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Inflationary Pressures Increasing Difficulty of Closing Digital Divide, Officials Say

Government officials say inflationary pressures may make connecting rural America harder than previously anticipated.

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Screenshot taken from The Broadband Bunch podcast event

July 21, 2021—Newly emerging inflationary pressures may make closing the digital divide a greater challenge than previously anticipated, according to public officials speaking at a panel hosted by The Broadband Bunch podcast.

Speaking on broadband funding options for state and local municipalities, Bradley Roebke, analyst for the Appalachian Regional Commission—a federal-state partnership that works with the Appalachian area to create self-sustaining economic development—said that the cost to deploy broadband is increasing due to the domestic inflation rate.

“We’re going to have a real supply side issue coming,” added Russ Elliott, director of the Washington State Broadband Office. “Everybody’s aware of it.”

The U.S. inflation rate is currently around 5.4 percent, which is increasing the cost of raw materials necessary for providing broadband infrastructure, according to Roebke. The increased deployment costs could be pushed onto Americans in areas where the deployment is taking place—Americans who are either currently unserved or underserved.

In Washington state, Elliott works with communities to meet the increasing need for broadband connection. According to him, the most challenging part of closing the digital divide isn’t in providing the infrastructure, but in providing service at an affordable rate to users. He says that the number one correlating factor of broadband adoption is price.

Angie Dickison, executive director of the Office of Broadband Development for Minnesota, says that the communities most difficult to connect are the ones in most need of connection.

However, inflationary pressures may push the increased costs of deployment onto consumers and cause monthly bills to rise too high for widespread adoption to take root in rural communities, she said.

To combat this, Elliott said states need to work with service providers in public-private partnerships to subsidize the cost of deployment and keep prices low for users. Additionally, Elliott said states and localities need to hold service providers accountable and refuse to do business or offer grant money to providers who have previously failed to follow through on agreements and projects.

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

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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Funding

34 States Submit Letters of Intent to Participate in NTIA’s Main Broadband Program

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announces news on its ‘Internet for All’ web portal for three IIJA programs.

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Photo of Gina Raimondo from CNBC

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The Biden administration announced Wednesday that 34 states and territories signed on to participate in the programs outlined by its “Internet for All” initiative.

The “Internet for All” moniker is the new umbrella web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its three programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: the Broadband Digital Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

These programs are part of the administration’s goals of bridging the digital divide and achieving universal broadband by 2030.

Since NITA announced the IFA on Friday, the following territories and states announced their intention to participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the NTIA’s programs would be critical to allowing Americans to “participate in the modern economy.”

“Generations before us brought electricity to rural America and built the interstate highways,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states are now ‘signing on’ to this initiative to promote Internet access and adoption so that everyone in America has a chance to thrive in the modern economy.”

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