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More Companies Are Defaulting on RDOF Money They Won

Defaulters say new FCC mapping data shows areas they bid to connect are already adequately served.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 12, 2021 – At least five companies have asked the Federal Communications Commission to waive penalties against them for defaulting on coverage areas they said they would connect as part of their winning bids for the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Within the first two weeks of August, Citynet West Virginia, Covington Electric Coop (Alabama), Tallahatchie Valley Internet Services (Mississippi), First Light Fiber (Mississippi), and Meriwether Lewis Connect (Tennessee) all filed requests for relief from penalties of $3000 per violation for bringing forth admission that certain areas for which they won money from RDOF to build in may already have adequate internet.

In their notices, some attributed their enlightenment to updated FCC maps based on Form 477 data, an often criticized form of data collection that is reliant on service provider data. For example, First Light and Covington said it bid on areas it didn’t know was already served by AT&T and CenturyLink, respectively.

FCC asked companies to consider withdrawing

The defaults come just three weeks after the agency sent letters on July 26 to 197 winning bidders to reevaluate their coverage areas because it had come to the commission’s attention that those areas may already have adequate connectivity (the federal standard is 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload).

The commission had already announced that several companies had defaulted on their winning bids. At that time, the agency also said it was ready to authorize 1,500 winning bids amounting to $311 million, a pittance compared to the overall size of the pot.

It’s part of the agency’s purging of the beneficiaries of the auction, helmed by former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai when the winners were announced in December, which had been lambasted in the subsequent months by allegations that companies were exaggerating their abilities and that coverage areas addressed by the winners were already connected.

A couple of companies have also raised to the FCC updates on their certification as eligible telecommunications providers in their states. Without that certification, the FCC wouldn’t be able to rubberstamp the winners.

Charter Communications filed notice with the FTC on Monday that it now has certification in all states for which it won RDOF money.

As part of its process, the agency had automatically announced that some were offside of the rules because it had not received the certifications and denied them funds. Those included AB Indiana and top winner LTD Broadband, whose lack of certification in Nebraska prompted the state’s public commission to notify the FCC that the agency got it wrong when it said the state only requires 30 days for certification.

Managing Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.

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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.

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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 Ready.net 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 Broadband.money has created a site and a broadband audit allowing mayors to get them up to speed. Broadband.money 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.

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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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CES 2023: NTIA to Address Broadband, Spectrum, and Privacy, Says Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations.

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Photo of NTIA Adminstrator Alan Davidson

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2023 priorities will include the funding and facilitation of states’ broadband deployment programs, the development of a national spectrum policy, and actions to protect the privacy of marginalized groups, said Administrator Alan Davidson at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday.

The NTIA’s most high-profile task is to oversee the operations of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.45 billion slush fund for broadband-infrastructure deployments which will be divided among the governments of states and U.S. territories. Those governments will administer final distribution of the BEAD funds in accordance with the NTIA’s guidelines.

“This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment,” Davidson said. “This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy, and we are going to do it.”

Davidson reiterated his agency’s stated intention to develop a comprehensive national spectrum strategy to facilitate the various spectrum interests of government and private industry. To allocate spectrum in a manner that fulfills federal needs and stimulates the growth of innovators, largely in the sector of 5G, the NTIA – the administrator of federally used spectrum – must coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission – the administrator of other spectrum.

Calling for a national privacy law, Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations. He stated that the NTIA will, possibly within weeks, request public comment on “civil rights and privacy.”

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