HOUSTON, September 27, 2021 – The pandemic and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda are accelerating investments and mergers and acquisitions in broadband related ventures, according to panelists at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference on Monday.
Experts hosted by Broadband Breakfast said trends that are emerging from the pandemic, the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill that is now before the House and the Federal Communications Commission’s $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, are bigger and accelerated investments not just in broadband, but in non-traditional markets.
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.
“I think [the pandemic] it opened up new markets,” said Lindsay Miller, a partner at law firm Ice Miller. “Whereas for a long time investment was being made in the metropolitan areas, in the big cities, where the return on investment was pretty much certain and likely to be quick, now we’re seeing more investment in small-to-mid-sized cities and rural markets, especially because, in the pandemic, more folks may have relocated to those areas or stayed in those areas.
“So I think we’re seeing a lot of changes in terms of where these investments are taking place,” she added.
For mergers and acquisitions, James Wagar, a partner at Frontbridge Capital, noted companies are buying service providers at very high valuations and using government grants to upgrade the networks.
That strategy may benefit areas that need connectivity fast, as Ryan Carr, a partner at MC Partners, said when he described how some are using the FCC’s RDOF money. He used the example of winners of RDOF money who see that some local service providers can’t provide high enough internet speeds and so they buy the provider and just upgrade the networks.
“They view that as an easier way to get to market faster, rather than them going out and building that network all over again,” Carr said, adding it’s akin to a land grab as it’s not about a thirst for connectivity and how fast you can build out. “So you may be able to go out and buy a local WISP or local ILEC, or whatever it may be…and upgrade their infrastructure as a way to get to market faster.”
Carr added that he expects “continued M&A and a lot more institutional investor interest in this space and continued progress and accelerated investment.”
Local focus a big plus in infrastructure bill
Carr also noted that the infrastructure bill’s focus on state or city level funding, instead of being divvied out from the federal government will give more opportunities for smaller providers perhaps more attuned to their communities.
It gives a “lot of opportunity for smaller providers to access those funds, rather than it just going to a Charter or A&T. A lot of this is going to come down to, how good is your relationship with your local community and your local municipality,” Carr said.
Miller agrees, stating that this is a unique moment for partnerships and new approaches that can be taken for broadband expansion.
Wagar said in the pacific northwest, the state broadband offices are becoming more active and they “want to give the money away,” if you come with a viable plan.
FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund
FCC said it disbursed an additional $269 million in the first round.
WASHINGTON, October 26, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced additional details Monday about the second wave of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, including additional money that has been allocated from the first filing window.
The agency, which allocated $1.1 billion earlier this month, said second wave applicants filed for nearly $1.3 billion from all 50 states. The second window was open for applications between September 28 and October 13.
The agency also announced that an additional $269 million was allocated for the first filing window applications, which disbursed $1.2 billion from the $7.17 billion program.
The applications submitted for the latest round will go to fund 2.4 million connected devices and over 564,000 broadband connections to benefit schools and libraries. The agency has so far committed a total of $2.63 billion from the fund.
These latest commitments mean more than nine million students will be connected with the money. The support provided from the funds is expected to make homework completion and virtual learning more possible for students with connectivity issues, as many schools continue to operate remotely.
“Clearly there still is a tremendous demand for help in our communities to meet the broadband needs of students and library patrons engaged in online learning,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications
The more detail, the better, NTIA officials said of program.
WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021–Lack of eligibility or proper planning or documentation errors are frequent grounds for disqualification of applicants for the United States’ Commerce Department’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, agency officials said Wednesday and Thursday.
Speaking at webinars for individuals considering applying for the grants – which are being made by the National Telecommunications and Information Association of the Commerce Department – officials shared the most commons mistakes made by applicants when applying for the grants.
Among the officials speaking during the two presentations were Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for the Connecting Minority Communities program, Management and Program Analyst Pandora Beasley-Timpson, Broadband Program Specialist Janice Wilkins, Telecommunications Policy Analyst Francine Alkisswani, and Broadband Program Specialists Cameron Lewis and Kevin Hughes.
Among the biggest mistakes is eligibility. “Only historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, or minority serving institutions can apply,” said NTIA’s Michelle Morton.
Making a Successful Application
Morton and other leaders of the program also shared traits of a successful grant application.
“Good applicants provide a business and execution plan,” they said. “[Applicants] should demonstrate there is a core staff that is dedicated to the proposed project and knowledgeable about the process, as well as an editor, preferably one not connected to the project, to encourage non-biased review of the grant to see how it reads.”
Project Implementation and Evaluation
When describing their project implementation and planning process, applicants should have a clear project narrative that “identifies specific tasks, measurable milestones, and performance outcomes resulting from the proposed project activity,” the officials said.
Importantly, the NTIA stressed that all applicants must comply with Commerce Department regulations for the protection of human subjects during all research conducted or supported with grant funds.
This is important because the NTIA is required to determine whether or not a project’s evaluation plan “meets the definition of human subject research.” Thus, no work can be taken for research involving human subject until a federal grants officer approves of the research.
NTIA leaders also addressed questions about consortium-based applicants. “The lead application is the entity entering into the grant agreement with the NTIA and assumes primary operational and financial responsibility for the project.”
A consortium allows Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions to partner with local governments on their application. Each consortium partner must provide a letter of a commitment to the project, including the detailed role of each member of the project and the specific commitment of each member of the project.
Finances and Budgeting
Applicants are also required to include financial documentation that details how the funds will be used and how the funding plans to meet the projects’ intended goals.
Additionally, applicants’ budget narrative should serve to explain how the costs were estimated and justify how the budget items are necessary to implement project goals and objectives and accomplished applicant’s proposed outcomes.
“We encourage out of the box thinking with regard to applicants putting together their projects,” said Hughes.
Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds
Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.
WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.
Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.
The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.
The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.
With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.
Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.
These decisions included:
- Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
- Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications. These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
- Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
- Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.
- FCC Announces Additional Details From Second Wave, Additional Money for First Wave, of Emergency Connectivity Fund
- Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, Sohn as 5th Commissioner and Alan Davidson as NTIA Head
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