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Decades-Old Legislation Can Play Supplement to Federal Broadband Infrastructure Money

The Community Reinvestment Act was expanded to include broadband investments in 2016.

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Photo of Jordana Barton-Garcia (far right)

CLEVELAND, June 27, 2022 – A decades-old piece of legislation can play an important and supplemental role to federal grants for broadband infrastructure, said panelists at the Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 to address redlining – the practice of denying financial services to individuals or groups based on where they are located, often along racial or soci-economic lines. The law encourages banks to make community development loans and investments in low- and moderate-income communities, rural, and tribal communities.

The legislation expanded to include investments in broadband infrastructure in 2016, after broadband was deemed an essential community service, said Jordana Barton-Garcia, principal of the social enterprise at Barton-Garcia Advisors. That means that it could play a key role in filling some of the broadband gaps, she said, as the federal government moves to distribute billions to the states under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In response to the pandemic, banks can now qualify to receive CRA credit for broadband deployment activities, said Barton-Garcia. Activities include loans, investments, and services that support digital inclusion or affordability programs.

Banks receive CRA credit for investing in community development projects and are reviewed on their CRA performance every three years. Their scores are open to the general public. If the bank receives a negative rating, it may prevent the bank from opening new branches and the bank will be expected to correct the rating.

Currently, the Federal Reserve is seeking comments on a joint agency proposal to strengthen and modernize CRA regulations.

A report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2016 laid the groundwork for broadband to be included under the CRA. “Under the CRA, infrastructure investment includes facilitating the construction, expansion, improvement, maintenance or operation of essential infrastructure…  broadband is now a basic infrastructure needed in all communities.”

The CRA also includes workforce development investments, digital literacy projects, and technical assistance for small businesses.

Contributing Reporter Teralyn Whipple studied business at Brigham Young University. She has a love for the people in the Washington area, and hopes to share her love for people through her writing.

Funding

Venture Capital, Private Equity and Institutional Investors on Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 4 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.

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Video from Panel 4 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Tom Coverick, Managing Director, Keybanc Capital Markets, David Wedick, Chief Financial Office, Maine Connectivity Authority, and Vikash Harlalka, Equity Research Analyst, Communications Services Team, New Street Research, moderated by Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast,

For a free article summarizing the event, see States and Municipalities Should Move Quickly on Infrastructure Funding, BEAD or Not: Beginning financial planning early and allow time to tweak statutes that may stand in the way of certain funding options, Broadband Breakfast, November 18, 2022.

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Funding

States and Municipalities Should Move Quickly on Infrastructure Funding, BEAD or Not

Beginning financial planning early and allow time to tweak statutes that may stand in the way of certain funding options.

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Photo of Drew Clark (left), Tom Coverick, David Wedick and Vikash Harlalka at Digital Infrastructure Investment by Zoey Howell-Brown.

WASHINGTON, November 20, 2022 – Despite an unprecedented influx of federal broadband funding, states should expeditiously pursue diverse network funding options, said Tom Coverick, managing director at Keybanc Capital Markets, speaking Thursday at Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference.

Coverick advocated financial strategies that are “nimble, responsive, and quick.” And among other benefits, beginning financial planning early on allows time to tweak statutes that may stand in the way of certain funding options, he argued.

“I don’t think sitting and waiting for one piece (of financing) is the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t say that people should be hasty, but the reality is it’s always easier to slow things down in the financial world than it is to speed them up,” he added.

David Wedick, chief financial officer of the Maine Connectivity Authority, also spoke to importance of timely action. “Time is money, and the market is changing,” he said.

The two were speaking on a panel moderated by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, and including Vikash Harlalka, a member of the Communications Services team at New Street Research.

The private sector can offer much more to the broadband industry than just financial support, Wedick argued. “Investment from the private sector is not just going to be in terms of dollars, it’s going to be in terms of resources (such as) the law firm that decides to create a new division around broadband legal work,” he said.

In addition to seeking out private investment, state officials must navigate the federal government’s multitude of broadband-funding efforts, including a $65 billion infusion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Federal moneys are divided among numerous programs administered by various federal agencies, including the United States Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment initiative. The BEAD fund will distribute $42.45 billion to the states for deployment and related projects.

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Local Leadership and Coordination Key to Proper Federal Fund Allocation, Conference Hears

Local communities understand their own needs, said Arkansas’s Glen Howie.

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Photo of Phil Murphy, senior advisor at the NTIA, at the DII conference Thursday

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2022 – Robust state and local leadership in coordination with federal support initiatives is key to the rollout of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s broadband funding, agreed officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and state broadband offices speaking at Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference Thursday.

Local communities understand their own needs best, said Glen Howie, director of the Arkansas State Broadband Office. Howie said his state will “go county by county,” encouraging ground-up leadership from the citizens of his state.

“It’s not really about Washington, and it’s not even really about Little Rock, it’s about (local communities),” he said. Before assuming his current position, Howie worked in Louisiana’s broadband office, another state which prioritizes community engagement.

In Maryland, state funding initiatives favor service providers who enjoy community support, said the state’s broadband director, Kenrick Gordon. One Maryland program even allows local jurisdictions to apply in partnership with a preferred provider, he said.

At the federal level, the NTIA is working with states to provide them the resources they need, said Phil Murphy, senior advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the NTIA. Speakers noted that many state broadband offices are only months old, understaffed, or both.

“We really want to be partners,” he said, “We want to work with (states) through this process and to help them leverage the capabilities that we’ve developed so that we’re all working towards the same goal.”

And beyond the IIJA funding initiatives, Howie said he is working to brighten his state’s future by seeking out technology innovators in many fields, including agriculture, education, and healthcare.

“I’m on the hunt for really cool, innovative things that could be disruptors…in Arkansas,” he said.

The IIJA, which became law one year ago Tuesday,  allocated to broadband infrastructure an unprecedented $65 billion. Congress designated the bulk of these funds – $42.5billion – for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, primarily a infrastructure deployment initiative, which will issue grants to the states based on relative need, as shown in the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map.

The NTIA administers BEAD funds and is scheduled to announce states’ grants by June 2023. Once states receive funds, they will operate sub-grant programs to allocate funding to individual deployment and related projects.

Beside the BEAD program, the IIJA funded initiatives to promote digital equity and adoption, middle-mile infrastructure, and tribal broadband.

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