it will matter in Minnesota!

So many posts about the FCC maps and funding and details because the details will impact how much money communities will receive for broadband in the next few years. The issue this post – unlicensed spectrum versus licensed spectrum. Telecompetitor reports

The BEAD program is designed to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. In establishing rules for the program, NTIA omitted fixed wireless service that relies totally on unlicensed spectrum for last mile connectivity from its definition of reliable service – a decision that impacts the BEAD program in two ways.

It makes FWA deployments using unlicensed spectrum ineligible for funding. And it makes areas that have high-speed broadband eligible for overbuilds if the only high-speed broadband available is FWA that relies on unlicensed spectrum.

But some folks want that changed…

Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, today urging NTIA to revise its definition of reliable broadband for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

So what’s the difference between licensed and unlicensed spectrums?

Here’s a definition from IotaComm. I was hoping for a less commercial perspective but also high level enough to take in easily.

Most of the radio spectrum is licensed by the FCC to certain users, for example, television and radio broadcasters. Individual companies pay a licensing fee for the exclusive right to transmit on an assigned frequency within a certain geographical area. In exchange, those users can be assured that nothing will interfere with their transmission.

Alternatively, organizations can still use the airwaves to transmit communications without getting permission from the FCC, but they must transmit within those parts of the spectrum that are designated for unlicensed users. The amount of spectrum that is available for public and unlicensed use is very small—only a few bands. Both the size of the area and the lack of exclusivity mean there’s greater potential for interference from other users located nearby. (It’s like the “wild west” of radio communication.)

The Telecompetitor article touches on it a little…

NTIA hasn’t said much about why it defined reliable broadband as it did. But David Zumwalt, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) told Telecompetitor a few months ago that NTIA’s primary concern was the future availability of unlicensed spectrum.

WISPA is particularly concerned about whether areas that already have unlicensed high-speed FWA will be eligible for overbuilding through the BEAD program, as many WISPA members already have made high-speed FWA deployments that rely on unlicensed spectrum.

Folks in Minnesota may have a special interest in this issue. According to the FCC map, LTD Broadband is serving a large portion Southern Minnesota with unlicensed spectrum, as the map below indicates.

FCC will unveil draft broadband maps and NTIA clock on BEAD allocation to start

Something to look forward to next week – new broadband maps – as the FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it will unveil a pre-production draft of new broadband maps on November 18, 2022. This version is the first release of the map required by the Broadband DATA Act and will begin an ongoing, iterative process that will improve the data submitted by providers by incorporating challenges from individuals and other stakeholders.

Broadband availability will be based on data submitted by providers during the initial Broadband Data Collection filing window and will reflect services available as of June 30, 2022. When published, the draft maps will display location level information on broadband availability throughout the country and will allow people to search for their address, and review and dispute the services reported by providers at their location.

The FCC will also accept bulk challenges to the reported availability data from state and Tribal governments and other entities. As a result, this map will continually improve and refine the broadband availability data relied upon by the FCC, other government agencies, and the public. The pre-production draft map release is an important first step forward in building more accurate, more granular broadband maps, which are long overdue and mandated by Congress. Historically, the FCC’s maps have been based on broadband availability data collected at just the census block level rather than the location level, which kept unserved locations hidden if they were in partially served census blocks.

To generate this version of the map, providers’ availability data has been matched to the location information contained in the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric). The Fabric is a common dataset of all locations in the United States where fixed broadband internet access service is or can be installed. To improve the accuracy of the FCC maps, the Commission began accepting challenges to Fabric information from providers, states, local and Tribal governments starting in September. Once the draft maps launch, individuals will also be able to submit challenges, or request corrections, to Fabric locations directly through the map interface. They will also be able to request missing locations be added. Information from those challenges will be incorporated in future versions of the Fabric.

For more information about the BDC, please visit the Broadband Data Collection website at https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData.

And once that happens, the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Association) reports…

Following the Federal Communications Commission’s announcement that on November 18 it will unveil an initial version of new broadband maps and open the mapping challenge process, NTIA expects to communicate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment allocation levels to eligible entities by June 30th.

“The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. “The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major Internet for All awards in 2023. I urge every state and community that believes it can offer improvements to be part of this process so that we can deliver on the promise of affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service for everyone in America.”

The Biden-Harris Administration is required by law to allocate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funds according to a formula derived from the map data. NTIA coordinates closely with the FCC to ensure that this data is accurate and reliable and will continue to do so. NTIA’s efforts to date include:

  • Calling every single Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the United States to remind them of their obligations relating to the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) process, register any concerns or technical assistance requests, and relay those to the FCC;
  • Engaging in sustained outreach with Governors’ offices, state broadband offices, and stakeholder communities to share technical assistance resources, solicit feedback, and relay major areas of concern; and
  • Producing and sharing materials to break down the process with key dates and deadlines for affected stakeholders.

NTIA will engage in a comprehensive outreach effort to support the FCC in its efforts to ensure that every state that wishes to file a challenge can do so. This effort will include:

  • Technical assistance to state broadband officials and governors’ offices as they prepare challenges;
  • Webinars for members of the public wishing to learn more about how to participate in the challenge process;
  • Regular engagement with state officials to identify and resolve issues.

Internet for All

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a historic $65 billion investment to expand affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in communities across the U.S. NTIA recently launched a series of new high-speed Internet grant programs funded by the law that will build high-speed Internet infrastructure across the country, create more low-cost high-speed Internet service options, and address the digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities.

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward high-speed Internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Visit getinternet.gov for more information.

For more information on the Biden-Harris Administration’s high-speed Internet programs as well as quotes from the awardees, please visit InternetforAll.gov.

Federal (BEAD) funding requires states, such as MN, to rethink anti-municipal broadband laws

Telecompetitor reports on research done by BroadbandNow

The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program has $42.5 billion available to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. States will administer the program but must first have a plan approved by the NTIA and, as new research from BroadbandNow shows, some states face an important hurdle as they prepare their plans – a hurdle that involves anti-municipal broadband laws.

Twenty-one states have laws in place that prohibit or restrict municipal broadband networks, BroadbandNow notes. And those laws are at odds with rules for the BEAD program, which say that states must disclose whether they will waive anti-municipal broadband laws, including laws that either prevent municipalities from applying for BEAD funding or that “impose specific requirements on public sector entities, such as limitations on the sources of financing, the required imputation of costs not actually incurred by the public sector entity, or restrictions on the service a public sector entity can offer.”

If a state does not plan to waive the laws, it must describe how the laws will be applied in connection with the application process. And, according to the researchers, the NTIA has included language in the BEAD rules that could enable municipalities to apply for funding directly if their state will not consider their applications.

Minnesota is one of the states with a restriction, BroadbandNow lists it…

Minnesota state laws require municipal governments proposing to offer telecommunications exchange to obtain a referendum “supermajority” of 65% of voters to proceed. Municipal governments are able to construct, extend, improve and maintain facilities for Internet access only if the city council finds that the proposed broadband network and service will not compete with existing services provided by private telecom companies, or if such services are not and will not be available through private telecom companies in the foreseeable future.

The rule is getting more antiquated every day but it’s still important. Some subscribers will want landline services and a barrier to offering that service is indeed a barrier.

 

MN Broadband Task Force Oct 2022 Notes: BEAD

The Broadband Task Force gathered today on site and online. They heard from the NTIA Minnesota contact about how to prepare for BEAD funding. They also got updates from the subcommittees on recommendations for the annual report. The mapping committee shared an interesting chart details costs to get broadband to everyone and impact the various potential funding sources could have to contributing to that investment. Although it wasn’t clear whether they were looking at speeds of 25/3 or 100/20. They changed the label of the table but not clear whether the numbers given looked at the slower of faster speeds.

Get more complete notes Continue reading

Workforce Planning Guide: Guidance for BEAD Program Eligible Entities

A helpful summary from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society about a helpful tool from NTIA…

Research  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration

A guide for states and territories to use when planning high-speed Internet deployment projects. The high-speed Internet deployment and digital equity projects funded through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program will create over 150,000 of good-paying jobs. This guide lays out strategies and examples for meeting funding requirements and ensuring a skilled, competitive, and diverse workforce.

  • Components of a Workforce Plan: Highlights the requirements and guidance related to workforce development and fair labor standards in the BEAD NOFO.
  • Developing a Workforce Plan: Provides suggested planning steps and pacing for completing grant submissions and key integration points with the Digital Equity Act programs.
  • Strategies and Examples: Offers a range of approaches to meet the workforce needs and offers examples of existing programs at the Federal, state, or local level.
  • Additional Resources: Provides additional resources, including a list of Federal and state agencies that can help answer questions, guiding questions and resources that help conduct landscape analysis, and a checklist of best practices that eligible entities can use when evaluating different workforce programs.

In addition to the Workforce Planning Guide, NTIA is providing technical assistance to states and grantees on workforce requirements through public, open webinars and one-on-one meetings.