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Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

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.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

Funding

Sen. Alex Padilla Emphasizes Billions in Broadband Funds for California

California also has 18 projects that are part of the state’s $6-billion broadband investment under its California Comeback Plan.

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Photo of Alex Padilla from June 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 3, 2021 – Sen. Alex Padilla, the U.S. senator from California appointed to fill the remainder of Vice President Kamala Harris’ term, on Tuesday celebrated a future in which all Californians are connected to broadband.

Padilla, a Democrat, pushed local governments and internet service providers to not only get their fair share of federal broadband funds, but to also “continue to build upon the efforts and experience of truly connecting California families not to just internet connection, but the opportunities and resources that come with it.”

Speaking at a Tuesday event hosted by California Forward and California Emerging Technology Fund, Padilla discussed federal infrastructure funds for California. As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, California is expected to receive around $1 billion in broadband funds for communities.

California’s Broadband Funding

In addition to the 18 statewide broadband deployment efforts announced by governor Gavin Newsom last month, Californians can take advantage of federal funds that will be made available by the National Telecommunications and Information Association.

NTIA Acting Administrator Evelyn Remaley detailed programs from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for which organizations should apply:

  • $42.5 billion Broadband Access and Deployment Program. This program, the largest of all the programs administered by the NTIA, is distributed among states, US territories, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico for projects supporting broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption.
  • $1 billion Enabling Broadband Middle Mile Infrastructure Program. This program will be targeted at lowering the cost of unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the broadband infrastructure.
  • $2 billion added to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Directs funding to tribal governments for deployment on tribal lands. The program also funds telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
  • $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act Programs. Promoting digital equity to ensure that all communities have the same opportunities to obtain the skills and technology necessary to participate in our digital economy.
  • The Digital Equity Act programs includes $16 million for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, $1.44 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and $1.25 for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

These investments build on the NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (which closed on December 1).

“At the NTIA we are so excited to begin this endeavor to connect every single American to high-speed, affordable broadband,” Remaley said. “Senator Padilla talked about the need, we know it is global, and we are committed to getting this done with all of our partners: our states and communities.”

The California Emerging Technology Fund is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Governors Discuss Infrastructure Bill Spending at Summit

Leaders addressed strategies and importance of private spending.

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From left to right: Jane Garvey, Tom Wolf, Lourdes Leon Guerrero, John Bel Edwards, Larry Hogan

ANNAPOLIS, December 2, 2021 – Governors from some states gathered in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss how they would use the billions in funding coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The three-day National Governor’s Association Infrastructure Summit, a large part of which was closed off to media, hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday. The panel included Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, Guam Democratic Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, and Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Edwards said that once Louisiana had received money from the infrastructure bill – signed into law in mid-November that would provide a minimum of $100 million to the states – the changes to broadband would be drastic. “We will be able to address [access and the digital divide] to a degree that was not be possible before.

“If there is a home or business [in Louisiana] without high-speed internet by 2029, it is because they do not want it,” Edwards said. He explained that because Louisiana identified the shortcomings in its broadband infrastructure and began laying the groundwork to improve it years ago, the state is more well equipped to take advantage of the funding that will come with the IIJA.

In early 2020, Edwards announced his “Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana” plan that outlined coverage priority areas, the guiding principles, and goals for the state’s approach to improved broadband connectivity. The state broadband office, Connect L.A., was formed to help put the plan into action.

As part of the state’s initiative to bridge the digital divide, Edwards’ administration created Louisiana’s Grant Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program, or GUMBO, to help underserved and unserved areas apply for federal funding for broadband projects.

Need for private investment

Wolf pointed to actions Pennsylvania is taking to ensure that funds are not squandered. “[The IIJA] is not an infinite amount of money and it is not nearly what our engineers say we need,” he said. To get the most out of the funding they receive, Wolf recommended that states create centralized infrastructure banks to only allocate money to approved projects and avoid both literal and figurative “bridges to nowhere.”

“Private investment is also critically important,” Hogan said. Indeed, all the governors sharing the stage encouraged states to explore public-private efforts. Edwards said he was hopeful that the IIJA would not tie states’ hands, preventing states from utilizing such models. “We need an approach that has the flexibility to work for us,” he said. “I hope the rules are not written in a way that requires us to do all of this ourselves [without private investment].”

The purpose of this gathering is to allow governors, their secretaries, and staff to meet, collaborate, and share their experiences to help states partner for regional infrastructure projects, prioritize projects, and learn to obtain the necessary resources from the federal government to complete said projects.

Hogan presented the opening keynote and participated in some of the first day’s events. Bipartisanship was one of the focal points of the summit, and Hogan hammered on it during his keynote.

“A lot of conventional wisdom was that a federal infrastructure bill could not be in a bipartisan way,” he said. Hogan said that the collaborative work governors did on a state and regional level proved this “wisdom” to be false, stating, “the nation’s governors will continue to lead the way.”

Waiting on the federal government

Hogan said that while the money in the IIJA will be “transformational,” there are still a considerable number of unknowns. “We are still waiting for guidance from the federal government,” he said. As it stands now, he said there is no precise timeline for when the funds will be dispensed or if certain monies will have rigid, unknown requirements that could hold up the process. “The devil is in the details,” said Hogan.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

“We will find a way to make use of every penny we receive,” he added, but said it was still unclear how much money the state would get or, where it could be used, and when the state would get it.

Hogan said Maryland’s efforts would be concentrated on repairing and modernizing infrastructure, while also devising new ways to streamline the deployment of future projects.

The NGA summit runs through December 2 and covers topics such as broadband, freight transportation, green infrastructure and supply chain issues.

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Funding

President Biden Signs Infrastructure Bill at White House, Touting Better Broadband

President Biden celebrated $65 billion for broadband deployment.

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President Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday.

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2021 – President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, securing $65 billion for broadband deployment.

Biden declared that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would connect all Americans to the internet.

The legislation includes $65 billion in funding to “make high-speed Internet affordable and available everywhere, everywhere in America — urban suburban, rural — and create jobs laying down those broadband lines,” he said. “No parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant again just so their child can use the internet to do their homework,” Biden declared. “That’s over.”

Biden said the fundamental need for high-speed internet everywhere in America became clear over the past year. Comparing to internet access to utilities “as essential or water or electricity,” Biden said that remote learning during the pandemic highlighted the urgency for connecting all Americans.

“Is this not a great day to sign a bill?” said Denita Williams, an optical fiber maker in Wilmington, North Carolina who opened the event by highlighting that investments in infrastructure supports workers like her.

“One of the most exciting parts about this bill is the $65 billion upgrade to expand broadband in communities across the country,” she said. “Communities like mine, in rural north Carolina. This is a not just an investment in broadband. This bill will help everyone have access to the internet to teach their children, run their businesses, and help them run their farms.”

Biden also highlighted green energy technologies

The President also highlighted the law’s provisions that would increase the manufacturing and export of clean energy technologies. “It’s going to make it possible for Americans to get off the sidelines and into the game of manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries to store energy and power for electric vehicles, including electric school buses, which means millions of children will no longer inhale the dangerous diesel fumes at comes out of the buses.”

The cold and wind did not keep President Biden and his top advisors from gathering on the South Lawn of the White House. Governors and mayors from around the country attended. So did many equity advocates, such as Rev. Al Sharpton.

Additionally, more than a dozen Teamsters, journeymen, and other union workers attended the signing.

The crowd was electric. They cheered as Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivered their remarks.

They lauded the legislation as “historic” and described it as “once in a generation.” The Democrats at the event promised Americans that the infrastructure bill was only the first step to “build back better.”

“We will keep working with you, Mr. President, to build on today’s success by passing the rest of your ‘Build back Better’ agenda in the weeks ahead, so we can keep our promises to help families achieve the American Dream,” said Schumer, “This is a great day for America.”

“Our work is already underway, and we’re eager to engage with stakeholders in every state, territory, tribe, and community to ensure these programs succeed,” said Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and the National Telecommunications and Information administrator.”Under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary [Gina] Raimondo, we now have the resources we need to close the digital divide and make America more connected, more competitive, and more equitable than ever before.”

Ben Kahn, a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast, contributed to this report.

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