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Industry and Non-Profit Groups Offer Uniformly Positive Views of Broadband Bill’s Passage

Largest single federal investment ever in broadband will enable communities to invest in fiber as critical infrastructure, says industry group.

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Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton

WASHINGTON, November 6, 2021- Industry groups cheered by the House’s passage of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and offered uniformly positive reactions in statements issued on Saturday morning and early afternoon.

Amid $1.2 trillion of spending in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684 allocates $43 billion for broadband infrastructure, and an addition $23 billion for projects and funding bearing upon digital inclusion and broadband’s impact.

“This is the largest single federal investment in broadband, and it will enable communities across the country to invest in fiber as their critical infrastructure, delivering jobs, economic development, online education, remote healthcare, public safety, smart grid modernization and a path to future services, such as 5G,” said Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “This investment will not only greatly improve nearly every aspect of our lives today but will help ensure digital equity for generations to come.”

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of US Telecom, highlighted the fact that the $65 billion in funding doesn’t come in in a vacuum.

“If you boil it down, this plan is actually the federal government (working with states) smartly leveraging nearly two trillion dollars, relentless innovation, expertise, and the sweat equity of broadband providers in every corner of the country over the past 25 years,” said Spalter.

He said the plan highlighted the importance of private-sector investment in broadband deployment. The model — “with targeted public support in unserved or hard to reach communities – is the key to achieving 100 percent connectivity,” he said.

Similarly, cable association CEO Matt Polka praised the way the bill “targets deployment of funding in a technologically neutral way to where it is most needed — to unserved and underserved areas — with a robust challenge process to limit overbuilding.” He also praised the funding for low-income connectivity.

Wireless Internet Services Provider Association CEO Claude Aiken praised the bill, saying that it “will help community-based and Tribal providers get all Americans online, bridging the stubborn digital divide which thwarts the prosperity and welfare of millions who go without internet access.”

Non-profit groups praise funding, but warn of lower monthly benefit

“As advocates for affordable broadband, we are thrilled to see the $14.2 billion investment to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit created in the COVID-19 relief bill,” including the bill’s digital equity initiative, said Chris Lewis, CEO of Public Knowledge.

While the measure “makes great first strides in making broadband more available and affordable for millions of consumers across the country,” he said, “the reduction of the low-income broadband subsidy from $50 to $30 is disappointing.”

“Never before have we seen such a meaningful congressional investment in closing the digital divide for people who may already have high-speed internet networks available in their neighborhoods, but who still cannot afford to connect,” said Matt Wood, Free Press Action vice president of policy

“Millions of people in that predicament simply can’t pay the high price to get connected without the kind of robust financial support this bill offers,” he said.

Consumer Reports’ Senior Policy Counsel Jonathan Schwantes highlighted several benefits and attributes championed by the non-profit entity, including:

  • $42.5 billion for broadband infrastructure and the deployment of grants to be distributed to the states and territories with a focus on unserved and underserved markets.
  • Requirement of a low-cost option to be offered by providers who take federal grant money.
  • A consumer broadband label that internet service providers must provide for all service offerings. The broadband label will serve as a standardized, easy-to-read broadband label that will include pricing information, additional fees, promotional discounts and length, and performance information (i.e., expected speeds).
  • $14.2 billion to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit program that will now be the Affordable Connectivity Program (administered by the FCC).
  • Restrictions on upselling or restricting the use of the benefit to particular service offerings.
  • $2.75 billion over the next five years to fund grants programs to boost digital equity, inclusion, and literacy programs.
  • A call to end the practice of “digital redlining” to provide greater access to high-speed internet for lower-income areas. The Federal Communications Commission is tasked to conduct a rulemaking on this issue in the next two years.

Consumer Reports also highlighted their project “Let’s Broadband Together,” designed to investigate the state of internet access throughout the country.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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NTIA Officials Urge Use of Agency Resources for Digital Equity Planning

Agency officials outlined helpful material for states looking to develop digital equity plans.

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Screenshot of Katarina Smiley, digital equity advisor at the NTIA

WASHINGTON, January 31, 2023 – National Telecommunications and Information Administration officials are urging states to take advantage of available resources when developing digital equity plans. 

The NTIA provides general technical assistance resources that the Commerce Department agency said both stakeholders and states will find helpful, including a list of best practices for digital inclusion activities, recommendations for preparing planning requirements, and a plan template. 

Accessing federal resources will set states on a “great path forward” to promote digital equity, said Richelle Crotty, technical assistance advisor for digital equity at an NTIA event Wednesday. 

Because stakeholder involvement is a crucial element to the program, the NTIA provides specific guidance on how to conduct accessible meetings and discuss keys to successful coalition operations.  

Stakeholder involvement cannot be overemphasized, stressed Katarina Smiley, digital equity advisor at NTIA. Communicate what the divide looks like in your community, share digital inclusion models and advocate for community research, she urged state leaders. 

The BEAD-DE Alignment Guide can help states align program requirements and coordinate activities across the NTIA’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program and the Digital Equity Program. 

As part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the $2.5 billion Digital Equity Program created three sub-programs to “ensure that all communities can access and use affordable, reliable high-speed Internet.” 

The first program, which is currently underway, provides $60 million for states to develop digital equity plans. The subsequent steps include $1.44 billion for implementing plans and $1.25 billion toward digital equity and inclusion activities. 

Currently, all 50 states have been awarded Digital Equity Planning Grants upwards of $4 million. Plans are required to identify the key barriers to digital equity faced by its population, measurable objectives for promoting broadband technology, steps to collaborate with key stakeholders, and a digital equity needs assessment. 

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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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