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High Speed Thresholds Could Pull Infrastructure Funds Away from Poorly Connected Areas

Sarah Oh Lam of the Technology Policy Institute says high speed thresholds could shift funds toward better-connected areas.

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Screenshot of Sarah Oh Lam and other featured panelists at an American Enterprise Institute event

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2022 – Sarah Oh Lam, a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, warned against states setting broadband speed targets too high for federal infrastructure money, lest it shifts needed funding away from areas with slow internet.

On a panel hosted Monday by the American Enterprise Institute, Lam said state plans to deliver money through the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act – legislation that includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure – should look to set the speed targets low enough so adequate amounts of money is distributed to areas with slower speeds.

She was concerned that if the states set the download and upload speeds too high in an effort to “future proof” their networks, the funds would be divided between better and slower connected areas, rather than more of the pie being distributed to the latter areas.

Lawmakers and agency officials have made it clear that federal funding should first go to those who have speeds under 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload, which is the current federal standard and is a speed under which the infrastructure bill considers unserved. Those under 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload are considered “underserved.”

“Let’s say that a state sets the threshold very high, like a 100/100 [instead of 25/3]. Well, that actually affects where subsidies can go and might have unintended consequences. Subsidies will go to areas that already have 90/30 over places that have 30/10,” said Lam.

Another topic of the panel was state broadband offices, with almost every member of the panel – and Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE, emphasizing that each state needs to have a broadband office or agency that will be dedicated to handling and overseeing the funds their state receives from the IIJA.

Lam also said states need to be reporting back data concerning their broadband building and successes, or failures, in a way that is comparable to other states to measure and compare competition and outcomes.

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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