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Feds Likely to Maintain Oversight of Infrastructure Bill Fund Disbursement

NTIA is likely to continue to oversee the $42.5 billion for broadband from the IIJA.

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WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – At a Broadband Breakfast event earlier this month, the director of the office of minority broadband initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the agency will maintain oversight of money from the infrastructure bill to communities, rather than giving complete autonomy to states.

Scott Woods also emphasized the need to tailor NTIA approaches to each individual state, as each state possesses vastly different capability for fund disbursement based on existing state programs such as extensive mapping by Georgia’s government. Each state is expected to receive a minimum of $100 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates $65 billion to broadband and was signed into law in mid-November.

Woods sat down in conversation with Ready and Broadband Money CEO Jase Wilson and Broadband Breakfast’s editor and publisher Drew Clark for an in-person panel event, which can be rewatched here.

Woods said the NTIA’s localized approach will rely heavily on better broadband maps.

He said that currently, the government needs more information from internet service providers on where they provide service and at what speed. Additionally, he said there is a need for key demographic data in order to create comprehensive broadband maps that will help inform agency policy and investments.

Wilson said that geospatial tools are also central to the work his business does to connect local service providers to funding and resources.

Woods noted that it is not possible for the federal government alone to perform the entire operation of IIJA fund disbursement and that it will rely on partnerships with the private sector, philanthropic organizations, communities as well as state and local governments.

Wilson highlighted how local service providers are more engaged bodies to partner with for service expansion in communities as opposed to larger providers due to the greater financial motivations among smaller providers to increase consumer access.

The NTIA will use the input of partnered stakeholders such as the aforementioned philanthropic organizations and private sector entities to shape a Notice of Funding Opportunity that the agency will release for its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, said Woods.

The Senate Commerce Committee recently advanced the nomination of President Joe Biden’s pick to head the NTIA, Alan Davidson. If confirmed, Davidson is sure to play a key role in implementation of the IIJA.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the December 8, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021, 12 Noon ET — Implementation of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act

The passage of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act on November 5, 2021, represents a significant opportunity for the broadband industry. This includes the providers of high-speed internet service as well as those that seek to enhance the deployment of better broadband. But many questions remain about the details of implementing the IIJA on both the federal and the state levels. In this special “Broadband Breakfast for Lunch” IN PERSON and LIVE ONLINE event, we’ll explore the perspective of the lead federal government agency charged with implementing IIJA’s broadband provision, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. We’ll also consider the important role of state broadband officials in the next phase of IIJA implementation.

Join us IN PERSON on Wednesday, December 8, at Broadband Breakfast Club for Lunch!

There are two ways to participate in this event: IN PERSON or LIVE ONLINE. To attend in person, sign up to attend in person through EventbritePlease arrive for lunch at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 707 7th Street NW, Washington, D.C., by 11:30 a.m. to be seated for lunch. The program will begin promptly at 12 Noon ET.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Scott Woods, Senior Broadband Program Specialist, NTIA
  • Jase Wilson, CEO, Ready / Broadband Money
  • Other guests have been invited
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

As a Senior Broadband Program Specialist with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA), Scott Woods serves as the Team Lead for the Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program, a new grant program to provide $268 million in direct funding to expand broadband access, connectivity and digital inclusion to eligible Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs), Minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) and the anchor communities upon which these institutions serve. Mr. Woods also serves as the principal liaison between the BroadbandUSA program office and key strategic partners and external stakeholder groups, including representatives from state and local governments; broadband service providers; for-profit and non-profit corporations; telecom trade associations; community representatives and organizations, and colleges/universities.

Jase Wilson is co-founder and CEO of Ready / Broadband Money, a software, data and financial services firm devoted to helping local ISPs connect more people to better broadband. He lives in the SF bay area with his wife and their son Wafer, aka WWW.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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

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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Funding

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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Funding

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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