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Infrastructure Bill Brings New Focus on Decision Making at Community Level

Funneling of infrastructure funds through states differs from Obama-era broadband programs.

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WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – Community broadband advocates say the ability for local governments to decide what can be done with broadband money from the recently-enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the best way to manage federal funds for broadband expansion efforts.

During a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday, leaders at community broadband advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance said this sets up a local community-based approach to connectivity, bypassing some of the issues with the Federal Communications Commission’s limited broadband maps.

Sean Gonsalves, a senior reporter, editor and researcher at the ILSR, said that local communities are the best source of information on where within their boundaries there are connectivity issues – far surpassing the knowledge of the FCC’s maps.

The infrastructure legislation, which became law in November, will provide a minimum of $100 million to each of the states to use toward broadband expansion. The states that have applied for American Rescue Plan money now have heaps of cash to work with fully connected their boundaries with high-speed internet.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the ILSR, said Wednesday that for many states the law “may solve almost all their rural broadband problems.”

Local approaches may also make it easier to hold accountable officials who do not effectively spend IIJA funds, Mitchell said, adding that was one component of the law that was missing from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark stated that the law’s structure of funneling money through states is noteworthy, as the notion of responsibility for individual states to enforce policy has long been a “conservative talking point.”

The panel noted that like RDOF, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program from Barack Obama’s presidency also differed from the IIJA in that it did not rely on individual states to dispense funds.

Mitchell attributes these differences in the IIJA in part to general trends toward decentralization in policy.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the January 19, 2022, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 12 Noon ET — The Community Broadband Network Approach to Infrastructure Funding

Community broadband networks will play a crucial role in the implementation of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, particularly the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, and the Digital Equity Act. This vital session of Broadband Breakfast Live Online will bring our friends from MuniNetworks.org, the Community Broadband Networks Initiative of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, to discuss the issues, trends and concerns they are following. What open questions remain about the IIJA rules? How do the Treasury Department’s rules on the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program interact with the IIJA program? What concerns should community networks have about the next stages of federal funding in their states?

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • DeAnne Cuellar, Community Broadband Outreach Team Lead, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Sean Gonsalves, Senior Reporter, Editor and Researcher, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Senior Researcher, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Christopher Mitchell, Director, ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Please note: Our event on “State Broadband Officials and the Broadband Infrastructure Surge” has been moved to February 16, 2022.

Panelist resources:

DeAnne Cuellar is a tech equity advocate and communications strategist from San Antonio, Texas. She served as Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the City of San Antonio’s Innovation & Technology Committee, resulting in several policy and funding priorities to close the digital divide. As a social impact entrepreneur, she co-founded several cross-sector nonprofit initiatives, advocating for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion for historically underrepresented communities.

Sean Gonsalves is a longtime former reporter, columnist, and news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He is also a former nationally syndicated columnist in 22 newspapers, including the Oakland Tribune, Kansas City Star and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune. Sean joined the Institute for Local Self Reliance staff in October 2020 as a senior reporter, editor and researcher for ILSR’s Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken is Senior Researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. He is interested in the democratizing power of technology, systems engineering, and the history of science, technology, and medicine. Previously, Ry worked as an Adjunct Professor of American History in Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. Ry holds a Ph.D. in American History from Oklahoma State University.

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis. Mitchell, a leading national expert on community networks, Internet access, and local broadband policies, built MuniNetworks.org, the comprehensive online clearinghouse of information about local government policies to improve Internet access. Its interactive community broadband network map tracks more than 600 such networks. He also hosts audio and video shows online, including Community Broadband Bits and Connect This!, and Public Knowledge presented Christopher with its Internet Protocol award in 2021, which honors those who have made significant contributions to Internet policy.

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

Broadband Notice of Funding Availability Seeks to Balance Requirements with Flexibility

Alan Davidson says NOFO requires that grant recipients offer both low-cost service options and middle-class affordability plans.

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Photo of Alan Davidson at press conference after his remarks at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is attempting  to balance stakeholder demands to ensure new entrants to the broadband marketplace, while making certain the agency is a good shepherd of the federal funds, the administrator of the U.S. Department of Commerce agency said here Tuesday.

Alan Davidson, the assistant secretary of Commerce responsible for the agency that is spending the lion’s share of federal broadband money, said that NTIA will consider affordability to be an important consideration in making awards.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast editor and publisher Drew Clark, the pair reviewed the NTIA’s guidelines governing three new broadband grant programs that will see more than $45 billion in federal funding dispersed over the next few years.

Three Notices of Funding Opportunity were released on May 13, 2022. The largest one is for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.5-billion-dollar program aimed at expanding last-mile, high-speed Internet access across the United States.

Davidson referred to the released NOFO as the “starting gun” signaling for states to begin the sprint toward making funding and infrastructure deployment plans to connect local unserved and underserved communities to futureproof Internet connections.

Less than a week since the release of the notices, 25 states and territories have already submitted Letters of Intent to participate in the program, with 35 states and territories stating they intend to submit an initial proposal to access a share of the federal funding by the July 18, 2022, deadline.

Process for states to apply

The NOFO requires that grant recipients offer both low-cost service options and middle-class affordability plans over the resulting infrastructure. The NOFO offers states examples of different affordability plans to model, while also giving states the flexibility to define what can be deemed “affordable” within their borders.

Further, BEAD requires robust stakeholder engagement, and gives preference to grant applicants pursuing public-private partnerships, as well as those which demonstrate they have coordinated with local and Tribal Governments, and community-based organizations, in the creation of their applications.

In an effort to bolster economic development and the creation of new jobs within the United States, the NOFO includes a “Buy America” statute, which requires grant recipients purchase 55% of all network components being used from American manufacturers. During the keynote, Davidson reiterated that the NTIA will prioritize the deployment of fiber infrastructure over other technologies, including cable, DSL, and satellite.

Davidson explained that increased state and federal oversight should be expected to ensure federal broadband funds go to the localities where they are most needed. Oversight requirements are largely spelled out in the statute, but grant recipients can expect more post-award reporting requirements than have been necessitated by previous federal programs.

Davidson’s presentation raised some questions surrounding well-known industry supply chain issues, the shortage of fiber technicians nationally, and the issue of BEAD grant dollars being considered taxable income. Davidson replied to the raised concerns stating that the NTIA is eager to hear about stakeholder’s pain points, and that he predicts there will be an ongoing process of working with states on these issues.

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Sean Gonsalves: NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson Dishes on BEAD at Mountain Connect 2022

The NTIA will press states to not lock out publicly-owned broadband project. If they do, they must disclose why.

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Mountain Connect 2022 got a big kick off this morning in Keystone, Colorado with a Q&A discussion between National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and Broadband Breakfast CEO, Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

Davidson provided a broad overview of the newly released Notice of Funding Opportunity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access & Deployment program, which set the table for the multitude of break-out sessions that attracted a who’s who of broadband providers, vendors, policy-makers and vendors.

Under the BEAD program, each of the 50 states will be eligible to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed Internet access, though most states will receive hundreds of millions more as additional funding will be allocated to states based on a formula that takes into account how many unserved households are in each state.

Most states on board for BEAD

Davidson said that 25 states have already submitted their Letter of Intent to seek BEAD funding. In all, 35 states have indicated they will also participate in the program so far as NTIA works with the other 15 states and territories to encourage them to take advantage of the largest ever federal investment in broadband.

While Davidson touted the unprecedented opportunity now being made available to states to close the digital divide, Clark did probe him on several concerns around the requirements of the BEAD application process that a number of broadband advocates and small- to midsize Internet Service Providers have raised since the NOFO was released on May 13.

One question in particular Clark raised was the letter of credit requirement that subgrantees must acquire to qualify for funding. A number of ISPs and local officials interested in municipal broadband projects are saying the requirement is onerous and may prove to be a disincentive for new entrants into the broadband market now dominated by the big monopoly ISPs.

Davidson noted his office has been hearing those concerns and that the NTIA may adjust the rules based on that feedback.

NTIA will encourage states to include publicly-owned networks

We also had a chance to ask Davidson a question: Would states with preemption laws that prevent or erect barriers to municipalities, cooperatives, nonprofits and other public entities from accessing BEAD funds be disqualified from the BEAD program?

Davidson said the NTIA will press states to not lock out publicly-owned broadband projects and if they propose to do so they must disclose why. But, he stopped short of saying that states with such preemption laws would be disqualified from participating in the BEAD program.

However, Davidson and Clark both, pointed to the specific language in the NOFO that says:

  • NTIA strongly encourages Eligible Entities (states) to waive all such (preemption) laws for purposes of the Program. If an Eligible Entity does not do so, the Eligible Entity must identify all such laws in its Initial Proposal and describe how the laws will be applied in connection with the competition for subgrants. Such Eligible Entity must, in its Final Proposal, disclose each unsuccessful application affected by such laws and describe how those laws impacted the decision to deny the application.

Internet for all?

While Davidson did not explicitly say NTIA would wholeheartedly accept BEAD applications from states with preemptions laws that lock out public sector providers, it seems clear the NTIA will not deny BEAD funds to states with preemption laws that violate both the letter and spirit of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which authorized the BEAD program.

The BEAD NOFO and Davidson’s remarks were a major topic of discussion at the dozens of breakout sessions held later in the day, covering everything from funding new broadband investments and community development to community broadband case studies and emerging technologies.

Multiple NTIA officials claimed BEAD is intended to connect all Americans and, in fact, the Biden admininstration calls it the Internet for All intiative. However, neither Congress nor the Biden administration have a plan to ensure all low-income urban households are connected.

The three-day conference will conclude on Wednesday with that final day being kicked-off by a Q&A with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper.

Watch our Connect This! livesteam discussing the implications of the BEAD NOFO here.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Municipal Broadband project on May 24, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

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NTIA Broadband Official Scott Woods Joins Ready as Vice President of Community Engagement

Woods had been the inaugural Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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Photo of Scott Woods

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2024 – Ready announced that Scott D. Woods, who had been the inaugural Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the administration’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, will join the company as Vice President of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships on June 3. He will also open an office for Ready in Washington, D.C.

Ready produces Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

“Ready is a great company and its software product ReadyBOSS is one that will revolutionize the approach for developing and managing broadband projects in accordance with grant rules,” said Woods. “It’s the best way to make the most out of all of the historic funding that’s out there.”

While at the NTIA, Scott also served as a principal liaison between the BroadbandUSA and OIGC program offices, and key strategic partners and external stakeholder groups. This included representatives from state and local governments, telecommunications companies, for-profit and non-profit corporations, and colleges and universities.

Woods is a broadband funding, implementation and stakeholder engagement expert and a key member of the OIGC leadership team responsible for implementing the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 grant programs and the historic $65 billion broadband funding program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

“There are few, if any, people in this country with Scott’s experience in helping communities close the digital divide,” said Ready Co-Founder Mike Faloon. “Our goal is to use the Ready platform to amplify Scott so that any community or operator can have access to him and his unique insights to guide them on their broadband journey.”

Wood received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Urban Studies from Morehouse College; a Master of Arts in Public Policy (M.P.P.) from American University; and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Howard University School of Law.

Ready is a company that makes the Ready BOSS software system. It enables internet service providers and local communities to use interactive maps to create proposed broadband coverage areas and then to create corresponding grant applications. It also helps applicants to find match capital. The system also helps ISPs manage subscribers, plans and revenue, monitor and manage their networks, and seamlessly offer Affordable Connectivity Benefits. And it helps grant awardees manage their extensive reporting requirements.

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