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Indiana Fosters Relationships in Preparation for Federal Broadband Funds

The state partners with educational institutions and service providers to maximize public funding.

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WASHINGTON, July 21, 2022 – Indiana state broadband officials emphasized Wednesday that the state has fostered relationships with anchor institutions and the private sector that they say will benefit the state as it prepares to deploy federal funding.

Indiana’s broadband office partnered with educators at Purdue University to develop digital literacy initiatives in preparation for the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, which allocates funds to promote digital literacy activities as part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, said the officials at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. State officials estimate that the state will receive between $500 million to $1 billion from the IIJA.

Educators across the state are being trained in digital literacy initiatives, said Earnie Holtrey, program manager for the director of the Indiana broadband office. Digital literacy initiatives focus on the adoption of broadband by helping community members understand the limitations and potential of new technologies.

Furthermore, the state’s $100 million broadband grant program, which is currently in the third round of funding, fosters relationships between local providers and government agencies as they work together to apply and implement the grant funds.

Screenshot of Earnie Holtrey of the Indiana broadband office

State officials and service providers meet regularly to discuss the granular details of broadband deployment, said Holtrey. The state responded well to the Covid-19 pandemic and will respond well to federal grants due to these established relationships, he continued.

Indiana has several other state broadband programs. The Broadband Ready Community program, established in 2015, recognizes cities that meet certain broadband deployment requirements. The Community Champions program recognizes individuals in the community that improve broadband connectivity in the area.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Summer of Broadband: Indiana

State broadband offices will play a critical role in the rollout of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. In the months of July and August, Broadband Breakfast will take the pulse of broadband efforts at the state level in visits to about half-dozen states across the country. On July 20, we will speak with key officials, including the State Infrastructure Administrator and Chief Broadband Officer of the Office of Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Program Manager for the Director of the Indiana Broadband Office of Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, and the director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development. Join us at 12 Noon ET to learn what the Hoosier state is doing in bringing a plan together on broadband policy.

Panelists:

  • Earnie Holtrey, Program Manager for the Director of the Indiana Broadband Office, State of Indiana
  • Jodi Golden, State Infrastructure Administrator and Chief Broadband Officer, State of Indiana
  • Roberto Gallardo, Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Earnie Holtry was served as the Broadband Project Manager for the Indiana Broadband Office since early 2020. Prior to this he served as a community liaison for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, both under the direction of Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch. Holtry works with communities and providers offering technical assistance for planning, inclusion/equity, and construction funding.  He also administers the broadband ready communities’ program as he fulfills the Office’ mission of serving as the “one-stop-shop” for all things broadband in Indiana. Earnie has a B.A. in Psychology from The Ohio State University.

Jodi Golden was appointed State Infrastructure Coordinator in March of 2022, and previously she served as Co-Chief of Staff/Chief of Agency Operations for Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch. Golden identifies, analyzes and assists in prioritizing the types of funds available through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. She leads and coordinates activities across relevant state agencies, local governments and stakeholder groups in anticipation of the formula and competitive grants through the IIJA. In her work as Chief of Agency Operations, Golden oversaw the agencies within the Lt. Governor’s portfolio. These consist of the Indiana Department of Agriculture, Office of Community & Rural Affairs, Indiana Destination Development Corporation, Indiana Housing & Community Development Association & the Indiana Broadband Office. Before that, she served as Executive Director of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Illinois Capital Development Board and the Indiana Education Savings Authority. She holds a B.S. in Speech Communication: Public Relations and a M.P.A. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Roberto Gallardo is Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and an Agricultural Economics associate professor. He holds an electronics engineering undergraduate degree, a master’s in economic development, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration. Gallardo has worked with rural communities over the past 17 years conducting local and regional community economic development, including use of technology for development. He has authored more than 100 articles and reports including peer-reviewed and news-related regarding rural trends, socioeconomic analysis, industrial clusters, the digital divide, and leveraging broadband applications for community economic development. He also has assisted the state of Indiana implement their broadband programs acting as their Next Level Broadband Connections Director for six months. He is also the author of the bookResponsive Countryside: The Digital Age & Rural Communities,” which highlights a 21st century community development model that helps rural communities transition to, plan for, and prosper in the digital age. Dr. Gallardo is a TEDx speaker and his work has been featured in a WIRED magazine article, a MIC.com documentary, and a RFDTV documentary.

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.

Photo by Braden Egli used with permission

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.

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Funding

FCC Should Not Increase Rural Program Obligations in Light of New Federal Funding: Meeting Notes

Opponents say increasing coverage and speed obligations of the ACAM program may be unnecessary with new federal broadband money.

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Photo of FCC commissioners

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission should withhold expanding funding for a program of the Universal Service Fund because there may be support for broadband infrastructure from other federal funds and state activities, according to responses to the FCC proceeding on revising that program.

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau is seeking comment on enhancing the Alternative Connect America Cost Model program – which funds build-outs to rural and high-cost areas by allowing carriers to recover costs from the USF – by proposing additional funding support in exchange for increasing provider obligations to expand broadband deployment locations at higher internet speeds. It would also use the new Broadband DATA Act maps – which are set to be released by the fall – to determine new deployment obligations.

The new obligations would require speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload to 90 percent and at least 25/3 Mbps to the remaining 10 percent of eligible census blocks. In 2019, the commission increased the speed obligation to 25/3, which made at least 106,000 additional rural homes and small businesses eligible for A-CAM funding.

But the proposal is facing some opposition. According to a meeting summary with a legal advisor in Commissioner Brendan Carr’s office published Tuesday, telecom company Windstream reiterated that Congress has created an unprecedented $42.5-billion opportunity to deploy broadband networks in rural areas through the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and corresponding state broadband programs.

Windstream stressed in the meeting the importance of studying the IIJA’s impact prior to increasing current obligations to fund broadband projects, which it said would impact the stability of the USF.

The FCC is currently studying the future of the USF, whose revenues are derived largely from dwindling voice service revenues. Windstream expressed its support of the commission acting under what Windstream views as the FCC’s authority to expand the USF contribution base to include broadband internet access services, which has been an issue of debate for some time and is being studied by the commission.

NCTA, the internet and television association, in a summary of a meeting held with the legal advisor to Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, added that rather than spend USF resources where they may not be necessary – and may even disrupt state activities already in progress – the commission should pause any new high-cost support through the A-CAM program.

The association added that the FCC should be skeptical of requests to increase support for ongoing maintenance and operations through A-CAM as alternative federal funding may eliminate the need for operational support in many areas.

Comments on the decision to revise A-CAM will be accepted through August 18.

The proposal follows a request in June by Siyeh Communications, which asked for a change in A-CAM because the program allegedly incorrectly determined certain areas to be ineligible by misidentifying those areas being served by an unsubsidized, unaffiliated carrier.

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Funding

Agriculture Department Announces Fourth Round of ReConnect Funding

The announcement is the second round of ReConnect funding in fiscal year 2022.

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Photo of RUS Acting Administrator Christopher McLean by Drew Clark from June 2022

ASHINGTON, August 1, 2022 – The Rural Utilities Service of the United States Department of Agriculture announced the fourth round of funding for the ReConnect Program, with publication of the funding opportunity announcement scheduled for the federal register on August 4.

The announcement is the second round of ReConnect funding in fiscal year 2022.

The RUS has seen great interest in the third round of funding and is considering drawing on other federal infrastructure funds to satisfy demands, said the Acting Administrator Christopher McLean said in June. The latest round of funding received 305 applications requesting a total of $4.8 billion, but the program only allocated $1.15 billion.

USDA Considering Drawing on Infrastructure Bill Money as ReConnect Demand Increases

 

The ReConnect Program uses funds provided under the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act which sets aside $42.5 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to disburse among states for broadband infrastructure. It provides loans and grants to broadband deployment projects in rural areas.

The application will open 30 days after the announcement of funding opportunity is released. Applications will be submitted through the RUS online application portal on the ReConnect webpage. The application process will be open for 60 days.

Applicants should consider projects that will assist rural communities recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, ensure all rural residents have equitable access to rural development programs, and reduce climate pollution while increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Proposed service areas are eligible for funding if at least 50 percent of the households in the area lack sufficient access to broadband as defined in the funding opportunity announcement.

As part of the application process, applicants are expected to undergo an evaluation process and will be scored based on the rurality of the proposed service area, level of existing service, economic need of the community, affordability of service offerings, net neutrality principles, cybersecurity, and labor standards. Applications submitted by local governments, non-profits and tribal governments will be awarded higher scores.

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Funding

Anticipating Launch, Yellowstone Fiber to Seek Federal Funds for Rural Broadband

With service beginning in late September, non-profit fiber ISP aims to serve rural Gallatin County

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Photo of Greg Metzger in July 2022 from Yellowstone Fiber

BOZEMAN, Montana, July 27, 2022 – Officials at the non-profit internet entity Yellowstone Fiber announced Thursday that they would pursue federal broadband funding to expand network construction in rural areas of its footprint in Montana.

Because every state is poised to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand broadband infrastructure under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, officials at Yellowstone Fiber believe they are well-suited to obtain funding to connect homes, businesses, farms, and ranches to high-speed fiber internet in the sections of the Montana’s Gallatin County north of Bozeman.

Although Yellowstone Fiber is just going live with its first customers in September – and began offering pre-sales in late July – the new fiber entity believes that the availability of funding through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program of IIJA offers a unique opportunity.

As with all states, Montana will receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure to the nearly one-third of state residents who currently lack access.

Speaking about the impending launch of services on Yellowstone Fiber, CEO Greg Metzger said, “This is an important milestone for Yellowstone Fiber and we’re enormously excited to announce we’ll have the network live in a matter of weeks.”

“For decades, people in rural Montana have been limited by slow and expensive internet service and empty promises by cable providers. Today’s announcement signals we’re serious about connecting rural Gallatin County to high-speed fiber and the limitless possibilities that it brings,” he said.

Yellowstone Fiber is building an open access network, which means that Yellowstone builds, owns, and operates the fiber infrastructure, then leases space on its high-speed fiber to service providers, including Blackfoot Communications, Skynet Communications, Global Net, TCT and XMission.

In an interview, Metzger touted the role that open access networks play in enabling free market competition, including better prices, service, and reliability.

Metzger, an entrepreneur who previously manufactured plastic deposit bags for banks, sold that business and bought a furniture company in Montana.

Although he said he would rather be playing golf, when he stumbled across a new funding mechanism, he decided to create a non-profit entity designed to serve his community with fiber optic network services.

Yellowstone Fiber was formerly Bozeman Fiber, and was created in 2015 as an economic development initiative to address the lack of true high-speed broadband in Gallatin County, Montana.

A group was formed including the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, the Bozeman School District and business leaders and funded by eight banks with a Community Reinvestment Act-designated loan.

This $4,000,000 was used to create a fiber ring connecting anchor tenants including the city, county and the school district, and also servicing the Cannery district and downtown Bozeman.

Anchor operations began in the fall of 2016, and commercial operations in February 2017. In 2020, the network formed an operational partnership with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to bring fiber-to-the-home services to every address in Gallatin County.

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