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States Should Be Encouraged to Form Public-Private Partnerships for Federal Broadband Funds

An expert panel convened by US Telecom agreed that public/private telecom partnerships are an effective use of federal broadband funds.

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Photo of Joanne Hovis taken from CTC with permission.

June 10, 2021—Encouraging public-private partnerships to tackle lacking broadband infrastructure is America’s best option at moving forward in closing the digital divide, according to a panel of policy advisors and tech industry officials.

The panelists, who convened Wednesday for a forum hosted by US Telecom, agreed that federal and state governments encouraging public-private partnerships would reduce the risks associated with private enterprise and incent the latter to better bring broadband services to unserved and underserved America.

The disincentive rests in the fact that, for private telecommunications companies, there is no reason to build costly infrastructure, such as a fiber install, to sparsely populated areas unless government aid is added in the mix to offset losses.

And this trend of public-private collaboration, which are now used as incentives for federal money, will bring about enormous possibilities in bridging the digital divide, others agree.

Unique opportunities for funding

On Tuesday, another panel hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association noted the opportunities in public-private partnerships to get going on broadband projects.

Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology and Energy, said the opportunities for grant money are “enormous” on both the “federal and state” levels. “Quite extensively, in regard to these grant programs, public-private collaboration is laced through many of them,” she says. “They reward collaboration in ways that would not have been the case even just a few years ago.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced last month $288 million in grant funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. The NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Project aims to deploy needed broadband infrastructure in un(der)served America.

Heather Mills, a principal analyst and leader of CTC’s funding and strategies team, said the NTIA is unclear on what criteria funding will be rewarded to applicants, but that the grant favors public-private partnerships.

She noted that while the funding for this grant may be relatively small, it will limit the number of applicants who receive funding and thereby assure only the most qualified applicants receive the grant awards. She says that the most creative partnerships are the ones that will most likely win the funding.

The NTIA also announced last week $1 billion in grant funding for companies seeking to provide broadband service to un(der)served tribal land. There was no comment on whether this grant similarly will prioritize public-private partnerships.

U.S. Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 established the $10-billion Capital Projects Fund to provide funding to states, territories, and tribal governments to address necessary capital projects, including broadband services. Hovis said the fund will enable states to address these projects more directly than they could by themselves.

Mills says that the CPF mandates that the states provide a plan to the U.S. Department of Treasury on how the funds will be used. Hovis says that the localized nature of the funding will lead states to award funding based upon public support. She said private companies will partner with public entities who have already gained public support in order to make themselves more attractive applicants to the state governments.

The need for broadband mapping

The FCC’s Measuring Broadband America project aims to collect data on broadband availability nationwide, but Melissa Mann, vice president of public policy and government affairs at Lumen, said at the USTelecom forum Wednesday she believes individual states are better equipped to identify their own broadband needs.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission was accused of underreporting the number of Americans lacking broadband access. BroadbandNow criticized the FCC of reporting that 14.5 million Americans lacked high-speed internet, whereas BroadbandNow projected that number to be around 42 million.

Mann says that states can be “laser-focused on unserved areas,” whereas the federal government may struggle to identify what areas need it most.

Reporter Tyler Perkins studied rhetoric and English literature, and also economics and mathematics, at the University of Utah. Although he grew up in and never left the West (both Oregon and Utah) until recently, he intends to study law and build a career on the East Coast. In his free time, he enjoys reading excellent literature and playing poor golf.

Funding

NTIA Doing All it Can to ‘Pressure’ States to Allow Municipal Broadband for Infrastructure Builds

Agency head Alan Davidson says communities “play a huge role” in build deployment.

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Screenshot of NTIA head Alan Davidson and Broadband Breakfast's Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is using all available tools to “pressure” states to allow municipal broadband to be used for infrastructure builds stemming from funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, agency head Alan Davidson said Tuesday.

Several states have laws prohibiting municipal broadband networks, which through its recently released notice of funding the NTIA is recommending be waived for upcoming infrastructure builds.

“We are gonna press states to make sure they are doing everything they can do under their laws to make, to be including those,” said Davidson.

Davidson’s comments came during an appearance at the annual Mountain Connect conference in Keystone, Colorado, during which he engaged in a question and answer session with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark following his agency’s release of its funding notices.

He stated during the event that via its notices of funding the NTIA will be flexible on program requirements for states so that maximum progress on infrastructure may be made, yet at the same time it will establish a baseline of federal rules for programs.

“The needs of different states are going to be different,” said Davidson.

He also clarified that the NTIA will be assigning employees to each state who will be responsible for overseeing fund distribution to their state, that notices of funding are not inclusive of all NTIA guidance such as on supply chain issues and additional assistance will come from the agency over time, and that for many broadband providers in order for their infrastructure projects to be economically stable over time both unserved and underserved populations must benefit from the infrastructure bill.

See also NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson Dishes on BEAD at Mountain Connect 2022, Community Networks, May 24, 2022

 

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Funding

State Broadband Offices Have Obligation to Explain NTIA Notice of Funding to Applicants

Georgia Technology Authority representative says the notices are dense and difficult for applicants to understand.

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Screenshot of Kat Lau, Josh Hildebrandt and Shannon Millsaps

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2022 – A representative from the Georgia Technology Authority on Friday said that state broadband offices are obligated to work with those applying for funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill so that they understand the rules used to determine grant allocation.

Speaking at an event on grant applications for rural communities hosted by the National Broadband Resource Hub, Josh Hildebrandt, GTA’s director of broadband initiatives, emphasized that to maximize their chances of being selected for funding, applicants could require significant assistance in understanding the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s notices of funding opportunity that were released last week.

Want to know more about this game-changing Notice of Funding Opportunity, and the powerful tools it brings to U.S. last mile broadband? Visit Broadband.Money‘s tools and resources, including four themes to watch for in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment NOFO.

“They are established for the sole fact of working through these NOFOs and being able to just deploy these funds,” said Hildebrandt.

Experts such as digital access organization Thrive Regional Partnership’s director of transportation and infrastructure Shannon Millsaps, another panelist at Friday’s event, say that the NTIA’s notices are not very easy for applicants to understand in part due to the dense language they use in explaining agency guidelines.

Hildebrandt also encouraged grant applicants to follow criteria in federal rules for disbursement that is stated to be “preferred” for grant allocation, stating that this will increase chances for applicants to win funding.

Millsaps additionally emphasized the need to remember in fund disbursement that different communities are struggling with different barriers to connectivity, even ones within the same state, and that different approaches to connecting the communities will be required during implementation of broadband infrastructure expansion.

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Funding

Mountain Connect Features NTIA’s Alan Davidson, 2 Colorado Senators and State Attorney General

A star-studded cast will take the stage next week as part of the dozens of events slated to take place.

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Photo of Alan Davidson (left) and Drew Clark at Broadband Breakfast for Lunch in April 2022 by Megan Boswell

May 20, 2022 – The Mountain Connect conference next Tuesday and Wednesday will feature an interview with National Telecommunications and Information Administration Administrator Alan Davidson by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

The two will discuss the recent notice of funding opportunities on released for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

Pose questions of and watch Davidson’s interview with Clark at the event livestream.

See questions asked of Davidson at Broadband Breakfast for Lunch in the Broadband.Money community, or read Broadband Breakfast’s and other reports of the prior event.

Also see Broadband Breakfast and Broadband.Money’s analyses about the recent Notices of Funding Opportunity, including on Middle Mile NOFO, and on BEAD’s local coordination and the challenge process.

The conference, in Keystone, Colo., on May 24 and May 25, will also include a question and answer session with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. Bennet sponsored the of the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act of 2021 which would go on to influence the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., will also speak at the event on Wednesday, and other officials speaking at Mountain Connect include Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, ConnectME Authority Executive Director Peggy Schaffer, Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton, Nextlink Internet Chief Strategy Officer Claude Aiken, and many others.il May 24.

There will also be five distinct subject tracks across both May 24 and May 25: Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment, Community Developments Track (One and Two), Emerging Technologies, and Community Broadband Case Studies.

These events will feature speakers from across the industry, representing providers, advocates, municipal entities, and private ventures. There will be 15 such events on May 24 and an additional 10 on May 25.

Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Christopher Mitchell will be moderating two panels on May 24 – an event on Community Development Track One and another an hour later on BEAD.

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