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New Mexico to Receive $74.4 Million in Broadband Grants

WASHINGTON, August 16, 2010- New Mexico entities received a $10.6 million broadband stimulus grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and support for a $63.8 million project from the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

The NTIA grant will be given to North Central New Mexico Economic Development District to deploy a middle-mile project across three counties and five tribal areas. The project will directly serve 123 community anchor institutions, 19,227 homes and 1,332 businesses. “Middle mile” projects aim to expand the availability of broadband interconnections to companies and organizations that offer service to end-users.

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WASHINGTON, August 16, 2010- New Mexico entities received a $10.6 million broadband stimulus grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and support for a $63.8 million project from the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture.

The NTIA grant will be given to North Central New Mexico Economic Development District to deploy a middle-mile project across three counties and five tribal areas. The project will directly serve 123 community anchor institutions, 19,227 homes and 1,332 businesses. “Middle mile” projects aim to expand the availability of broadband interconnections to companies and organizations that offer service to end-users.

“High-speed Internet access is increasingly important for communities to thrive in the 21st century economy,” said NTIA Deputy Administrator Anna M. Gomez. “This Recovery Act investment will create jobs, support advances in education and healthcare, and help lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth.”

The RUS project will go to the Kit Carson Electric Cooperateive Fiber to the home project. It will service 29 communities, 20,500 households, 3,600 business, 183 anchor institutions and two Native American Pueblos.

“This project will give rural New Mexico residents access to the broadband they need to attract new businesses, jobs, health care and educational opportunities,” said RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein. “It will enable Kit Carson to deploy cutting edge smart grid technology that will help cut electric bills and permit sustainable energy development.

“The Obama Administration understands that bringing broadband to rural New Mexico will give families, businesses and key anchor institutions — such as schools, libraries and first responders — service that is second to none. This project will create immediate jobs building out the network, and the completed system will provide a platform for economic growth Northern New Mexico for years to come.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

Education

Anchor Associations Asking for Deadline Extension on Emergency Connectivity Fund Deployment

Associations say delays in getting fund approval and services/equipment means not getting full use of the program.

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Photo of SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen Jr.

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2023 – A duo of anchor institution associations has requested Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission extend the deadlines to implement funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, in part citing delays in getting and deploying equipment and services.

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the Consortium for School Networking have asked for a year extension to June 30, 2024 for the first two funding rounds if the applicant received a decision on or after March 1, 2022, and a six-month extension to the aforementioned date for the third and latest round to implement money from the program intended to keep students connected to the internet when away from school. Their request asks to waive a section of the program rules that have set those current dates in stone.

According to the waiver request filed Wednesday, funding recipients have either received a decision letter “with a narrow amount of time” to use the funding prior to the current delivery dates or have yet to receive their application approval.

“Certain factors, such as the amount of time between when an applicant received its [decision or revised decision letter] and the service delivery date, combined with the time necessary for a recipient to order, receive, and distribute equipment and services once they are procured, could inhibit an ECF recipient from fully using their requested funding prior to the service delivery dates,” the waiver request said.

The duo added that “many applicants” wait to enter contracts for the equipment and services until they get funding approval. Those that put the cart before the horse may find themselves having to renegotiate certain terms, for example in the case where services or equipment prices increased by the time they get the funding notice, the request said, adding the anchor institutions have been up against “any remaining manufacturing and global supply chain issues” from the pandemic that are contributing to delays.

The organizations gave several examples of problems faced by the anchor institutions where they would not be able to provide the 12 months of services provided by the program, including size and availability increases of buses in Georgia adding additional deployment time and a California education office that had to coordinate with multiple programs that delayed deployment.

“In these cases, even an applicant that received its [funding letters] exactly twelve months prior to the current applicable service delivery date would not be able to provide a full twelve months of ECF-supported service,” the request said.

The waiver request said if the commission does not extend the delivery dates, applicants won’t be able to use all their award funding, which will mean the regulator will have spent less than the full amount appropriated by Congress.

“It would be a far better policy outcome for the Commission to extend the deadline and allow applicants to utilize the full amount of their awarded funding rather than opening a fourth application window to award the remaining dollars,” the duo said.

The FCC has allocated just over $6.6 billion of the $7.1 billion from the ECF program, as it has been making periodic funding decisions over the months.

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Education

Digital Learning is Here to Stay, Necessitating Multi-Sector Collaboration: Connected America Conference

The pandemic heightened the urgency of closing the digital divide, but several barriers remain.

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Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023

DALLAS, March 29, 2023 — As technology continues to play a growing role in education, successful efforts at closing the digital divide will require collaboration between schools, government agencies, community organizations and the private sector, according to industry experts at the Connected America conference on Tuesday.

Lack of digital access has short-term impacts on students’ grades and test scores, as well as compounding long-term effects on their ability to succeed in the workforce — and these impacts are particularly significant for students of color, explained Ji Soo Song, digital equity advisor for the U.S. Department of Education.

The pandemic left millions of students struggling to participate in remote classes, heightening the urgency of closing the digital divide.

“In Texas alone, it was 34 percent of students that did not have full internet access,” said Tonjia Grimble, founder and CEO of STEM It Up Sports. “That’s about 1.8 million students.”

Although schools have largely returned to in-person learning, the pandemic “opened a door that can’t be closed again” in terms of technology’s role in education, said Jennifer Berkner, education lead strategist at AT&T’s FirstNet.

This shift enables a new realm of learning opportunities, but it also presents challenges for both students and educators, panelists agreed.

“Affordability is still the main barrier to access,” said Francisco Gallegos, digital inclusion program manager for the Dallas Innovation Alliance.

For some schools, their actual physical infrastructure poses a problem. “You have schools that are built in concrete — you can’t get service through concrete,” Grimble said. “If their structure itself is not sound, then they’re not going to be able to get what you’re trying to get them… More of our states need to start thinking about improving that infrastructure.”

Song pointed to a September 2022 report, stemming from the Department of Education’s Digital Equity Education Roundtables initiative, that detailed existing barriers and potential solutions for increasing digital access. Among other recommendations, the report advised that community leaders should develop public trust by partnering with a broad range of local entities, including educational institutions, internet service providers, nonprofit organizations and more.

“The education sector needs to be in collaboration with the broadband sector as the digital equity plans are developed, because we can’t have siloed solutions,” Song said. Many states have already announced opportunities for community members to contribute to the digital equity planning process, he added.

In addition to the digital equity funding established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Song highlighted a variety of other government funding programs that can be layered to support digital learning. A “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Office of Educational Technology in January provided guidance for maximizing this range of federal funding.

Private companies can also play a role in narrowing the digital divide, said Garner Duncan, vice president of sales for Ezee Fiber. Noting the longevity of fiber, Duncan advocated for service providers to focus on a longer-term return on investment in order to better support digital education infrastructure.

“We have returns that we have to make, but we need to be less rigid,” he said.

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Education

Subsidies for Hotspot Devices a ‘Great Idea,’ FCC Chairwoman Says

The commission has been exploring the broadening of the E-Rate program, a high-cost program under the Universal Service Fund.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel (right) at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 — Federal Communications Commissioner Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Wednesday at the Conference of Mayors that an agency program subsidizing mobile hotspot devices is a “great idea” and that there may be some activity on that front in the future.

The chairwoman was fielding a comment from a mayor of a Texas city, who said that his jurisdiction has a program that lends out connectivity hubs – allowing others to connect to the device – in parts of the town for residents seeking internet. He asked whether that’s something that the FCC could fund.

“That’s a great idea,” said Rosenworcel to a packed breakout room including mayors from cities across the country.

Rosenworcel noted that the commission has been exploring the broadening of the E-Rate program, a high-cost program under the Universal Service Fund that subsidizes library and school broadband connectivity.

She said the commission may be able to expand the program to encompass funding for hotspot devices.

“Stay tuned,” she added, “because I think you’re onto something.”

Groups have, in the past, urged the E-Rate program to go beyond the schools and libraries and to households. An existing program, called the Emergency Connectivity Fund, helps students get connectivity outside of school.

Affordable Connectivity Program needs mayoral outreach

The chairwoman also touched on the need for mayors to help get the word out on the Affordable Connectivity Program, a $14.2 billion initiative that provides a broadband subsidy of up-to $30 per month to low-income families and up-to $75 for households on tribal lands.

The FCC said roughly 16 million Americans are on the program, but it suspects there are many more households that are eligible. That’s why it has set up four outreach programs to get the word out.

When asked about the longevity of the ACP, the chairwoman said there is still a lot of money leftover – some estimate over $10 billion – indicating a need to get the word out to fill the gaps.

But she noted that if it comes to it, the agency may need to go back to Congress and ask for its long-term survival because it’s “too important to stop.”

Open RAN technologies encouraged for BEAD funding

The small conference also included a cybersecurity official from the White House, who provided an overview of strategies for cities to protect themselves from attacks.

Anne Neuberger, a White House advisor for cybersecurity, said one recommendation for cities applying for federal broadband funding – specifically from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program – is to use that money toward open radio access network technologies.

Open RAN is a mobile wireless protocol that allows for the interoperability of devices, allowing telecommunications companies to forgo relying on proprietary technologies from companies deemed a threat to national security, such as Huawei and ZTE.

The NTIA is currently fielding comments on how it should craft a $1.5 billion program spawned by the Chips and Science Act that seeks to explore alternatives to wireless equipment.

Last month, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada signed onto a commitment to “ensuring the security and resilience of our telecommunications networks, including by fostering a diverse supply chain and influencing the development of future telecommunications technologies such as 6G.

“Collectively, we recognize that open and interoperable architectures are one way of creating a more open, diverse and innovative market,” a collective statement said.

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