WASHINGTON, January 22, 2018 – A leaked document purporting to be an outline of the Trump Administration’s forthcoming infrastructure plan makes few provisions for broadband or other digital infrastructure outside of rural areas.
The six-page outline, which was first reported by Axios, bears the title of “Funding Principles,” and sets out four programs which will receive different percentages of the total appropriation, the amount of which has not yet been revealed.
When asked for comment on the document’s apparent lack of attention to 21st Century infrastructure programs, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told BroadbandBreakfast.com: “We’re not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document, but we look forward to presenting our plan.”
Half of the total funds will go to an ‘Infrastructure Incentives Initiative’
One half of the total appropriated funds will go to the White House’s “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” which will “[encourage] state, local and private investment in core infrastructure by providing incentives in the form of grants.” Such grants will be conditioned on achieving milestones set out in grant proposals within an identified time frame.
Proposals for infrastructure grants will be solicited every six months by the federal agencies in charge of such programs, and eligible entities will be limited to states (or groups of states), Puerto Rico and other United States territories, local governments (or groups of local governments), and metropolitan planning organizations.
Eligible projects, however, will be limited to transportation infrastructure projects, including surface transportation (roads) and passenger rail, maritime and inland waterway ports, and water infrastructure projects, including flood control, water supply, hydroelectric power, and water resources projects, such as drinking water and storm water facilities. Environmental projects at Brownfield and Superfund sites will be eligible as well.
Many eligible entities would not be permitted to apply for grants for broadband projects
Not only are broadband or other digital infrastructure projects not included in the program criteria, but many of the eligible entities would not be permitted to apply for grants for broadband projects because numerous states have laws explicitly forbidding such projects.
Telecommunications projects will be eligible for ten percent of any funds appropriated under the plan through what is referred to as the “Transformative Projects Program,” which makes available federal funding and technical assistance for “innovative and transformative infrastructure projects” which are too unique for the private sector to fund.
Projects receiving funding under the TPP would have to be “exploratory and ground-breaking,” and involve both more risk and a greater reward than standard infrastructure projects.
One areas explicitly includes broadband: The ‘Rural Infrastructure Program’
The only aspect of the plan that explicitly includes broadband and telecommunications projects is the “Rural Infrastructure Program,” which would account for one quarter of any appropriated funds for projects which are “designed to encourage investment to enable rural economies.”
States participating in the RIP program would be encouraged to establish public-private partnerships, with 80 percent of any RIP funding to be made available through the governors of participating states.
The other 20 percent would be earmarked for “rural performance grants” to be made on condition of the state publishing a “comprehensive rural infrastructure improvement plan” within 180 days of receipt of any funds.
Rural grants to be distributed as block grants without significant federal requirements
RIP funds would be distributed as block grants without Federal requirements other than a mandate to use any such funds for projects in rural areas with populations under 50,000 persons.
The plan’s lack of attention to broadband and other telecommunications infrastructure is noteworthy when contrasted with the Obama Administration’s broadband programs, which were mostly implemented with funds made available under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
Under the ARRA, the Obama Administration distributed a combined $7.2 billion in loans and grants through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Incentives Program.
(Photo of President Donald Trump signing a rural broadband initiative by the White House.)
New Whitepaper Shows Long Wait Times for Fiber Construction Materials
The Fiber Broadband Association has said there is up-to 60 weeks of wait for materials necessary for fiber deployment.
WASHINGTON, September 20, 2022 – Covid-19 and other supply chain stressors have contributed to lead times of up to 60 weeks for materials necessary for fiber deployment and operation, according to a recent white paper from the Fiber Broadband Association.
Speaking at a web event Thursday, FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton presented some of the report’s findings. The waiting period for fiber optic cabling is 52–60 weeks, the report says, and lead times for other necessary goods – e.g., 10–20 weeks for cabinets and splitters, 20–35 weeks for multiport terminals, and up to six months for home equipment – are also extended. The report also notes shortages or inflated prices of raw goods such as plastics, resins, steel, aluminum, copper, and wood.
Prices in the fiber broadband industry are also affected by the global semiconductor shortage. For instance, the price of neon – necessary for semiconductor production – has spiked in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which halted production from a major neon manufacturer in Mariupol and another in Odesa.
President Joe Biden last month signed the Chips and Science Act into law, which includes $52 billion to incentivize domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips.
In addition, logistical bottlenecks still plague the supply chains, the report said: “COVID shutdowns continue in waves around the globe, with Chinese ports particularly hard hit this year. In April 2022, up to 20% of the 9,000 globally active container ships were stuck outside backed-up ports in various parts of the world. Almost a full 30% of that backlog was created by shutdowns in Chinese ports alone.”
Supply chain disruptions have contributed to the inflation currently disrupting the broadband industry. To avoid such disruptions, the FBA report recommends a series of strategies, including increased domestic sourcing of materials, supply chain diversification, and the utilization of AI technology.
“AI can help companies make short term, reactive decisions about how to source components, and it can also help them make longer-term planning decisions about where they will manufacture their goods,” the report says.
North Carolina Officials Tout Recent Investments in Rural Fiber
North Carolina hopes to achieve 80 percent subscription to broadband services among its citizens.
September 9, 2022 – With $260 million being awarded by North Carolina to several fiber deployments, a key state official highlighted his strategy toward broadband infrastructure, community engagement, mapping and digital literacy initiatives.
Speaking on Wednesday at the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast event, Nate Denny, deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband and Digital Equity Division, said that the Tar Heel State allocated more than $1 billion from its American Rescue Plan funding for different facets of broadband deployment.
Dubbed the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology, $260 million of an anticipated $380 million is to be awarded, including $206 on August 31, 2022.
According to Denny, the $260 million already allocated will span 92 counties and connect more than 115,000 new homes and businesses.
Additionally, the private sector has provided $120 million in matching funds to the $260 million in public funds already spent, Denny said.
GREAT is a reimbursement program, Denny explained, and grantees have two years to complete projects under state supervision. Grantees thus far include major national companies – including AT&T and Charter – as well as small regional providers and cooperatives.
Beneficiaries of GREAT funding are expected to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides discounts on monthly internet bills and eligible device purchases to low-income households.
Denny said that North Carolina hopes to achieve 80 percent subscription to broadband services among its citizens in the next few years. Besides GREAT, the state’s American Rescue Plan–funded broadband programming includes the Stop Gap Solutions program, which provides targeted solutions such as satellite coverage to hard-to-reach locations. It also includes a broadband mapping initiative and a $50 million digital literacy effort.
In addition to current funding programs, Denny expects North Carolina to be the recipient of more than $800 million in upcoming Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program grants. He said that the state plans to funnel BEAD moneys into existing programs that have proven themselves effective.
Fiber Providers Feeling the Heat of Inflation as Cost of Materials, Labor Rise
One fiber tools company says inflation is hitting broadband developers hard.
September 8, 2022 – Inflation-driven high prices for materials and labor are putting significant economic pressure on builders of fiber networks, Render Networks CEO Sam Pratt told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday.
Inflation woes have gripped America for almost a year and a half. The latest consumer price index report has year-over-year inflation at 8.5 percent. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s data for August 2022, the median hourly wage jumped 6.7 percent quarter-over-quarter.
The fiber industry is feeling the effects of inflation like all others. Pratt, who runs the software company that assists fiber construction companies, said that fiber developers that already submitted cost estimates in their government funding applications but haven’t yet ordered supplies or contracted for labor will likely run over budget due to inflation.
Consulting firm Dgtl Infra estimates that fiber optic cables cost $60,000–$80,000 per miles buried, up to sixty percent of which pays for labor. Taking the average of Dgtl Infra’s estimate – $70,000 per mile – as current, and if quarter-over-quarter wage growth remains at 6.7 percent – as it has since June 2022 – each new mile of fiber laid will cost an additional $4,814 in labor costs come November.
For a fiber deployment of 7,000 miles – the length of Google Fi’s project in Kansas City – the next three months would bring a labor-cost increase of $33,698,000.
Government officials warned last summer that the inflation problem could make closing the digital divide more challenging. One official from Minnesota said the increased cost of deployments could even be pushed onto consumers, raising their monthly bills.
Inflationary pressures make efficiency in the construction process incredibly important, Pratt said he believes, adding construction costs make up the vast majority of broadband funding. He said his company offers tools to allow users to digitally map all progress and to streamline workflows. Pratt said that extensive geospatial data allows builders to better identify and eliminate inefficiencies in the construction process.
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