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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.
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Funding

Decades-Old Legislation Can Play Supplement to Federal Broadband Infrastructure Money

The Community Reinvestment Act was expanded to include broadband investments in 2016.

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Photo of Jordana Barton-Garcia (far right)

CLEVELAND, June 27, 2022 – A decades-old piece of legislation can play an important and supplemental role to federal grants for broadband infrastructure, said panelists at the Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 to address redlining – the practice of denying financial services to individuals or groups based on where they are located, often along racial or soci-economic lines. The law encourages banks to make community development loans and investments in low- and moderate-income communities, rural, and tribal communities.

The legislation expanded to include investments in broadband infrastructure in 2016, after broadband was deemed an essential community service, said Jordana Barton-Garcia, principal of the social enterprise at Barton-Garcia Advisors. That means that it could play a key role in filling some of the broadband gaps, she said, as the federal government moves to distribute billions to the states under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In response to the pandemic, banks can now qualify to receive CRA credit for broadband deployment activities, said Barton-Garcia. Activities include loans, investments, and services that support digital inclusion or affordability programs.

Banks receive CRA credit for investing in community development projects and are reviewed on their CRA performance every three years. Their scores are open to the general public. If the bank receives a negative rating, it may prevent the bank from opening new branches and the bank will be expected to correct the rating.

Currently, the Federal Reserve is seeking comments on a joint agency proposal to strengthen and modernize CRA regulations.

A report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2016 laid the groundwork for broadband to be included under the CRA. “Under the CRA, infrastructure investment includes facilitating the construction, expansion, improvement, maintenance or operation of essential infrastructure…  broadband is now a basic infrastructure needed in all communities.”

The CRA also includes workforce development investments, digital literacy projects, and technical assistance for small businesses.

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Funding

Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’

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Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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Funding

BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment

Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’

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Photo of John Horrigan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.

“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.

Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.

First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.

“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”

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