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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.

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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

Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Debra Berlyn: Online Shopping is Here to Stay for Older Adults

Helpful tips for safe shopping this summer.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Debra Berlyn, executive director of Project GOAL

Summertime and online shopping can be easy – and safe – for everyone, particularly older adults.

As a result of the unexpected years of the pandemic, there has been a seismic shift in consumers’ adoption of technology to purchase products and services. There has also been a growing acceptance of technology by older consumers who were forced to adopt an online existence as access to the outside world around them quickly shuttered.

Today, the aging community is growing more familiar and comfortable with technology.

Consumers continue to embrace e-commerce, spending $871.78 billion in 2021 in online transactions, a growth of over 14% from the previous year.  The pandemic also served to increase these dollars, particularly among older adults who recognized the ease, convenience, and safety of shopping from home.

A significant overall force in the marketplace, the “buying power potential” of older adults, in general, has been growing in the past decade. In 2018, consumers 50 and older spent $7.6 trillion, accounting for 56 percent of overall U.S. spending.

For older adults, the significant shift from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to online retail continues to move forward. The 65+ community has jumped into the game and today they wield ever-increasing online retail power.

In 2020, many of those 65+ were averaging $187 in online shopping per month.  It’s also clear the online shopping habits that started during COVID-19 are not going to disappear anytime in the near or distant future.

Unfortunately, just as online spending has increased, so have the opportunities for fraudsters to build new tactics to scam significant dollars from unsuspecting online users.  All consumers need to have the proper tools to ensure they can feel confident when engaging in online retail.

In particular, older adults will benefit from having clear information on how to shop safe online.

Solutions for Older Adults to Engage in E-Commerce with Tips to Stay Safe and Additional Resources

Seven Tips to Shop Safe Online:

1) Always use a trusted online shopping “store” for your purchases and beware of phony online shopping sites that often reside on social media sites and may offer enticing prices.

Beware of phony online shopping sites and check out any unfamiliar stores with the Better Business Bureau. Consider trusted online stores like Amazon, which offers an A-to-z Guarantee for items purchased on their site that can help resolve issues with third-party vendors.

2) It’s best to use a credit card for your purchases.

If you purchase an item on your credit card, you can always then dispute that charge. Federal law limits liability to $50 if there’s an unauthorized charge to your account, and if you report it to your credit card company as soon as you discover it, they often will remove it entirely.

3) Make sure you’re on a secure site when entering financial information during your purchase transactions.

Always make sure you’re on a secure site before entering financial or other sensitive information. Look for the address bar “http” to shift to “https” when asked to input financial information, such as a credit card number. This indicates it will be transmitted securely.

4) Protect your privacy and security.

Engage the privacy settings, “cookies” choices, and clear your history on a regular basis to avoid unwanted marketing from companies.

5) Watch out for online “phishing scams” that can target older adults.

Scammers use email or text messages that look like they’re from a company you know or trust, such as your bank, credit card company, or an online store. Phishing emails request your personal information, such as a log-in or Social Security number to verify your account, or may ask that you update your credit card payment.  Then they use that information to steal your personal and financial information.

To avoid a phishing scam, carefully check the email address to see if it’s from the company (the email address is often incorrect or is off by a letter or two). Some companies have implemented email verification technology to make it easier to identify legitimate emails. For example, if customers see the ‘Smile’ logo next to emails coming from an @amazon.com sender, that will indicate that the email came from Amazon – not a scammer.

Click here to see if your email provider supports this technology. A dose of healthy skepticism is in order if you receive any unsolicited emails asking for your personal and/or financial information.

6) Keep this adage in mind: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Be careful of unsolicited email come-ons and special deals that ask you to “click here.” They can take you to illegitimate sellers or scams.

7) Report any scams or fraud that you experience online.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report a Fraud, Scam, or Problem with a Company:

For additional information on online shopping safety, check out these helpful websites: 

Debra Berlyn serves as the executive director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the president of Consumer Policy Solutions. She represented AARP on telecom issues and the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.  She serves as vice chair of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee and is on the board of the National Consumers League and is a board member and senior fellow with the Future of Privacy Forum. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Rahul Sen Sharma: The Metaverse is Not Web 3.0

The Metaverse is at the forefront of developments in seamless payments and richer information flows.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Rahul Sen Sharma, managing partner at Indxx.

Web 3.0 is a concept for the next generation of internet architecture that envisions a decentralized ecosystem based on blockchain technology. It is an evolution of how users would control, own, and manage their online content, digital assets and identities.

Web 3.0 marks a departure from the centralized mega platforms and corporations that currently dominate the Web 2.0 ecosystem.

The Metaverse is at the forefront of the Web 3.0 internet revolution. It can be defined as a set of interconnected, experience driven 3D virtual worlds where users can socialize in real-time to form a persistent and thriving user-owned internet economy regardless of any physical or geographical constraints.

Both the technologies of Web 3.0 and Metaverse support each other perfectly. Even though the Metaverse is a virtual space whereas Web 3.0 favours a decentralized web, it could form the basis for connectivity in the Metaverse. While the development of the Metaverse is in nascent stages, the exponential growth of non-fungible tokens, P2E (Play to Earn) games and decentralised autonomous organisations have boosted the development of Web 3.0.

A future involving distributed and anonymous users

Web 3.0 envisions a future involving distributed anonymous users and machines interacting without the need for an intermediary, to form a composable human-centric and privacy preserving computing fabric.

These interactions would range from seamless payments and richer information flows, to trusted data transfers via a mechanism of peer-to-peer networks without the need for third parties.

The shift should lead to a wave of new business models that bypass the existing global co-operatives that we currently have, and replace them with decentralised, autonomous organisations and self-sovereign data marketplaces.

As mentioned, Web3 is built on blockchain technology and DAOs rather than the current model of centralized servers owned by large corporations. In the same way, the ideal structure of the Metaverse is also full decentralisation.

The technologies behind achieving decentralization would be distributed ledgers and blockchain technology which enables value-exchange between softwares, self-sovereign identities and the creation of a transparent and secure environment.

The blockchain is central to the Metaverse, and to Web 3.0

In an ideal form, both Web 3.0 and the Metaverse takes advantage of blockchain to give unrestricted, permissionless access to everyone with an internet connection.

Currently, development towards the Metaverse is being spearheaded by big tech corporations such as Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, and more, all of which are major players in Web 2.0. The model of centralised Metaverse being built by them involves closed ecosystems that are only designed to extract value at the expense of their most valuable assets – users, content creators and customers.

This contrasts with the envisioned form of Metaverse and Web 3.0 with decentralization, interoperability and seamless interaction between different virtual worlds and the real world.

Still, the big tech corporations are investing resources into their Metaverse development and have their own vision and plans for what the Metaverse would be.

Meanwhile, decentralized Metaverses and Web3 initiatives are currently attracting record investment, pulling in around $30 billion in venture capital last year alone.

As we shift to what will likely be a more decentralized web, the creator economy is also evolving and likely to become a multibillion-dollar industry with immense potential for creators and publishers.

The creator economy in the Metaverse can supplement the vision of web 3.0 for developing a new financial world with decentralized solutions.

In Web 3.0, users can create content while owning, controlling, and monetizing them through the implementation of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. However, the model of this creator economy is likely to disrupt the business models of many current big-tech corporations.

Regardless, the Metaverse requires both big tech companies to build the technology and the creator economy to produce interesting content for driving engagement. Partnerships, reduced platform fees and creative commissions by big tech to creators within the metaverse can be a way to stimulate the already fast-growing creator economy.

Rahul Sen Sharma is a managing partner at Indxx and has been instrumental in leading the firm’s growth since 2011. He manages Indxx’s Sales, Client Engagement, Marketing and Branding teams while also helping to set the firm’s overall strategic objectives and vision. Prior to joining Indxx, Rahul was the Director of Investment Research for RR Advisory Group (now part of Mariner Wealth Advisors), a full service private wealth management firm based in New York that caters to high net worth individuals. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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