NTIA improves the Federal Broadband Funding Guide

The NTIA reports

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been working to expand access and increase connectivity across the U.S. through the Internet for All effort by increasing awareness of federal funding available for closing the digital divide.

As part of that mission, NTIA released an update to the Federal Funding site, which serves as a comprehensive, “one-stop shop” of resources for potential applicants seeking federal broadband funding.

The site includes broadband funding opportunities and information on more than 80 federal programs across 14 federal agencies. Programs include funding opportunities for high-speed internet-related activities such as planning, infrastructure deployment, and digital inclusion.

Program types include direct grants, loans, indirect support, and discounts for industry, state, local, and Tribal governments, schools, libraries, and other community institutions that are interested in expanding and improving broadband access. Visitors to the website can search for programs by agency, program purpose, and eligible recipients. In response to user feedback, the site contains information on a number of new program fields, including:

  • Matching Requirement
  • Complementary Federal Funding Option
  • Speed/Technical Requirement for Broadband Infrastructure
  • Criteria for Eligible Recipients
  • Grant Beneficiaries

Additionally, the high-speed internet-related Program Purpose field was narrowed down to three options to reflect the broadband program purposes included in NTIA’s ACCESS BROADBAND Report.

Notably, the site features many new programs, including those that were funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law including the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD), Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure, and Digital Equity Act programs.

EVENT Sep 20: MRBC IIJA/BEAD Broadband Funding Webinar

Looks like a great event from the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition…

At our last meeting, we discussed having a meeting to talk more about the future activities of the Coalition.  Bill Coleman volunteered to create an online event where we can discuss how the Coalition can bring the rural voice to the Office of Broadband’s IIJA/BEAD planning process.
This event is scheduled for TOMORROW – Tuesday, September 20 from 9:00 – 11:00 am and will include guest experts from around the nation as well as opportunity for small group discussion and reporting.   Details on how to join the meeting are below.
The current line-up includes:

  • Adrianne Furniss – Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
  • Peggy Schaffer – former head of the Maine Broadband Office
  • Doug Dawson – CCG Consulting
  • Brian Ford – NTCA.

If you have ideas for guest experts, please let Bill know at bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com.
Agenda
9:00am Welcome – Jay Trusty, Chair, MN Rural Broadband Coalition
9:05am Quick overview of the IIJA Timeline/Planning Process, Adrianne Furniss, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
9:15am Expert Panel – Key considerations for community-focused broadband
9:45am Breakout discussions on key topics
10:15am Small group reporting to the large group
10:40am Prospective role of MN Rural BB Coalition in IIJA process/Ensuring effective community voice (facilitated discussion by Bill Coleman)
10:55am Closing – Jay Trusty

Meeting Information:
Topic: IIJA/BEAD Broadband Funding Webinar
Time: Sep 20, 2022, 09:00 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 882 3489 1525
Passcode: 834949
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EVENT Sep 20: MRBC IIJA/BEAD Broadband Funding Webinar

An invitation from the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

MRBC IIJA/BEAD Broadband Funding Webinar

This event is scheduled for September 20 from 9:00 – 11:00 am and will include guest experts from around the nation as well as opportunity for small group discussion and reporting.   Details on how to join the meeting are below.

The current line-up includes:

  • Adrianne Furniss – Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
  • Peggy Schaffer – former head of the Maine Broadband Office
  • Doug Dawson – CCG Consulting
  • Brian Ford – NTCA.

If you have ideas for guest experts, please let Bill know at bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com.

Agenda
9:00am Welcome – Jay Trusty, Chair, MN Rural Broadband Coalition
9:05am Quick overview of the IIJA Timeline/Planning Process, Adrianne Furniss, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
9:15am Expert Panel – Key considerations for community-focused broadband
9:45am Breakout discussions on key topics
10:15am Small group reporting to the large group
10:40am Prospective role of MN Rural BB Coalition in IIJA process/Ensuring effective community voice (facilitated discussion by Bill Coleman)
10:55am Closing – Jay Trusty

Meeting Information:
Topic: IIJA/BEAD Broadband Funding Webinar
Time: Sep 20, 2022, 09:00 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 882 3489 1525
Passcode: 834949
One tap mobile
+13017158592,,88234891525#,,,,*834949# US (Washington DC)
+13092053325,,88234891525#,,,,*834949# US

Practical instructions for getting a community invested in BEAD from Benton

Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has a great article on Getting a BEAD on Community Asset Mapping How Community Development Can Aid Your State’s Broadband Planning. They include what and whom to gather…

The six buckets are individual residents, voluntary associations, formal institutions and agencies, physical assets, local economy and exchange, and culture and stories.

 

And even details on the nitty gritty…

Asset mapping is the process of identifying, engaging and mobilizing these assets. A community asset mapping is entirely distinct from a resource directory which simply lists assets and provides contact information. This distinction is around purpose and rooted in its creation process. Asset mapping is done by gathering community residents and stakeholders and facilitating discussions about what and where the assets are and how they might be engaged and activated towards a community goal. There are a variety of ways to do this and the ABCD Institute at DePaul University has numerous worksheets and templates available. The most effective process I have used goes as follows:

First, gather community residents, leaders and connectors in person or online (if that can be done in an equitable way). Include some key non-resident stakeholders but keep residents, of different ages, in the majority. Nonresident stakeholders who can be very useful in this process include teachers, small business owners, chambers of commerce staff, clergy, school social workers, library staff, and municipal/county/tribal employees such as park and recreation workers, planners and utility workers. This process works especially well with 35-55 people but can be adapted for larger groups. Once gathered, follow these steps:

  1. Randomly divide the large group into six sub-groups.
  2. Assign each group to an asset bucket or category (usually posted on walls around the room)
  3. Give the groups 5-6 minutes to brainstorm and write all the assets in that category that can be found in the defined community (neighborhood, town, county).
  4. After 5-6 minutes ring a bell and have the groups rotate to a new asset category. Give them 4-5 minutes at the new station.
  5. Repeat until all sub-groups have added their input to all asset categories.
  6. Ask each group to rotate one last time to return to the asset category they started with and have them read what was added by other subgroups.
  7. Ask a representative from each area to read the assets from that category to the whole room. Often some discussion will result in recategorization of assets and many assets will appropriately appear in more than one area (e.g. a church is an association that often has physical assets and resident leaders). This will feel long and redundant for the facilitator – but the process creates a cumulative effect on participants. Hearing all the strengths of one’s community for 20 minutes is empowering and energizing and prepares the participants for the next steps.
  8. Seat participants at tables (or send to new breakout rooms if virtual) and ask groups at tables to look at all the assets and answer three questions:
    1. “What can we do with what we have to ________?” The blank would be the purpose of the convening. It could be as broad as “… to make our community stronger.” It can also be specific like “to make our community heart healthy” or “to achieve digital equity.” (Have a definition handy to help focus the discussion.)
    2. What can we do with what we have and some help from others outside the community?
    3. What do we need others outside the community to do?
  9. After 10-15 minutes ask each table to identify 1-2 ideas that they are particularly excited about.
  10. Have each table present their best ideas, using some descriptor words written on paper then taped to the wall.
  11. Ask everyone in the room to think about actions that they want to work on and to which they want to contribute their time or talents. Then invite participants to stand next to the piece of paper with the action idea they want to work on. (Remind participants “It is OK to not stand – honor your limits.”)
  12. Give each group a flip chart sheet to use to identify the assets they might use to implement their action and make the change they want to make. Also, have them write down when and where their action group is meeting next to plan/implement.
  13. Have each action team share out and give participants an opportunity to ‘change teams’ or add their name to a team.
  14. Celebrate and let everyone know when and how follow-up will happen.

 

How are the National Providers looking at BEAD – according to Doug Dawson

Today I’m thankful for Doug Dawson and that he follows broadband from all heights. Interesting to hear what the providers are thinking about any and all of the federal funding, especially coming off the cusp of the LTD Broadband RDOF snafu. (LTD won the opportunity to bid on $311 million in broadband projects, leaving target areas in limbo until the bid was accepted or not. In the end, their applications were rejected and the communities got nothing.)

Generally, some communities are lucky and they have providers who are invested in getting funding and building better broadband. Some communities work hard to build partnership with providers to get them invested to serve the community. And some communities have providers step in with plans that may be more ambitious than their experience or with plans that are more mediocre than a community wants.

Here’s a take on what Doug is seeing the providers do…

We’re finally starting to gain a picture of the plans of the big telcos for the upcoming BEAD grants. The bottom line is that some of the big telcos seem to be prepared to pursue the upcoming grants in a major way. Consider the following:

  • At a recent industry conference, Frontier’s CFO said that Frontier has ambitious plans to pursue grants for all of the three to four million rural homes that it serves today with DSL.
  • When the BEAD grants were first announced, AT&T added five million new passings to its goal for 2025, all due to pursuing rural grants. AT&T hasn’t said much about grants since that early announcement.
  • Brightspeed, which purchased twenty states of copper networks from CenturyLink, has made it clear that it will be seeking state and federal grants to build as much fiber as possible. CenturyLink has been aggressively pursuing grants in the states sold to Brightspeed, for the obvious benefit of the new company.
  • Windstream was a big winner in the RDOF reverse auction and has been aggressively pursuing ARPA funding. It seems obvious that the company will also pursue BEAD grants.

The two big telcos that have not said much about grants are CenturyLink and Verizon. There are rumors that CenturyLink is seeking somebody to buy the rest of its copper lines, but it also would not be surprising to see the company come out swinging for grant funding if a sale isn’t forthcoming. Verizon abandoned a rural strategy years ago, and it would be surprising but not impossible to see the company tackle grant funding if the math is good.

The other big ISP that has aggressively been pursuing grant funding is Charter. It would make sense for the company to pursue BEAD grants to fill in around where it has already won the RDOF auctions.

MN may see $650M for broadband but expected cost to deploy is $1.3B

MinnPost reports

Minnesota could be in line for an unprecedented windfall of money to help build high-speed internet in rural areas.

Every state was promised a minimum of $100 million for broadband development from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year. But some states could get more, based on need.

Now, Minnesota officials have an estimate of that extra cash: $550 million. That would bring Minnesota up to $650 million for broadband from the infrastructure bill, a sum that would far eclipse any government spending in the state for developing high-speed internet in recent memory.

There’s federal funding…

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill — passed with some bipartisan support under President Joe Biden — contained $65 billion for broadband across the country. Of that, $42.5 billion was earmarked for states to distribute. But so far each state has known only that they would get a minimum of $100 million. …

The feds have previously outlined several potential purposes for the money, including allowing states to install Wi-Fi in multi-unit residential buildings. But Wells said Minnesota’s money is expected to be spent entirely on “deployment” of internet, primarily subsidizing the development of infrastructure — traditionally, fiber-optic cable — in places where it would be too expensive for internet providers to otherwise justify.

And State (directed) funding…

Legislators this year directed the state to use $110 million from the American Rescue Plan stimulus program passed under Biden for broadband infrastructure. In 2021, the Legislature approved $70 million from the plan for broadband development. That was already a large sum compared to historic spending on broadband.

How much would it cost to get broadband to all Minnesotans?

In October, the state estimated about 88.5 percent of Minnesotans have access to wireline internet like DSL, cable and fiber at speeds of 100/20 Mbps. And in March, before the Legislature approved $110 million for broadband, DEED officials said they would conservatively estimate the cost of meeting the 2026 goal for adequate broadband at $1.3 billion.

Top RDOF bidders have not been funded yet – will NTIA set up a deadline through BEAD opportunity?

Telecompetitor reports

It’s been 18 months since the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction was completed and the FCC has not yet released funding for five of the top 10 winning bidders.

It’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen, considering that the other five top winning bidders have had all or most of their funding released, as have scores of smaller winners.

They look at the bidders, including LTD Broadband…

The fifth large winning bidder that hasn’t had funding released is LTD Broadband, a small company that traditionally deployed fixed wireless but that won funding for gigabit fiber broadband. Critics have questioned the company’s ability to meet its deployment commitments.

The FCC also has come under fire over RDOF, as critics have argued that the commission should have had more stringent screening in advance of the auction, rather than waiting for after the auction to review and approve companies’ long-form applications, a key step in funding authorization.

There are concerns and it sounds like one way around awarding or declining the bids is to leave them on the shelf…

“The FCC appears to have very significant questions” about the five bidders, said Blair Levin, policy analyst for New Street Research. While working at the FCC in 2009, Levin headed up the team that wrote the National Broadband Plan.

“It’s not that they lied or misrepresented themselves,” Levin continued. “But the commission doesn’t appear to have confidence that those enterprises will do what they said they would do.”

Carol Mattey, founder of Mattey Consulting, said several months ago that the FCC might never authorize certain winning bidders but wouldn’t reject them either because rejections could be appealed. Mattey was deputy chief of the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau at the time the RDOF auction was established.

There have been many complaints from communities in Minnesota who have been left in RDOF limbo, waiting to hear whether LTD gets the funds or not because in many instances, the fact that the may have RDOF money means they are disqualified for other funds. Apparently there’s no timeline on the RDOF awards but it sounds like there’s a push to try to change that…

Alan Davidson, who heads up NTIA, threw the FCC another curve ball regarding the BEAD program when he said that areas that had winning RDOF bids that have not been authorized should be eligible for BEAD funding. It would be up to the FCC to “deconflict” those areas, Davidson said.

If providers still haven’t received RDOF authorization by the time the BEAD program starts and if the areas involved are included in the BEAD program, potentially the providers could bid again and win, Levin notes. A provider’s ability to do this, of course, would depend on the specific rules for each state where a company had winning RDOF bids

NTIA Publishes FAQs for its New Grant Programs

From the NTIA…

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently published Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, the Digital Equity Act Programs, and the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. These documents offer a deeper dive into some of the most common questions we received from prospective applicants about program deadlines, eligibility, funding uses, application submission requirements, and more.

Individual FAQ documents:

The program FAQ documents will be updated periodically during the open application windows. If you have any questions throughout the application process, we encourage you to email the appropriate NTIA inbox below:

Doug Dawson’s tips for BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) applicants

Doug Dawson (CCG) is one of the smartest broadband guys I know. Doug is going to be working on a series of blog posts on BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) funding the applications. If you are thinking about BEAD funding, or you want to keep an eye on things, I recommend following his blog. I might not post about each edition in her series but today he starts with an outline of the issues he may be diving into soon… (my quote below is abridged)

  • The Grants Draw a Firm Technology Line.
    This includes only fiber-optics, cable company hybrid-fiber coaxial technology, DSL, and fixed wireless service supported by licensed spectrum. Every other technology does not count as broadband in terms of defining areas eligible for the grants. The NOFO means that grants can be used to overbuild areas served by satellite broadband or by WISPs using unlicensed spectrum – regardless of the speeds being provided.
  • The Grants Are Complicated.
    These are going to be the most complicated broadband grants ever – more complicated even than ReConnect grants.
  • The Grants Add a Lot of Cost to Projects.
    Some of the big ones include environmental and historical preservation studies; prevailing wages for grants over $5 million; bank letters of credit and a legal opinion on the lines of credit; construction contractors must certify commitments to workforce development, including participation in apprenticeship programs; buy America requirements that will drive up the cost of materials; heavy-duty reporting requirements that layer on work after taking the grant.
  • The Grants Are Clearly Stacked Against New ISPs.
    This is ironic because the rules as written by Congress and alluded to throughout the NOFO talk about favoring what the NOFO calls non-traditional broadband providers like non-profits, electric cooperatives, local governments, public utility districts, and Tribes.
  • The Grants Want to See Skin in the Game.
    While grants can be as high as 75%, the NTIA expects States to award grants to applicants that ask for the lowest amount of grant funding.
  • There are Some Gotchas In the Financial Requirements.
    [To start] an applicant must get a bank letter of credit just to apply for the grant – something that’s expensive and not easy for many entities to get.
  • This is Going to Overwhelm State Broadband Offices.
    The complexity of the grant rules will overwhelm most state grant offices, which are often newly staffed.
  • Penalties for Non-performance.
    Penalties against non-performing grant recipients can include the imposition of additional award conditions, payment suspension, award suspension, grant termination, de-obligation/clawback of funds, and debarment of organizations and/or personnel from using future federal funds.