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Render Networks and Irby Ahead of Schedule on Arkansas Fiber Build

The build is also underbudget, they said.

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Render CEO Sam Pratt

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Irby and Render Networks are set to deliver fiber to rural Arkansans under budget and ahead of schedule as part of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation’s effort to connect northeast Arkansas.

On Nov. 24, Render Networks and Irby announced that they are two years ahead of where they expected to be in the project, and are 20 percent under budget.

“At a time when our industry is faced with chronic shortages and costly overruns, we are confidently defying project norms and delivering faster with less resources,” said Irby Vice President of Technology and Communication Geff Smith. “We needed tools that would help us cut through the complexity, and Render delivered the network design into manageable tasks but more importantly gave us the visibility to make informed decisions on the infrastructure whilst continuing to construct in an agile manner.”

Irby serves as the infrastructure distributor in the partnership, while Render’s platform runs a mobile, geographic information system that allows Irby to manage jobs and data to deliver network infrastructure and buildouts. Render is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

As part of the project, more than 3,500 miles of fiberoptic cable have been laid, and more than 10,000 locations have been connected, with an additional 5,000 planned.

“These kinds of rollouts are the great equalizer for underserved rural communities,” said Render CEO Sam Pratt. “We’re delighted that the Render platform and knowhow helped enable CECC, Irby and the construction contractor D&H Contracting to streamline deployment planning, work allocation, oversight and administration – and ultimately deliver much needed connectivity to an underserved community of CECC members earlier than I think anyone thought possible.”

“We knew the need for broadband in our member communities was great so we wanted to do everything we could to accelerate the construction of our fiber network,” said chief operating officer of CECC Jeremiah Sloan.

“We’re now well positioned to not only meet the broadband needs of our members but also continue to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable power by leveraging our fiber network,” he added. “It would have been impossible to realize these achievements without Render’s revolutionary approach to construction management and a strong technology and material partnership with Irby Utilities.”

Render Networks is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

Rural

USDA Considering Drawing on Infrastructure Bill Money as ReConnect Demand Increases

The USDA has been allocated $2 billion from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

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Screenshot of Christopher McLean and Drew Clark at Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2022 – The acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service said Wednesday that his office has seen so much interest in the third round for its broadband funds that it is considering drawing on other federal infrastructure funds to satisfy demand.  

Christopher McLean, who joined Broadband Breakfast for its weekly event Wednesday, said the latest round for money from the ReConnect program received 305 applications requesting a total of $4.8 billion, but the program allocated only $1.15 billion for the round.   

McLean said that while his office is currently evaluating the applications, it is also now considering drawing on the $2 billion the office was allocated under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to meet the demand for builds intended to connect the underserved. 

“We made an announcement that because as more funds had become available, we would reserve the right to apply additional funds to that $1.15 billion funding pool. We got far more applications than we had dollars in that initial allotment,” said McLean.

Photo of Christopher McLean and Drew Clark at Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday.

McLean added that the USDA is expecting to announce winners for the third round this summer and is preparing to announce an additional fourth round.

In a keynote speech in Fiber Connect 2020, Chad Rupe, administrator for the RUS said that “the USDA’s RUS offers one of the cheapest, most reliable sources of capital.” 

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also join LIVE ONLINE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Zoom.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Preparing for Federal Broadband Funding with the Rural Utilities Service’s Christopher McLean

Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark will host Christopher McLean, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service  for a fireside chat about broadband funding, including the ReConnect program, RUS’s long-standing mandate to improve rural telecommunications, electric and broadband infrastructure, and the way other federal programs will interact with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Christopher McLean, Acting Administrator, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

In addition to serving as the Acting Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, Christopher McLean also serves as the Assistant Administrator for Electric Programs at the RUS. He was named to that position on January 11, 2015. This is Chris’ third time at the agency. As AAE, Chris presides over a $46 billion loan portfolio. In recent years the RUS annual lending budget has been in excess of $5 billion. The agency makes low interest loans for rural electric infrastructure, renewable energy, smart grid and energy efficiency. Prior to his return to RUS, Chris was the Acting Director of the Program Planning and Accountability Division of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture. He came to OASCR in 2013 as civil rights fellow in the Policy Office. From 2010-2012, Chris served as a senior advisor to the Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service. Chris was in private practice from 2001-2010. He was the co-owner of e-Copernicus, a consulting firm that specialized in telecommunications, transportation and technology policy. Chris is also the former Executive Director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition. He is also is a former RUS Administrator and former Governor of the Rural Telephone Bank. He was appointed Deputy Administrator in January 1998. In 2000, he was the first person nominated and confirmed for the position of RUS Administrator. He hails from Omaha, Nebraska. He received an LL.M. in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University in 1985, a J.D. from Creighton University School of Law in 1982, and a degree in Business Administration from Creighton University in 1980.

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.

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Rural

Local Governments Provide Valuable Information for Rural Infrastructure Builds

Rural communities vary in broadband needs, making community engagement essential for breaching the digital divide.

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Photo of Scott Woods, Josh Seidemann, Jerry Kuthy and Bob Knight (left to right) by Teralyn Whippe

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – A critical first step to delivering on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for rural communities at a local level is community engagement and understanding, panelists said at a Tuesday event of the Local Initiative Support Corporation.

As a local leader in a rural community “the first thing to do is a community survey,” said Josh Seidemann, vice president of policy at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

Seidemann and other panelists provided advice on what local communities need to do to be successful in applications under the IIJA. The process is expected to kick off upon release of rules from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The agency must release rules under the IIJA by May 16.

A community survey will help “determine and evaluate where your community needs broadband the most,” said Seidemann. Such a survey is “going to inform and illuminate the type of network that will best meet your needs.”

Community needs can vary due to topography and existing infrastructure available for use. “Make sure your network meets your community needs,” added Bob Knight, CEO of public relations agency Harrison Edwards and a local government official in Connecticut. He is co-chair of Fiber Broadband Association’s public officials group. “The best projects have an element of community engagement.”

Jerry Kuthy, Program Officer at Cameron Foundation, urged local leaders to create a mapping system of their individual geographical broadband needs.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development launched an interactive broadband coverage map in April of 2022. Kuthy said the map will help local leaders in Virginia roll out funding for rural broadband infrastructure.

Mapping areas of focus for broadband projects has long been the focus for state and regional leaders, in part because so many people have expressed disappointment at previous FCC broadband mapping efforts.

LISC is an intermediary non-profit that connects public and private resources with underinvested places. The role of Community Development Financial Institutions was also discussed at the event.

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Community Development Financial Institutions Funds Prepare for Broadband Infrastructure Funding

CDFI funds are responsible for rural Wyoming broadband and may offer a solution to rural areas across the nation.

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Photo of Brian Vo

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – A Treasury Department program that is bringing capital to disadvantaged communities is helping drive key money into broadband infrastructure builds in rural America, some of those recipient institutions said at an event Tuesday.

The department provides grants to and certifies institutions such as banks, credit unions, loan funds, microloan funds, or venture capital providers as Community Development Financial Institutions that provide financial services in low-income communities and to people who don’t have access to financing, according to the government website.

The program is also helping build much-needed broadband connectivity, as seen in rural Wyoming, where the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation has already utilized CDFI funds to finance a project to run fiber optics networks to rural Wyoming.

“We believe that there’s capital available for rural broadband,” Gary Franke, managing director of the communications group at CoBank, said at the Local Initiative Support Corporation event on Tuesday.

LISC is an intermediary non-profit that connects public and private resources with underinvested places. CoBank, however, is not a CDFI.

Such deals “typically will involve partnerships with state, local, or federal programs in addition to private equity,” he said.

Suzanne Anarde, CEO at Rural Community Assistance Corporation, a CDFI, said Tuesday that CDFIs must “find out what our individual niche is and how we can build capacity that makes us viable.”

Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity said that his organization could work with CDFIs in the future to fund their holistic approach to digital equity.

Photo of Brian Vo (right) by Teralyn Whipple

LISC alleges that the large national financial institutions are not interested in making investments to improve rural broadband expansion across the country. The organization states on its web site that “rural broadband is lacking in many areas because the large national providers are not interested in making the investment.”

“We see a lot of opportunity out there. With the right capital and the right funding programs, there’s a lot more to come,” Franke said.

There are currently more than 1,200 CDFI funds operating across the nation, many of which are now focusing on crossing the digital divide by providing funds for rural broadband infrastructure.

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