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States Broadband Offices Outline Plans for Billions in Broadband Funds 

Officials from Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico outline how they are preparing for broadband funding.

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Photo of Thomas Tyler from the Louisiana Broadband Office

KEYSTONE, Colo., June 13, 2022 – Representatives from the state broadband offices of Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico last month at the Mountain Connect conference outlined plans for how they expect to use and distribute billions in upcoming federal dollars.

Louisiana’s state office plans to stretch its funding by structuring the scoring criteria for its grant program to incentivize additional matching funds from grant applicants. When distributing capital project funds, the state received about 170 applications offering 40 percent matching funds on average, with some applicants contributing a match as high as 80 to 90 percent. “We were thrilled to see that by heavily incentivizing the match, it boosted match percentage by an additional 20% of the project,” said Thomas Tyler, deputy director of ConnectLA.

One of the state’s current priorities is building reliance on local businesses. To help achieve this goal, applicants will receive additional points for contracting with a small business or a better-known business, or if the applicant themselves is a small business or better-known business. Another priority of the state is workforce development.

“We have worked with all of our providers to work with our local community and technical college systems, to help identify and structure curriculum in the state to get people trained on how to build these networks and provide services to keep them running. We want to keep these jobs in our state,” said Tyler.

Other ways states are maximizing funds is by weighing the cost-efficiency of using different technologies, encouraging efficiency in the middle-mile, and awarding projects that will result in the most households served.

The scoring criteria state offices are using varies and tends to reflect the state’s development priorities.

The state of New Mexico used eight major criteria to score CPF applicants, according to Sandeep Taxali, program advisor to the Illinois and New Mexico broadband offices. The categories include broadband impact, community participation, financial stability, organizational capability, project radius, cost efficiency, service options, and open access. New Mexico CPF applicants received extra points for incorporating the needs of public safety networks in their designs, including customized letters of support from community members, as well as offering Gigabit service and offering three to four Internet service tiers.

In Idaho, the office is putting effort toward finding in-kind matches that can benefit cities and counties, including waiving permit fees, and streamlining processes, according to Eric Forsch, broadband development manager at Idaho Commerce. “Communities need to have skin in the game, but make sure you’re not financially burdening them with money they don’t really have,” said Forsch.

The states will also use different systems and structures to distribute the funding.

In Maine, the broadband office will be distributing the state’s broadband funds through two public instrumentalities, or quasi-government agencies, according to Peggy Schaffer, executive director of ConnectME. Public instrumentalities have less rigorous requirements on how the state can distribute the funds, which allows the broadband office to move faster and respond more quickly, as money rolls through the system.

Meanwhile in Idaho, CPF and Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment funding will move through the Idaho Broadband Fund administered by the state’s Department of Commerce, while grant approval will fall to Idaho’s Broadband Advisory Board.

In Louisiana, the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity will disperse funds through the state’s competitive grant program, the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program.

The states of New Mexico, Illinois, and Louisiana will be implementing different requirements and scoring criteria before distributing BEAD funding in order to comply with the NTIA program’s provisions.

Funding

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.

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Funding

Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’

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Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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Funding

BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment

Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’

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Photo of John Horrigan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.

“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.

Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.

First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.

“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”

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