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Broadband Roundup: FCC Authorizes More Connect America Funding, NextLink Expands Coverage, Connected Nation in Ohio

Masha Abarinova

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Map of Connect America Fund awards from the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday authorized more than $61.8 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to nearly 22,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in 14 states. This funding marks the sixth wave of support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction.

“This sixth round of funding continues to build on our efforts to provide rural Americans with the economic, educational, civic, and healthcare opportunities that high-speed Internet access makes possible,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.

The agency’s action brings total authorized funding to nearly $1.2 billion, which will expand connectivity to 409,661 homes and businesses nationwide. In another attempt to close the rural digital divide, the FCC proposed in August Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which would direct up to $20.4 billion to expand broadband in unserved rural areas.

NextLink, with CAF grant, expands coverage into more midwestern states

NextLink Internet of Hudson Oaks, Texas, announced last week its acquisition of Connecting Point, an internet service business based in Nebraska. NextLink plans to use the ConPoint network and workforce as its platform to expand in Nebraska.

“ConPoint is a great fit with Nextlink in terms of the breadth of its service territory, its dedication to customer service, and overall cultural fit between the organizations,” said NextLink CEO Bill Baker.

“We will begin work immediately to expand that service area and upgrade the existing networks so that customers can access more advanced applications such as video conferencing and streaming,” Baker said.

In 2018, Nextlink won a bid for $281 million in support over 10 years from the FCC's CAF, which will help the company deploy broadband services to more than 100,000 homes and businesses across the six states. ConPoint President Dan Spray said that the two companies are excited about the benefits their customers will receive from the expansion of their networks.

“The combination of Nextlink’s expertise and federal dollars will be great for our state and our local communities,” he said.

Connected Nation aims to focus on addressing digital divide in Ohio

Connected Nation Ohio announced on Wednesday that it will be using community input to identify and assist areas that lack access to affordable, high-speed internet.

According to CN Ohio, nearly 2.4 million Ohio households do not have high-speed internet service or have only one choice of internet provider. Only 76 percent of Appalachian Ohioans have access to 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds and 300,000 rural Ohio households have no access to broadband.

Eric Frederick, vice president of Community Affairs at Connected Nation, said that they are laser-focused on identifying exactly where the digital divide sits in Ohio and how to close it.

“Ohio has not released maps that identify broadband availability and speeds since 2017,” he said. “That’s a huge gap in research, especially when you consider how quickly the technology is evolving. That’s why we invite all Ohioans to visit our website and join the conversation by providing both feedback and input on the state of broadband in your area.”

Reaching full broadband coverage in Ohio would generate an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion and up to $6.6 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years. Connected Nation’s surveys are part of the nonprofit’s new phase in its mapping, technical assistance, and analysis for the state.

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