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Open Access Network Builders Discuss Ownership Models for Next Generation Broadband Infrastructure

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June 4, 2020 — In a Broadband Breakfast Live Online webinar on Wednesday, digital infrastructure experts considered the role of open access networks in shaking up the landscape of internet infrastructure in America.

In particular, questions about who will construct, finance own and operate digital infrastructure needs of the future were thoroughly discussed

Moderator Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, prefaced the discussion by explaining that unlike a vertically integrated model in which one company owns, operates and provides internet service, the open access model disrupts broadband companies’ ability to monopolize the supply chain.

Open access networks allow one entity to own the utility-like infrastructure component, another entity to operate the network, and still other parties to provide a range of advanced broadband internet services.

Several panelists backed the open access model as the answer to funding last-mile connections. Open access networks can have the impact of effectively  lowering the cost of a capital-intensive network infrastructure building process.

Roger Timmerman, CEO of UTOPIA Fiber, detailed how the open access model offers the unique possibility to work directly with cities on what they want and need. Communicating with municipalities to find ways to comfortably finance open access infrastructure has led to the expansion of the open access network, he said.

Each city has a different customer types, landscapes, existing infrastructure and needs, Timmerman added. For example, when UTOPIA Fiber deployed in three different cities, the company decided to use three different business models to provide access. In Idaho Falls, Idaho, UTOPIA Fiber helped support a municipal electrical utility. In Woodland Hills, Utah, the network operator built and operates a network owed by the municipality. In Morgan, Utah, UTOPIA Fiber financed construction, but with a city guarantee of subscribers.

Monica Webb, director of market development and government affairs at Ting Internet, said that there exist a diverse array of ways to finance last-mile infrastructure. Ting expanded to offer fiber service in 2014 and now offers service in over 10 markets.

In some markets, such as Charlottesville, Virginia, Ting owns and operates the networks end-to-end. In other cities, like Raleigh, North Carolina and Centennial, Colorado, Ting leases core infrastructure from municipalities to build onto it, deeper into rural areas.

In other cases, private entities build the infrastructure and Ting offers services on their networks.

A different financing model was introduced by Darrell Gentry, CEO of Next Level Networks. Next Level Networks empowers actual homeowners to own their own networks, paying construction and operation costs.

The company developed a crowd sourcing app to empower residents to band together to build necessary infrastructure where it is most demanded. By utilizing this model, infrastructure builders know there will be a net gain from the beginning of a project.

Panelists agreed in order to fund fiber to the last mile, it is necessary to build into cities first, where network adaption will be high. This will generate the necessary revenue to build into sparser neighborhoods.

Isak Finér, chief marketing officer of COS Systems, emphasized the importance of prioritizing concentrated neighborhoods where demand is greater. He recounted seeing a number of projects stagnate due to being built in the wrong neighborhood.

“When going into an area, we ensure the investment we make will be offset by the revenues we expect,” Webb echoed.

After initially turning a profit, the revenues generated could be cross-subsidized to invest in infrastructure in low threshold communities, Timmerman said.

Other panelists agreed that government funding must play a roll as developing infrastructure will not always result in a financial net positive.

Some panelists said that the private sector fails to fund digital infrastructure in areas where they predict there is little return on investment. Municipalities can play a crucial role in aggregating demand for future-proof open access networks.

In order for cities to take control of their own economic future, now is the time to consider different infrastructure funding options, panelists said.

The Broadband Breakfast Live Online discussion was a preview of Digital Infrastructure Investment, a Physical/Virtual Event taking place on Monday, August 10.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Funding

Sean Gonsalves: NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson Dishes on BEAD at Mountain Connect 2022

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Mountain Connect 2022 got a big kick off this morning in Keystone, Colorado with a Q&A discussion between National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and Broadband Breakfast CEO, Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

Davidson provided a broad overview of the newly released Notice of Funding Opportunity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access & Deployment program, which set the table for the multitude of break-out sessions that attracted a who’s who of broadband providers, vendors, policy-makers and vendors.

Under the BEAD program, each of the 50 states will be eligible to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed Internet access, though most states will receive hundreds of millions more as additional funding will be allocated to states based on a formula that takes into account how many unserved households are in each state.

Most states on board for BEAD

Davidson said that 25 states have already submitted their Letter of Intent to seek BEAD funding. In all, 35 states have indicated they will also participate in the program so far as NTIA works with the other 15 states and territories to encourage them to take advantage of the largest ever federal investment in broadband.

While Davidson touted the unprecedented opportunity now being made available to states to close the digital divide, Clark did probe him on several concerns around the requirements of the BEAD application process that a number of broadband advocates and small- to midsize Internet Service Providers have raised since the NOFO was released on May 13.

One question in particular Clark raised was the letter of credit requirement that subgrantees must acquire to qualify for funding. A number of ISPs and local officials interested in municipal broadband projects are saying the requirement is onerous and may prove to be a disincentive for new entrants into the broadband market now dominated by the big monopoly ISPs.

Davidson noted his office has been hearing those concerns and that the NTIA may adjust the rules based on that feedback.

NTIA will encourage states to include publicly-owned networks

We also had a chance to ask Davidson a question: Would states with preemption laws that prevent or erect barriers to municipalities, cooperatives, nonprofits and other public entities from accessing BEAD funds be disqualified from the BEAD program?

Davidson said the NTIA will press states to not lock out publicly-owned broadband projects and if they propose to do so they must disclose why. But, he stopped short of saying that states with such preemption laws would be disqualified from participating in the BEAD program.

However, Davidson and Clark both, pointed to the specific language in the NOFO that says:

  • NTIA strongly encourages Eligible Entities (states) to waive all such (preemption) laws for purposes of the Program. If an Eligible Entity does not do so, the Eligible Entity must identify all such laws in its Initial Proposal and describe how the laws will be applied in connection with the competition for subgrants. Such Eligible Entity must, in its Final Proposal, disclose each unsuccessful application affected by such laws and describe how those laws impacted the decision to deny the application.

Internet for all?

While Davidson did not explicitly say NTIA would wholeheartedly accept BEAD applications from states with preemptions laws that lock out public sector providers, it seems clear the NTIA will not deny BEAD funds to states with preemption laws that violate both the letter and spirit of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which authorized the BEAD program.

The BEAD NOFO and Davidson’s remarks were a major topic of discussion at the dozens of breakout sessions held later in the day, covering everything from funding new broadband investments and community development to community broadband case studies and emerging technologies.

Multiple NTIA officials claimed BEAD is intended to connect all Americans and, in fact, the Biden admininstration calls it the Internet for All intiative. However, neither Congress nor the Biden administration have a plan to ensure all low-income urban households are connected.

The three-day conference will conclude on Wednesday with that final day being kicked-off by a Q&A with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper.

Watch our Connect This! livesteam discussing the implications of the BEAD NOFO here.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Municipal Broadband project on May 24, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

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Funding

NTIA Broadband Official Scott Woods Joins Ready as Vice President of Community Engagement

Woods had been the inaugural Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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Photo of Scott Woods

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2024 – Ready announced that Scott D. Woods, who had been the inaugural Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the administration’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, will join the company as Vice President of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships on June 3. He will also open an office for Ready in Washington, D.C.

Ready produces Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

“Ready is a great company and its software product ReadyBOSS is one that will revolutionize the approach for developing and managing broadband projects in accordance with grant rules,” said Woods. “It’s the best way to make the most out of all of the historic funding that’s out there.”

While at the NTIA, Scott also served as a principal liaison between the BroadbandUSA and OIGC program offices, and key strategic partners and external stakeholder groups. This included representatives from state and local governments, telecommunications companies, for-profit and non-profit corporations, and colleges and universities.

Woods is a broadband funding, implementation and stakeholder engagement expert and a key member of the OIGC leadership team responsible for implementing the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 grant programs and the historic $65 billion broadband funding program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

“There are few, if any, people in this country with Scott’s experience in helping communities close the digital divide,” said Ready Co-Founder Mike Faloon. “Our goal is to use the Ready platform to amplify Scott so that any community or operator can have access to him and his unique insights to guide them on their broadband journey.”

Wood received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Urban Studies from Morehouse College; a Master of Arts in Public Policy (M.P.P.) from American University; and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Howard University School of Law.

Ready is a company that makes the Ready BOSS software system. It enables internet service providers and local communities to use interactive maps to create proposed broadband coverage areas and then to create corresponding grant applications. It also helps applicants to find match capital. The system also helps ISPs manage subscribers, plans and revenue, monitor and manage their networks, and seamlessly offer Affordable Connectivity Benefits. And it helps grant awardees manage their extensive reporting requirements.

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New Public Broadband Association Criticizes NTIA Rules, Boasts Strong Start for New Group

While praising some aspects of NTIA rules, the group said that “we can’t take a victory lap quite yet.”

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Photo of (left to right) TK, Bob Knight, Kim McKinley, Angela Imming at Broadband Communities Summit by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The America Association of Public Broadband on Tuesday praised many aspects of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules for spending the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but criticized some aspects of the regulations that will make it hard for cities to build broadband projects.

In a statement and press briefing at the Mountain Connect conference here, officials representing the association said that the $42.5 billion in spending under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program will “go a long way to address the high-speed broadband access and equity gaps plaguing American communities.”

The group is chaired by Angela Imming, who is responsible for a municipal broadband project in Highland, Illinois. The other four officers of the organization represent cities of Kitsap, Washington, Traverse City, Michigan, UTOPIA Fiber in Utah, and the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The statement and press conference were conducted by Kim McKinley, UTOPIA Fiber’s chief marketing officer and secretary of AAPB, and Bob Knight, who runs the public relations company Harrison Edwards but is also the commissioner of economic and community development in Ridgefield and a member of the AAPB board.

But AAPB, a new lobbying group that aims to represent the interest of municipalities seeking to build high-capacity broadband, also highlighted many problems.

“But we can’t take a victory lap quite yet,” said McKinley and Knight on behalf of the group. In particular, “these challenges include a cumbersome application process with a letter-of-credit requirement which serve as steep barriers to entry for local government, nonprofits, and small ISPs.”

“Additionally, the multi-year rollout of BEAD funds leaves many high-speed broadband projects out in the cold, limiting the options for those deploying prior to 2024.”

Referring to comments that Alan Davidson, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said earlier on Tuesday, the group said, “We were pleased to hear Assistant Secretary Davidson say at Mountain Connect today that more refinement will be necessary and that the NTIA team is on the case. We look forward to working with NTIA to ensure that the interests of local, regional, and state entities are heard and acted upon.”

The association was first announced on May 4 at the Broadband Communities Summit, and the group provided updates on its progress on Tuesday.

In the three weeks since the association’s announcement, the organization said that $200,000 had been raised from the equipment vendor and non-profit community.

The group now has an advocacy and policy group that is working with federal and state leaders to advance the interests of municipal broadband, an education group, and a membership group.

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