Connect with us

Expert Opinion

Round Two Broadband Stimulus Fundamentals

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2010 – The two branches of the government responsible for doling out grants and loans to improve the nation’s broadband connections announced on Jan. 15 revised parameters for their second round of funding.

Published

on

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2010 – The two branches of the government responsible for doling out grants and loans to improve the nation’s broadband connections announced on Jan. 15 revised parameters for their second round of funding.

A total of $4.8 billion has been made available for this second round, with $2.6 billion allocated to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and $2.2 allocated to the Rural Utilities Service.

The Round Two process fortunately provides applicants with significantly clearer objectives than in Round One, and Round One applicants actually have been encouraged to reapply based upon these latest parameters.

Perhaps the most significant change is the clear separation that now exists between the two programs. In essence, Middle Mile applications have been directed to the NTIA, while Last Mile applications will go to RUS.

Separate notices of funds available (NOFAs) have been issued for NTIA and RUS, and applicants are directed to apply for to NTIA or RUS respectively, with no further joint applications. Round Two application packages for both programs were made available electronically on Feb. 16, with all applications due by Mar. 15. Awards will be announced on a rolling basis beginning in July 2010, and must be made by Sept. 30.

The following summary highlights important changes and other fundamental information contained in the BTOP and BIP Round Two NOFAs. The actual NOFAs contain the additional specific information required to adequately prepare a competitive application. The chances of success are maximized through sufficiently addressing these specific requirements as they relate to the revised scoring systems.

NTIA – Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)

The revised focus of the BTOP program is on Middle Mile projects.

The concept is that adequate Middle Mile infrastructure must be in place to further enable Last Mile connectivity. The overall Round Two categories have been adjusted and funded as follows. Much of the information provided is specific to the CCI category, while applicants for PCC and SBA funding should refer to the actual NOFA for issues specific to these categories.

  • Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI) $2.35 billion
  • Public Computer Centers (PCC) $150 million
  • Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) $100 million

Separate NOFAs. NTIA and RUS have issued separate NOFAs for BIP and BTOP to better promote each agency’s distinct objectives. The option of allowing applicants to file a joint application has been eliminated.

Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI).

The comprehensive communities approach focuses on the deployment of Middle Mile broadband facilities, and the provision of new or substantially upgraded connections to community anchor institutions. The overall selection process actually addresses several areas of criteria to be considered. The highest priority for merit review will be given to CCI applications that satisfy the seven Middle Mile criteria listed below.

  • New or improved Middle Mile infrastructure service to community anchor institutions;
  • Projects that include public private partnerships;
  • Projects with the intent to bolster economic growth;
  • Projects with a commitment to serve community colleges;
  • Projects with a commitment to serve public safety entities;
  • Projects with a last mile component or commitment; and
  • Projects that include matching funds equal to or greater than 30 percent.

Additional Consideration to Matching Funds.

The Round One NOFA required that applicants contribute a non-federal cost share minimum of 20 percent of the total eligible costs of the project. While this minimum requirement remains, additional consideration will be given to projects that propose to contribute a matching amount that equals or exceeds 30 percent.

Eligibility Factors

Eligibility factors, which will be used to determine whether an application is eligible for consideration have now been reduced to just three criteria.  These “gateway” requirements include: eligible entities as defined, a fully completed application and required matching funds.

Mapping Tool Eliminated.

The proposed funded service area mapping tool has been eliminated, and the service area delineations have been modified from Census blocks to Census tracts and block groups.

Review and Selection Process.

The review and selection process will consist of the following five phases.

  • Initial Application Review;
  • Scoring of Applications;
  • State and Tribal Consultation;.
  • Due Diligence; and
  • Selection.

Eligible and Ineligible Costs.

For CCI projects, eligible costs are generally capital expenses, and not operating expenses. Direct costs are those that are directly related and traceable to the cost of the project being supported. Indirect costs are associated with the construction, deployment or installation of facilities and equipment.

Eligible Costs :

  • To fund the construction or improvement of all facilities required to provide broadband service;
  • To fund the cost of long-term leases, for terms greater than one year; and
  • To fund reasonable preapplication expenses in an amount not to exceed 5 percent of the award.

Ineligible Costs:

  • To fund operating expenses of the applicant;
  • To fund costs incurred prior to the date on which the application is submitted;
  • To fund an acquisition of an affiliate, including the acquisition of the stock;
  • To fund the merger or consolidation of entities; and
  • To fund costs incurred in acquiring spectrum as part of an FCC auction or other.

Scoring Process.

Each application will be evaluated against the following objective criteria by a minimum of two expert reviewers (formerly three in Round One).

Project Purpose (20 Points)

  • Fit with Statutory Purposes;
  • Fit with BTOP Priorities;
  • Potential for Job Creation;
  • Recovery Act and Other Governmental Collaboration; and
  • Tribes and Disadvantaged Small Businesses.

Project Benefits (20 Points)

  • Level of Need in the Proposed Funded Service Area;
  • Impact on the Proposed Funded Service Area;
  • Network Capacity and Performance; and
  • Affordability of Services Offered.

Project Viability (30 Points)

  • Technical Feasibility;
  • Applicant’s Organizational Capability; and
  • Level of Community Involvement.

Project Budget and Sustainability (30 Points)

  • Reasonableness of the Budget;
  • Sustainability of the Project; and
  • Leverage of Outside Resources.

Additional Considerations.

The following additional considerations are listed below.

  • The budget reasonableness and technical feasibility factors requirements have been removed;
  • The number of expert reviewers has been changed from at least three to at least two;
  • The process for requesting waivers regarding the matching fund requirement, Last Mile coverage obligation and restriction on the sale or lease of project assets has been clarified; and
  • Awards are expected to be made within the following funding ranges. Amounts requested outside of these parameters must include a reasoned explanation for the variance in project size.

CCI $5 million–$150 million
PCC $500,000–$15 million
SBA $500,000–$15 million

  • Projects must be substantially completed within two years of the start date of the award, and fully completed in no less than three years.
  • Documentation must be provided that the project would not have been implemented during the grant period without federal grant assistance.
  • Grant recipients shall have no obligation to the federal government regarding program income earned after the end of the project period.

The Round Two BTOP NOFA is available at: http://www.broadbandusa.gov/files/FedRegNOFA_R2_NTIA.pdf

For assistance with BTOP, contact the Broadband USA Help Desk by phone at 1-877-508-8364 or by email at BroadbandUSA@usda.gov

RUS – Broadband Initiative Program (BIP)

The revised focus of RUS for Round Two is on Last Mile projects.

With decades of experience of financing telecommunications infrastructure in rural America, RUS is uniquely equipped to focus on these Last Mile rural projects. Nonetheless, it is still important for RUS to continue funding certain Middle Mile projects. The RUS Round Two categories have been adjusted and funded as follows

Last Mile 1.7 billion
Middle Mile 300 million
Satellite and Other 100 million

Separate NOFAs.

NTIA and RUS have issued separate NOFAs for BIP and BTOP to better promote each agency’s distinct objectives. The option of allowing applicants to file a joint return has been eliminated.

Last Mile Projects.

Applications for Last Mile projects must predominantly provide broadband service directly to the premises or end users. Only those applications whose proposed funded service area contains 75 percent or more rural areas, within which not more than 50 percent of these areas have broadband service at the rate of 5 Mpbs both upstream and downstream will be considered for funding.

Middle Mile Projects.

RUS will still consider funding Middle Mile projects, but strongly encourages such projects only be undertaken by current RUS loan or grant recipients.
Satellite and Other. A Satellite Project category has been established to reach premises left unserved by other technologies. Note that a separate NOFA will be issued for this category subsequent to the opening of the window for Last Mile and Middle Mile projects. This category also includes funding for Rural Library and Technical Assistance projects.

25 Percent Loan Minimum.

This Second Round NOFA combines the rural remote and rural non-remote funding and therefore has a standard award of 75/25 grant/loan combination.

Cost Effectiveness/Reasonableness.

To effectively leverage Recovery Act broadband funds for last mile projects, RUS will limit Federal assistance to no more than $10,000 per premises passed.

Elimination of Census Block Reporting.

For the Second Round NOFA, RUS has eliminated census block reporting.

Eligibility Factors.

Applicants must satisfy the following eligibility requirements to qualify for funding.

  • Eligible Entities;
  • Fully Completed Application;
  • Timely Completion;
  • Technical Feasibility;
  • Nondiscrimination and Interconnection;
  • Eligible Service Areas;
  • Non-Overlapping Service Areas;
  • No Incumbent RUS Borrowers;
  • Fully Funded;
  • Financial Feasibility and Sustainability and
  • Leveraging of Recovery Act Funds.

Eligible and Ineligible Costs.

Funds may be used to pay for the following (Last Mile and Middle Mile Only).

Eligible Costs:

  • To fund the construction or improvement of all facilities required to provide broadband service;
  • To fund the cost of leasing facilities required to provide broadband service;
  • To fund reasonable preapplication expenses in an amount not to exceed 5 percent of the award.

Ineligible Costs:

  • To fund operating expenses of the applicant;
  • To fund costs incurred prior to the date on which the application is submitted;
  • To fund an acquisition of an affiliate, including the acquisition of the stock;
  • To fund the merger or consolidation of entities; and
  • To fund costs incurred in acquiring spectrum as part of an FCC auction or other.

Scoring Process.

Each application will be evaluated against the following objective criteria.

  • Proportion of Rural Residents Served. 10 Points
  • Rural Area Targeting. 10 Points
  • Distance From Non-Rural Areas. 5 Points
  • Title II Borrowers. 8 Points
  • Other Recovery Act Awards. 5 Points
  • Performance of the Offered Service. 10 Points
  • Service to Critical Community Facilities. 6 Points
  • Applicant’s Organizational Capability. 10 Points
  • Economically Disadvantaged Small Businesses. 3 Points
  • Leverage of Outside Resources. 10 Points
  • Extent of Grant Funding. 15 Points
  • Cost Effectiveness. 8 Points
  • Administrator’s Bonus Points. 10 Points

Additional Considerations.

The following additional considerations are also listed below.

  • The Two-Step Application Process has been eliminated.
  • RUS will accept applications from NTIA that it determines it will not fund, but that may be consistent with RUS’ BIP requirements and priorities.
  • Applicants requesting more than a 75 percent grant component may request a waiver demonstrating the need for additional grant funding.

The Round Two BIP NOFA is available at: http://www.broadbandusa.gov/files/FedRegNOFA_R2_RUS.pdf
For any assistance with BIP, contact the Broadband USA Help Desk by phone at 1-877-508-8364 or by e-mail at BroadbandUSA@usda.gov

Jeff Eden has 23 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, and is available for consultation with regard to the broadband stimulus process at: jeff@edenbroadband.com

Jeff Eden has been in the telecommunications industry for 23 years, including working with cable franchising, retransmission consent, and WiMAX technologies. As an investment banker with Daniels and Associates in Denver, Jeff brokered $50 million in cable deals, primarily on the Southwest. While at Avalon Partners, he brokered internet service providers and satellite companies valued at $75 million and located in the Midwest, Maryland and Puerto Rico.

Broadband's Impact

Julio Fuentes: Access Delayed Was Access Denied to the Poorest Americans

Big Telecom companies caused months and months of delays in the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Remember when millions of students in dense urban areas and less-populated rural areas weren’t dependent on home broadband access so they could attend school?

Remember when we didn’t need telehealth appointments, and broadband access in urban and outlying areas was an issue that could be dealt with another day?

Remember when the capability to work remotely in underserved communities wasn’t the difference between keeping a job and losing it?

Not anymore.

Education. Health care. Employment. The COVID-19 pandemic affected them all, and taking care of a family in every respect required broadband access and technology to get through large stretches of the pandemic.

You’d think the Federal Communications Commission and its then-acting chairwoman would have pulled out all the stops to make sure that this type of service was available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible — especially when there’s a targeted federally funded program for that important purpose.

Alas, by all appearances, some Big Telecom companies threw their weight around and caused months and months of delays, denying this life-changing access to the people who needed it most — at the time they needed it most.

The program in question is the federally funded Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The EBB offered eligible households — often the poorest Americans — a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service, and those households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase. Huge value and benefits for technology that should no longer be the privilege of only those with resources.

Seems fairly straightforward, right?

It should have been. But FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel slammed on the brakes. Why? It turns out that Big Telecom giants wanted more time to get ready to grab a piece of the action — a lot more time. While the program was ready to go in February, it didn’t actually launch until several months later.

That’s months of unnecessary delay.

But it wasn’t providers who were waiting. It was Americans in underserved and rural areas, desperate for a connection to the world.

Here are some numbers for Rosenworcel to consider:

  • As recently as March, 58% of white elementary students were enrolled for full-time in-person instruction, while only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latino students, and 18% of Asian peers were able to attend school in person.
  • Greater portions of families of color and low-income families reportedly fell out of contact with their children’s schools during the pandemic. In one national survey in spring 2020, nearly 30% of principals from schools serving “large populations of students of color and students from lower-income households” said they had difficulty reaching some of their students and/or families — in contrast to the 14% of principals who said the same in wealthier, predominantly white schools.
  • In fall 2020, only 61% of households with income under $25,000 reported that the internet was “always available” for their children to use for educational purposes; this share was 86% among households with incomes above $75,000.

And all of these numbers cut across other key issues such as health care and maintaining employment.

Access delayed was access denied to the poorest, most isolated Americans during the worst pandemic in generations.

Allowing Big Telecom companies to get their ducks in a row (and soak up as many federal dollars as possible) left poor and rural Americans with no options, for months. Who knows how many children went without school instruction? Or how many illnesses went undiagnosed? Or how many jobs were terminated?

This delay was appalling, and Chairwoman Rosenworcel should have to answer for her actions to the Senate Commerce Committee as it considers her nomination for another term as commissioner. Rather than expedite important help to people who needed it most, she led the agency’s delay — for the benefit of giant providers, not the public.

Hopefully, the committee moves with more dispatch than she did in considering her actual fitness to be FCC chairwoman for another term.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Broadband's Impact

Sunne McPeak: Achieving True Digital Equity Requires Strong Leadership and Sincere Collaboration

Collaboration between community leaders will be essential in ensuring success of the Biden infrastructure bill in California.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Sunne Wright McPeak

This week, President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding broadband deployment and access for all Americans.

The national plan is described as the most significant infrastructure upgrade in the three decades since the Cold War. “This is an opportunity to create an Eisenhower national highway system for the information age,” says a former White House National Security Council senior director.

For California – the nation’s largest state – it means a minimum $100 million for broadband infrastructure that is designed to expand high-speed internet access for at least 545,000 residents, particularly in unserved and underserved communities, according to the White House. The federal funding will support California’s $6 billion broadband infrastructure plan.

Closing the digital divide and achieving true digital equity requires strong leadership and sincere collaboration among public agencies, internet service providers and civic leaders to seize this unique opportunity to achieve strategic priorities in education, telehealth, transportation and economic development. The 2021 USC-CETF Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption highlighted that a significant number of Californians will be left behind because they are unable to access the internet and other digital functionality needed for vital activities.

Now, the question is how to ensure the public’s funds will be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. California must implement a thoughtful, aggressive strategy that will maximize immediate impact and optimize return on investment. Separately, for several years, CETF has been calling for broadband deployment as a green strategy for sustainability; that urgency only grows in the wake of the COP26 climate meetings. As leaders begin to make historic investments, they should embrace these key principles for action:

  • Prioritize and drive infrastructure construction to the hardest-to-reach residents — rural unserved areas, tribal lands, and poor urban neighborhoods — and then connect all locations, especially anchor institutions (schools, libraries and health care facilities), along the path of deployment.
  • Require open-access fiber middle-mile infrastructure with end-user internet speeds sufficient to support distance learning and telehealth.
  • Strive to achieve ubiquitous deployment in each region to avoid cherry picking for more lucrative areas.
  • Encourage coordination among local governments and regional agencies to streamline permitting and achieve economies of scale.
  • Develop an open competitive process to achieve the most cost-effective investment of new dollars by optimizing use of existing infrastructure that ratepayers and taxpayers already have built.

To learn more, please contact Sunne Wright McPeak at sunne.mcpeak@cetfund.org

Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit foundation with 15 years of experience addressing broadband issues to close the Digital Divide in California. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC. 

Continue Reading

Broadband's Impact

Frank Gornick: Valley Leaders Join State to Bring Ubiquitous Broadband to the San Joaquin Valley

Bringing internet capability to communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley is the focus of a new effort.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Frank Gornick.

As the pandemic begins to recede, it leaves behind warnings of weak links in our overall health as a functioning society. The signs are everywhere: health care, water, infrastructure, education, supply chains and equitable access to technology and opportunity.

Under the guidance of the San Joaquin Regional Broadband Consortium, and with support from the California Emerging Technology Fund, our goal is to bring ubiquitous broadband to the eight counties that compromise the San Joaquin Valley, among the most underserved regions of the state and underestimated in ability to lead and drive change.

And we will do it within a year — a bold but doable achievement.

As a start, we are announcing a new partnership, #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork, which will seek the necessary resources to deliver a world class internet to enhance the economic and human conditions because our leaders want no less for our citizens.

To be clear, this is a significant undertaking with many moving parts. Therefore, understanding the players and the territory is essential.

Understanding the infrastructure landscape is critical

It begins by identifying what internet infrastructure currently exists and assessing the internet’s capacity in the eight counties. Where is it robust and, where is it lacking.

Why this year? There is political will and the funds to do it.

In July, the governor signed SB 156, which authorizes the state to work with counties, internet service providers, school districts, hospitals, libraries, businesses, manufacturers, farmers and municipalities. The goal is to develop a statewide open-access, middle-mile broadband network, including creating rural exchange points with last-mile access to homes, businesses and essential services.

The good news is that we are building upon the existing network, not starting over. Therefore, these expenditures will be much more efficient and effective.

In addition to the clearly stated intent of the legislation, state leaders have provided $6 billion for implementation.

Continuing into November, the San Joaquin Valley counties will be organizing and planning under the auspices of SJVRBC to obtain the maximum amount of financial assistance to implement the goals of #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork.

Applying for federal grant dollars in San Joaquin Valley

As this effort gets underway, #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork will begin applying for federal and state dollars to realize our goal, bringing ubiquitous broadband to the Valley in a year.

What outcomes can we expect? First, as we have learned from the pandemic, we must do more to expand deployment and access because it is critical for so many people to have reliable, robust connections to the services they need and to access new opportunities. However, not everyone has equal access.

The internet has provided greater access to health care, but not everyone has equal access, particularly seniors, low income households and rural residents. Students at all grades for the past 18 months have had to adjust to online learning, but not everyone has equal access or capacity required to succeed and gain the skills to join the workforce of the future.

Our economic engine, the agricultural industry, has relied on breakthrough technologies that depend on high speed internet, and dependability and access to the internet is necessary for growth and productivity.

The investment to extend broadband to the most remote and underserved communities will raise the standard of living of many — and the quality of life for everyone in the San Joaquin Valley.

Billions of dollars in California and across the country will be invested in deploying internet infrastructure to rural, tribal and urban neighborhoods in poverty. Construction of publicly subsidized, open-access middle-mile infrastructure that includes last-mile deployment achieves the best of both objectives — ensuring immediate internet access for businesses and residents. That’s why business, education and civic leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley are applauding this effort.

We urge leaders in Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties to join this effort.

For more information on the #SanJoaquinValleyPartnership, please contact Dr. Frank Gornick at frankgornick@comcast.net, 559-281-5200.

Dr. Frank Gornick is the chancellor emeritus of West Hills Community College District, where he served as chancellor for 16 years. He is the project manager of the #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork and lives in Lemoore. This piece is reprinted from The Fresno Bee with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field

Trending