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Focus of Broadband Expansion Should Be On Last Mile, Says President of CETF

Open access to middle mile infrastructure will help deliver services at the last mile, CETF says.

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Nate Walowitz of Colorado, Chris Mitchell of Institute for Local Self Reliance, and Chris Walker of NoaNet at Digital Infrastructure Investment

HOUSTON, September 28, 2021 – Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, said Monday that stakeholders interested in expanding broadband rollout should focus on the last mile, the stretch of cable that goes to homes and businesses, by using existing middle mile infrastructure.

“I would rather leverage the resources and infrastructure they’ve [internet service providers] already built – that we as taxpayers and ratepayers have already paid for – and tap into that in order to focus on last-mile,” McPeak said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference.

Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 was hosted as an online and in person conference by Broadband Breakfast at the Broadband Communities Summit. The recording of the Monday event is available for registration and replay.

This year’s conference heard from proponents of the open access model, which allows telecommunications providers to ride on the existing infrastructure to boost competition, lower prices, and broaden connectivity.

McPeak said she supports the open access model to deliver on what she said should be a focus: on the last mile to businesses and homes – and especially to California’s large native American population and tribal lands.

“There has to be a discipline in our lenses of getting to last mile unserved, and in California that includes all our tribal lands,” McPeak said. “We have more federally recognized tribal governments than any other state and more native Americans than any other state. And so, if we don’t focus on last mile, we will not be as efficient in our investments in middle mile. And of course, we also support open access for middle mile.

“Every dollar that we don’t have to duplicate in middle mile, although there’s going to be a middle mile network, we can get to last mile.”

For Nate Walowitz, regional broadband program director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, opening access to infrastructure will entail realities that may not sound pleasant. “Coopetition,” he said. “Sometimes you’re a cooperator, sometimes you’re a competitor, and it doesn’t really matter h ow that partnership plays out because the reality is, in the business we’re in, we can’t all find a way to make money necessarily in a lot of our markets across large service areas…unless we take a strategy where we look for solid partnerships where it’s complimentary.”

Matt Schmit, director of the office of broadband in Illinois, said that the key is a “balance between last mile and middle mile expansion, and I think the kind of partnerships we’ve forged vary, from one focus to the next, but it really is that complimentary effort that’s going to get the job done in Illinois.”

Partnerships with telecoms

McPeak said partnerships between municipalities and telecoms starts with an understanding of each’s core competencies. Telecoms, she said, are generally good at delivering telecommunications services and maintaining the network, but it also has to ensure that it is setting quality standards and deploying in hard-to-reach areas while offering affordable services for low-income households. “Those are the kinds of things that have to be done in tough negotiations,” she said.

Chris Walker, senior executive director of infrastructure strategy at the Northwest Open Access Network, said governments and telecoms each have their own things that they are great at, and exploiting those things will benefit all. That, he said, includes governments being great at handling infrastructure and the private sector being very good at innovating.

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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