WASHINGTON, April 1, 2011 President Barack Obama reaffirmed the nation’s need for a Clean Energy Standard (CES) during a speech at Georgetown University Wednesday, once again raising questions about how smart grid technology will fit into that future.
Implicit in bringing on a wide range of clean energy sources is the need for a more efficient and modernized grid to handle the variable power supply. However, in this divided Congress, getting legislators to find common ground on a CES will come with a high hurdle rate, say analysts.
“If the fuels and technology drive the obligation to essentially handle load balancing and intermittency, then the smart grid is whatever you want to call it,” said Kevin Book, managing director of the Washington-based research firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC. “It’s going to be advanced transmission and distribution technology, and we’re just not configured for that right now. The build out will have to happen if the utilities are going to meet their goals [set by a CES].”
Increasing smart grid deployment also implies adding more transmission lines, a typically controversial element for consumers who find adding power lines through their backyards invasive and expect to eat the costs in their bills. A national CES, however, could provide some soothing rationale for consumers: the ultimate goal of lower greenhouse gas emissions.
As it stands with the highly-regulated electric utility industry, risk-averse state regulators control which new projects can create new power lines, also known as transmission line siting
“It’s a chicken-or-egg dilemma here,” said energy and utilities analyst Travis Miller of Morningstar,an independent investment research firm. “The utilities have to prove cost savings to receive the go-ahead to invest, but you can’t prove cost savings until you invest. It’s a situation where the utilities and the commission have to come together and decide what level of investment is necessary to prove or disprove the cost savings that might be available.”
In order to move on a national CES, there may need to be some regulatory powers handed back at the federal level from the states to smoothly implement any renewable mandates. In a federal appeals court in April 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) lost the right to overrule state regulators who turned down siting applications for new projects.
A DIVIDED CONGRESS
If any bill arises, most analysts agree that it will come from the Senate side. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ranking Member, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), issued a white paper soliciting ideas for a CES last week and all submissions are due by April 11. Wednesday morning at a PoliticoPro event, Sen. Bingaman said he believes he “can get the majority on the same page” and there remains a “good working environment.” It’s impossible to know, however, how the Committee will operate with five out of 10 Republicans and three out of 12 Democrats who are new to the committee this Congress and have yet to go through a single markup or vote.
More broadly in the Senate, it remains unclear if the political will exists for climate regulation. Wednesday night Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) announced that he would stop blocking votes that he held up over a pending small-business bill. Such a move would allow Senators to begin voting as early as next week on amendments, including Senate Republican Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) amendment to repeal EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) to delay the EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations for two years.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) has been very vocal in editorial columns and to the media about avoiding any federal legislation that would increase costs for consumers.
“If there’s one thing that characterizes the Republicans in the House, it’s not that they’re oil-loving Republicans like the last batch of House Republicans, who happen to be mostly from Gulf of Mexico oil producer states,” said Book. “These guys are energy-consumer Republicans that want to defend the household and industrial users of cheap electricity and fuel, and they’re likely to be resentful of anything that raises the price.”
THE WHITE HOUSE AGENDA
First in the State of the Union address and again Wednesday, President Obama called for legislation providing a market signal for every clean energy source in an all-of-the-above approach: clean coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.
“I’ve seen the scientists that are searching for the next big breakthrough in energy,” said President Obama. “None of this would have happened without government support.”
His speech came a day after the Pew Environment Group released its 2010 survey results, showing the U.S. has fallen behind Germany and China in regard to private investments in clean energy among G-20 nations.
Washington insiders say the difference in this congressional battle compared with the failed cap-and-trade battle in 2010 will come in the form of recasting climate policy in to terms of economic and security terms; a stance that could pay dividends in the 2012 Presidential race.
With Congress Debating Trillions, a Community Guide to Federal Broadband Funding
Muninetworks.org has put together a handy overview of broadband programs – current and pending.
September 30, 2021 – In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.
This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.
Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending
Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:
- $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks to low-income, multi-dwelling units (MDUs). Block grants of at least $100 million are reserved for all states.
- $14.2 billion is devoted to extending and making permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The name of the program will change to the Affordable Connectivity Program, the monthly stipend offered will be reduced to $30 a month maximum in most cases, and eligibility for the program will increase to include households within 200 percent of the poverty line.
- $2.75 billion will go to NTIA to establish programs promoting digital inclusion initiatives for communities which lack the skills, technologies and support necessary to take advantage of Internet connections. Of the $2.75 billion, $1.25 billion ($250 million a year for 5 years) is allocated for a competitive grant program, $60 million is for state planning grants, and $1.44 billion is for state implementation grants.
- $2 billion will extend the Tribal Connectivity Program administered by NTIA, established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
- $2 billion for USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program to deploy broadband to rural areas.
- $1 billion will go to NTIA to create a grant program to expand access to middle-mile infrastructure.
- $600 million will finance private activity bonds to fund broadband projects in partnership with the private sector.
As this legislation is pending, the rules and deadlines for these programs have yet to be established. A bipartisan federal infrastructure package is expected to pass Congress in the next two months. In the meantime, check out ILSR’s recent piece deciphering broadband provisions in the U.S. Senate infrastructure bill, Broadband Infrastructure Bill: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.
- Benton’s Overview of the Senate Infrastructure Bill
- NDIA’s Overview of the Senate Infrastructure Bill
American Rescue Plan Act – Enacted March 2021
With the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal government specifically recognized and began to address critical infrastructure and connectivity needs across the country, and provided billions to states, municipalities, and counties to expand broadband infrastructure. The federal broadband programs introduced under the Rescue Plan required eligible projects to deliver higher-speed Internet connections than the federal government has required in the past, and also placed an emphasis on funding futureproof fiber infrastructure for the first time. The American Rescue Plan appropriated:
1. $350 billion to the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund – aid sent directly to states, counties, local municipalities and Tribal governments eligible to be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
- Eligible broadband projects are expected to be designed to deliver Internet service that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical upload and download speeds of 100 Mbps. In areas where the geography makes this speed benchmark impractical to obtain, projects are expected to deliver Internet service that reliably meets or exceeds 100 Mbps download and between at least 20 Mbps and 100 Mbps upload speeds.
- Communities have a relatively long window of time to expand broadband infrastructure with these funds. Though communities must allocate the funds by December 2024, broadband projects do not have to be completed until December 2026.
- The first payment was distributed to localities earlier this summer. The U.S. Treasury is required to distribute the second payment 12 months after the first.
- Rules governing the program: U.S. Treasury Interim Final Rules
- ILSR’s Overview of U.S. Treasury Interim Final Rules
- Many localities have already dedicated these funds toward expanding Internet access. See ILSR’s ongoing Big List of American Rescue Plan Community Broadband Projects.
2. $10 billion to the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund – aid issued in the form of state block grants to states, territories, and Tribes to cover the costs of capital projects like broadband infrastructure, and provide funding for connectivity devices and equipment. The focus of the Capital Projects Fund is confronting the need for improved broadband connectivity which was exposed during the pandemic. Capital projects must focus on enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options.
- The guidelines for this program urge states to pursue “projects that involve broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives — providers with less pressure to generate profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
- Although this is not a competitive grant program, states, territories, and freely associated states must submit an Application and a Grant Plan for their allocation of the Capital Projects Fund through the Treasury Submission Portal; for Tribal Governments, the Application also serves as their Grant Plan.
- $9.8 billion is available to states through the Capital Projects Fund; $100 million is available to Tribes; $100 million is available to freely associated states.
- Although local governments are ineligible to be direct recipients of these grants, states can suballocate a portion of their award to local governments, nonprofits and private entities.
- Read more about eligible projects and grant processes here [pdf].
- The Treasury Portal for the fund opened on September 24. Applicants will have the ability to apply through December 24, 2021. Once funds are awarded, eligible entities will be able to use them through December 31, 2026.
- Treasury will host an informational webinar for states, territories & freely associated states on Thursday, September 30 at 3PM ET.
- Treasury and NTIA will co-host an informational webinar for Tribal Governments on Wednesday, October 6 at 3PM ET.
- U.S. Treasury Guidance for Capital Projects Fund for States [pdf]
- U.S. Treasury Guidance for Capital Projects Fund for Tribal Governments [pdf]
- U.S. Treasury Program Overview Webpage
- Receive Email Updates on the Capital Projects Fund
- Benton’s Program Overview
- NDIA’s Program Overview
3. $7.17 billion to the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund – federal program to assist schools and libraries as they transition to remote learning by partially funding the cost of Internet services and eligible equipment.
- The initial ECF Program application filing window closed on August 13. Due to demand, a second filing window will open on September 28 and run until October 13.
- FCC Program Overview Page
- USAC Program Overview Webpage
- Emergency Connectivity Fund Program Overview Module
Consolidated Appropriations Act – Enacted December 2020
The Consolidated Appropriations Act directed the FCC to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and directed NTIA to implement three new broadband grant programs. The federal government addressed broadband affordability for the first time with this relief package. CAA appropriated:
1. $3.2 billion to FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – federal program providing $50 to $75/month subsidies for monthly Internet service to eligible households. Internet plans regularly costing less than $50 per month will be free to eligible subscribers. If the participating ISP chooses to provide devices, eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from providers.
- Enrollment for the program began in May of 2021. Funding for the program has not run out and eligible households can continue to access the program today. Learn how to apply here.
- The program will be indefinitely extended if the pending infrastructure package passes Congress.
- FCC Program Overview Webpage
- NDIA’s EBB Website
- Next Centuries Cities’ Explainer for Consumers
- ILSR’s Connect This! episode on the Emergency Broadband Benefit
2. $268 million to NTIA’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program – grants available to Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and consortiums led by an HBCU, TCU, or MSI including a minority business enterprise or a nonprofit organization in the surrounding community. Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, tablets, and other Internet-connected devices.
- The current deadline for applications is December 1, 2021.
- See Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) here.
- NTIA Program Overview Webpage
3. $300 million to NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program – grants available to partnerships between states, local jurisdictions, and ISPs to expand fixed broadband service in unserved areas.
- The initial application filing window closed on August 17.
- See NOFO here.
- NTIA Program Overview Webpage
4. $980 million to NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program – grants available to Tribal governments and organizations to improve broadband infrastructure.
- The initial application filing window closed on September 1. The timeline for the program may be extended if the pending federal infrastructure package passes Congress.
- See NOFO here.
- NTIA Program Overview Webpage
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper, a reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally appearing at MuniNetworks.org on September 28, 2021, the piece is republished with permission.
House Democrats Fight Against Anti-Crypto Measures in Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill
August 20, 2021 – Pro-crypto House Democrats pushed back against the Senate Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s inclusion of crypto regulatory language, seeking to make it less broad.
The additions of cryptocurrency taxes aim to generate revenue to pay for part of the infrastructure spending. Its authors intended to reduce fraud in reports to the IRS.
Democratic California Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, and Anna Eshoo joined cryptocurrency enthusiasts Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., in urging to amend the infrastructure bill in the House.
In a letter released on August 12, Eshoo advocated to Pelosi that the House should “amend the problematic broker definition,” describing the existing language as “imposing unworkable regulations.”
But there is some feeling that amendments to the bill in the House may not be necessary. According to a Treasury Department official, the agency plans to clarify its definition of a “broker” to be more specific.
Any amendments to the House would force the infrastructure measure back to the Senate.
Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act
Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.
June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.
The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”
The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.
Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.
In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”
A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.
During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.
When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”
The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.
- FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund
- Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head
- Rosenworcel and Sohn Expected On FCC, Electric Coops Praise USDA Program, Internet Speeds Up 40%
- Why the Multiple Dwelling Unit May Well Be the Next Battleground of Broadband Access
- Space Cybersecurity Concerns, USTelecom’s New Board, Agriculture’s $1.15 Rural Broadband Grant
- Catherine McNally: The Digital Divide is an Equality Issue
Signup for Broadband Breakfast
Antitrust4 months ago
Experts Disagree Over Need, Feasibility of Global Standards for Antitrust Rules
Broadband Roundup3 months ago
Senators Intro App Bill, Groups Drop TracFone Buy Complaint, States Want Shorter Robocall Deadline
Infrastructure3 months ago
Lumen Responds to Allegations it Underbuilds While Collecting Public Funds
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
Mapping Comment Deadline Extended, AT&T Gets Federal Contract, 5G and LTE Drive Microwave Demand
Antitrust3 months ago
Daniel Hanley: Federal Communications Commission Must Block Verizon’s Acquisition of TracFone
Section 2303 months ago
Facebook, Google, Twitter Register to Lobby Congress on Section 230
#broadbandlive2 months ago
Broadband Breakfast on September 1, 2021 — What’s Next for Broadband Infrastructure Legislation?
Broadband Roundup2 months ago
FCC and FTC Announce Open Meeting Agendas and AT&T Signs Deal with OneWeb