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Infrastructure Bill’s Broadband Piece Will Help ‘Hasten’ Move to Symmetrical Networks, FBA’s Bolton Says

And lawmakers hope to iron out some wrinkles in infrastructure bill.



Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2021 – The House’s decision to delay passage of the $65 billion spending on broadband included in the infrastructure bill means that final action will wait until Congress returns from its summer break and comes back again for scheduled votes beginning September 20.

Fiber and wireless providers remain optimistic about infrastructure investments in future networks, even as a top lawmaker on Wednesday voiced lingering concerns about spectrum-related provisions in the Senate-passed bill.

On Tuesday, the House passed a budget resolution on a separate $3.5 trillion spending package that is only supported by Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put on hold – until September 27 – a commitment to vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which enjoys bipartisan support.

For more on this topic, attend Broadband Breakfast Live Online (FREE to attend live online) on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, at 12 Noon ET – “What’s Next for Broadband Infrastructure Legislation?

The particulars of the broadband segment of the infrastructure measure that passed the Senate on August 10 have been reported, but not yet fully digested. The bill include grants for service providers that provide broadband at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload.

Upload speeds a center of discussion

That in itself would be a significant bump up from the current federal definition of “broadband” as being 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

But some broadband enthusiasts wanted Congress to push for the symmetrical  speeds that some Democratic lawmakers have asked for. Symmetrical speeds, in which the up speed is equal to the down speed, are generally seen to favor fiber deployment.

Still, the final measure that passed the Senate decreed that anything under 100 Mbps down would be categorized as “underserved.”

Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton put a positive spin on the 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps standard in the Senate-passed infrastructure measure – even as he had originally argued for 100 Mbps x 100 Mbps.

“The bill acknowledges today’s definition of broadband is outdated,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast. “This bill plus what is happening in the market will hasten the move to symmetrical networks at 100 Mbps and higher.”

Bolton made similar comments more than a year ago in an Expert Opinion piece in Broadband Breakfast in which he stressed the importance of fiber for resilient symmetrical networks.

Symmetrical speeds have become au curant in recent Washington committee hearings. Officials with the Rural Broadband Association NTCA said at a May Senate hearing that higher speeds, and symmetrical speeds, are synonymous with networks built to last.

Others have said that symmetrical service has been attracting businesses to some municipalities.

Previously overlooked upload speeds have now taken center stage during the pandemic. That’s because significantly higher upload speeds are required for users to display themselves for remote work, school and health care.

And that’s not even including the spur in demand for additional web sites and services that require high-speed video uploads.

The 100 Mbps speed threshold isn’t without controversy

Former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in March that setting an upload speed of 100 Mbps, “does not reflect reality,” and would lead to more companies building higher-capacity networks in places where there were already lower-capacity networks.

He called that kind of broadband construction wasteful.

Some who represent different segments of the broadband industry also support a more gradual approach to building out broadband in rural areas. These industry players take the attitude that connectivity now at a lower speed is better than no connectivity at all.

Jonathan Adelstein, CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the former administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, told Broadband Breakfast that his organization worked closely with “key members of Congress to ensure that wireless was included.

“Initial proposals for 100 x 100 symmetrical speeds were actually intended to cut out wireless,” Adelstein wrote. “So we were pleased that Congress ultimately agreed to speeds that wireless can meet.”

Adelstein, who headed the Agriculture Department’s RUS under the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the Obama administration, previously said that “all broadband technologies are needed.”

“We will work with Congress, the Administration, and the states on successfully implementing this program to make sure wireless plays a key role,” he said.

Fiber industry officials also touting lower latency

The $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill, H.R.3684, also includes a requirement to lower latency – the time for a device to communicate with the network – to “allow reasonably foreseeable, real-time, interactive applications,” the text says.

Those applications can include remote conferencing and surveillance, in the case of critical infrastructure.

“We believe that the bill includes the right incentives to build out future proof networks that are scalable, reliable, and with sufficient capacity to last a generation,” said Bolton of the Fiber Broadband Association.

There are “good arguments to take the bipartisan Senate bill and also arguments for strengthening the bill with improved build out requirements” when the House reviews it in September.

“What is most important is to get this bill across the goal line as advancing broadband is a national imperative for jobs, remote healthcare, online education and digital equity,” Bolton said.

Sticking points for House lawmakers on spectrum and other topics

Putting aside the debates over fiber and wireless and broadband speeds, some members of Congress this week voiced concerns with the decisions made by the other body in the Senate-passed infrastructure measure.

Michael Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, told Broadband Breakfast in an email that, “While bipartisan packages are rarely perfect, this bill prioritizes the build-out of future-proof networks and puts us on the path to connecting all Americans to broadband.”

“I plan on supporting these provisions,” he said. “Of concern, however, are provisions relating to spectrum that depart from the traditional process, and we plan to take a look at that.”

Among the spectrum rules outlined in the bill is a requirement that the Office of Management and Budget transfer $50 million from the Spectrum Relocation Fund to the Defense Department for the “purpose of research and development, engineering studies, economic analysis, activities with respect to systems, or other planning activities.”

The affected spectrum in this case would be the 3.1 to 3.45 GigaHertz (GHz) band, a key mid-band series of radio frequencies that includes some federal users.

The bill includes a stipulation that the Commerce Secretary identify other frequencies for federal use.

At a House Rules Committee meeting this week, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, who serves as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce committee and who previously said the committee is among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom, said: “Regarding the bill before us today, while there are some aspects I can agree with, it unfortunately falls woefully short in lifting the major barriers that have made major infrastructure projects expensive and, in many cases, impossible.”

She noted that the bill generally does not provision investments in a “more targeted way,” which she said could see “much of the funds authorized and appropriated by this bill…go to waste.”

She specified that “burdensome federal regulations and unnecessary permitting requirements” for closing the digital divide, for example, make it “expensive, slow, and difficult to deploy and upgrade broadband.”

Rodgers also said the bill “does not target funds for deployment to fully unserved parts of America based off the Congressionally-mandated FCC broadband maps. This bill risks wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer money without truly closing the digital divide, leaving rural Americans further behind in the digital economy.”

General support from most in industry and government

When the bill passed the Senate earlier this month, it drew supporters who said it moved the ball forward for much-needed funding to close the digital divide and represented a breakthrough in a divided environment.

“The bipartisan infrastructure legislation demonstrates that policymakers can find common ground on issues that are important for America’s future, including the need to get all Americans connected to robust and reliable broadband service, said Michael Powell, president of the cable industry group NCTA, the Internet and Television Association.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, after the Senate’s passing of the bill, that “[a]mong the historic investments included in the bill is more than $48 billion in funding for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to fund state and local investments to help reach 100% access to affordable, high-speed broadband service.”

The Commerce Department will have a significant purse for a grant program that will provide funding to states to expand broadband in unserved and underserved areas.

Additional broadband components

The bill also requires fund recipients to provide no less than one low-cost broadband service option, a proposal which would be submitted for approval.

The grants must also be used to build out the networks no later than four years after the entity is given the grant, with some exceptions, and the recipient must submit a final report about the funds’ use after it’s been expended.

The bill includes other provisions that focus on access to information for consumers so they can see eligibility for federal and state broadband subsidies and low-income plans, including the creation of a federal website for that purpose.

The FCC will also be required to submit a report on the future of the Universal Service Fund, the program that supports broadband buildouts using telecoms’ voice revenues. The program has been called unsustainable because voice revenues have been declining over time and critics have proposed different funding avenues, including general broadband revenues.

In a May op-ed published in Newsweek, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr proposed big technology companies contribute to the fund because they benefit from the ecosystem.

Workforce needed for implementation

Among other minor provisions, Adelstein referenced something that Congress should look into regarding future 5G networks: The need for a trained workforce for broadband and wireless buildouts.

“Congress should look to invest in workforce training and apprenticeship in the next reconciliation bill,” said Adelstein.

The $3.5-tillion budget that the House passed Tuesday will initiate a reconciliation plan that might address some of these issues.

“With a historic amount of money to be distributed soon for broadband deployment, we need to make sure we have a large enough and properly trained workforce to build out broadband networks and 5G networks,” Adelstein said. “Building a 5G ready workforce is crucial to efficiently spending taxpayer money and to winning the race to 5G.”


NTIA Officials Urge Use of Agency Resources for Digital Equity Planning

Agency officials outlined helpful material for states looking to develop digital equity plans.



Screenshot of Katarina Smiley, digital equity advisor at the NTIA

WASHINGTON, January 31, 2023 – National Telecommunications and Information Administration officials are urging states to take advantage of available resources when developing digital equity plans. 

The NTIA provides general technical assistance resources that the Commerce Department agency said both stakeholders and states will find helpful, including a list of best practices for digital inclusion activities, recommendations for preparing planning requirements, and a plan template. 

Accessing federal resources will set states on a “great path forward” to promote digital equity, said Richelle Crotty, technical assistance advisor for digital equity at an NTIA event Wednesday. 

Because stakeholder involvement is a crucial element to the program, the NTIA provides specific guidance on how to conduct accessible meetings and discuss keys to successful coalition operations.  

Stakeholder involvement cannot be overemphasized, stressed Katarina Smiley, digital equity advisor at NTIA. Communicate what the divide looks like in your community, share digital inclusion models and advocate for community research, she urged state leaders. 

The BEAD-DE Alignment Guide can help states align program requirements and coordinate activities across the NTIA’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program and the Digital Equity Program. 

As part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the $2.5 billion Digital Equity Program created three sub-programs to “ensure that all communities can access and use affordable, reliable high-speed Internet.” 

The first program, which is currently underway, provides $60 million for states to develop digital equity plans. The subsequent steps include $1.44 billion for implementing plans and $1.25 billion toward digital equity and inclusion activities. 

Currently, all 50 states have been awarded Digital Equity Planning Grants upwards of $4 million. Plans are required to identify the key barriers to digital equity faced by its population, measurable objectives for promoting broadband technology, steps to collaborate with key stakeholders, and a digital equity needs assessment. 

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Mayors Urged to Get Moving on State Conversations for Federal Broadband Funding

Time is running out to have cities’ voices heard at state broadband roundtables.



Photo of Scott Woods (left) and Jase Wilson

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Representatives from a company that helps internet service providers and local governments get federal broadband money urged mayors of cities across the country Wednesday to quickly get involved in the process by actively engaging their state broadband offices or get left behind.

Scott Woods and Jase Wilson, vice president for community engagement and strategic partnerships and CEO, respectively, at told the 91st United States Conference of Mayors in Washington that time was running out to have their voices heard at state roundtables.

Woods noted that the current version of the Federal Communications Commission’s maps are “overstated,” meaning there are inaccuracies in it. But if cities don’t have a plan or don’t come to the state broadband offices and plead their case for better connectivity, they will be left out.

The pair asked the packed conference hall at the Capitol Hilton whether they had conversations with their state broadband offices, but the vast majority did not raise their hands.

“The opportunity is now,” Wilson urged, adding the company’s has created a site and a broadband audit allowing mayors to get them up to speed. is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, has said that the accurate delivery of the money to connect the underconnected will be contingent on the readiness of the FCC map, which had a deadline to challenge its contents on January 13, 2023.

Each states is expected to be allocated at least $100 million by June 30, with many states receiving much, much more. After the June 30 kickoff, entities, including cities, can apply for a piece of the pie.

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Regulation, Reporting Requirements and Oversight Can Make a Difference in Grant Applications

Several documents will improve application competitiveness, said Paul Garnett of Vernonburg Group.



Photo of Paul Garnett, CEO of the Vernonburg Group

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2023 – Regulation, reporting requirements, audits, and oversight can provide serious barriers to entities looking to receive funds from various federal broadband programs, said Vernonburg Group CEO Paul Garnett in a Thursday webinar hosted by wireless provider, Telrad.

These regulatory and financial barriers can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful project, he said. It is essential that applicants prepare all necessary documentation to satisfy requirements well before applying to these programs, he continued, identifying several key barriers states may face.

Irrevocable letters of credit, a guarantee for payment which cannot be cancelled during some specified time period, provide risk mitigation for program administrators and are often a key “difference maker” in making an application more competitive, Garnett said.

Its importance was highlighted as several applicants to the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund won auctions for locations but were unable to qualify for funding due to not being able to raise irrevocable letters of credit, claimed Garnett.

Furthermore, he continued, audited financial statements spanning at least three years are often required for program applications. Regularly, applications will be rejected immediately when financial statements are omitted, he said.

Finally, although applicants may not anticipate a need, establishing lines of credit is an essential step to ensure that entities have the funding required for approved projects well in advance, said Garnett. He added that oftentimes, federal programs do not pay entities upfront but instead reimburse for expenses incurred.

Making Applications Simpler

The Vernonburg Group said it is working to make applications easier for entities by providing a simple visualization of basic mapping information in its free digital equity map released in December. Companies are able to easily create data visualizations and see correlation between national and local data sets, claimed its CEO.

The company works to help ISPs and state and local broadband program administrators identify locations eligible for funding by highlighting high scoring potential service areas on a heat map. It extracts availability, fixed broadband adoption, device ownership, and demographic statistics for any defined coverage area.

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