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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Will Close Digital Divide if States Are Prepared, Says Alan Davidson

Money coming from the IIJA must be flexible and include extensive private contributions, Davidson said at Broadband Breakfast event.

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WASHINGTON, April 14, 2022 — The head of the Commerce Department agency responsible for more than $43 billion in federal broadband infrastructure funding said that the Biden administration wouldn’t be satisfied until every American had access to low-cost and broadband internet at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mpbs upload.

Speaking at a Broadband Breakfast Club event on Wednesday, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Alan Davidson said that in order to truly eliminate the digital divide, state engagement and leadership was necessary to maximize federal funding.

Money coming down from the from the NTIA through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act must be flexible, including extensive private contributions to projects.

Photo of Alan Davidson and Drew Clark (right) at Broadband Breakfast for Lunch on Wednesday by Megan Boswell

“We expect there will be flexibility,” Davidson said about how much private communications companies and state funding should go toward projects. “The statute gives them that flexibility. It’s not a one-size-fits-all at all,”

The IIJA – which gives the NTIA $42.5 billion to distribute among states – requires network operators to match at least 25 percent of project costs funded by the Commerce agency’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. But states could require more than a 25 percent match, Davidson said.

“There are a lot of folks out there that – if you just give them little bit more support – would be willing to do that next deployment,” Davidson said. A lot of the funding won in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction will go to companies that committed to covering at least 50% of project costs, he noted.

“We’ve been talking about closing the digital divide in this country for over twenty years,” he said, recommending states “reach out” to the NTIA for guidance.

“When this project is done, everyone in America will have access to high-speed, affordable broadband” said Davidson, referring specifically to the 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps definition of high-speed broadband in IIJA.

Davidson also said that “there’s a need for political leadership to be engaging [and] to understand the importance of [the IIJA].

“One of the biggest areas that we’re investing in is in the folks we’re going to be working with in the states,” he said. “The broadband offices in the states are going to be the key front line for a lot of this work.”

The NTIA requested comments on the IIJA, with the due date being February 4. It is planning on requesting additional comments later on for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

See the questions for Alan Davidson at the Broadband.Money community

Wednesday, April 13, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Preparing for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: A Fireside Chat

Join the broadband grants community in welcoming special guest Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark will host Alan for a fireside chat. Broadband.money will also preview its platform for broadband grant application research, development, reporting and compliance. Hear Alan’s vision for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, as well as $1 billion for middle mile funding, $3 billion tribal funding programs, and the interaction of BEAD and the Affordable Connectivity Program. Get his perspective on important matters, such as:

  • What does success look like?
  • What is the timeline from here?
  • Will states view the 25% match requirement as a ceiling, or a floor?
  • How should local governments, providers, and infrastructure builders – public and private – prepare while waiting on maps and state plans?

And more. If you have questions for Alan in advance of the event, please post them in the Broadband.Money community. We’ll try our best to get them into the discussion.

REGISTER TO ATTEND IN PERSON

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Alan Davidson is an Internet policy expert with over 20 years of experience as an executive, public interest advocate, technologist, and attorney. He was most recently a Senior Advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, a global nonprofit that promotes openness, innovation, and participation on the Internet. He was previously Mozilla’s Vice President of Global Policy, Trust and Security, where he led public policy and privacy teams promoting an open Internet and a healthy web. Alan served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the first Director of Digital Economy at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He started Google’s public policy office in Washington, D.C., leading government relations and policy in North and South America for seven years until 2012. Alan has been a long-time leader in the Internet nonprofit community, serving as Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute where he worked to promote equitable broadband access and adoption. As Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Alan was an advocate for civil liberties and human rights online in some of the earliest Internet policy debates. Alan currently resides with his family in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Yale Law School, and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

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.

This Broadband Breakfast for Lunch event is co-hosted with:

Photo by Commuter Benefits used with permission

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides a number of program that, all told, provide $65 billion for broadband infrastructure investment. A part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed 69-30 last year, the measure has the promise of promoting an “infrastructure decade” for the United States, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union Address. We are excited that National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Alan Davidson, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, has accepted our invitation to speak about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In this second session of this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch series, Broadband Breakfast and Broadband.Money will explore what the federal government, states and infrastructure builders – public and private – should be doing to prepare for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program.

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.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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