Broadband Is Not Taking An August Recess
Friday, August 12, 2022
Broadband Is Not Taking An August Recess
You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.
Round-Up for the Week of August 8-12, 2022
Each year, Congress recesses for the month of August. While the work—or, at least, the news—of Washington generally slows down in this period, all indications are that policymakers—and, most importantly, policy implementors—will be very busy throughout the summer of 2022 working on universal broadband and provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Here's what we're seeing and expecting from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
FCC Improving the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Universal Service Fund
The FCC held its monthly open meeting on August 5(1) and improving the Affordable Connectivity Program topped the agenda. Specifically, the FCC launched two new programs aimed at improving awareness of, and enrollment in, the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program
The FCC established the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program to provide grant funds for eligible partners to conduct outreach in support of the Affordable Connectivity Program. Although over 12 million low-income households participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a significant number of qualifying households have not yet enrolled. To achieve the program’s full potential and reach as many eligible households as possible, households must be clearly informed of the program’s existence, benefits, and eligibility qualifications, and how to apply. The Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program is designed to identify and enlist partners around the country to help inform ACP-eligible households about the program in their local communities and to provide those partners with the funding and resources needed to increase participation among those Americans most in need of affordable connectivity.
Your Home, Your Internet
To improve awareness of, and enrollment in, the Affordable Connectivity Program by people receiving federal public housing assistance, the FCC is also launching a new pilot program called Your Home, Your Internet. The FCC is setting aside $10 million for Your Home, Your Internet, including 1) $5 million for grants to up to 20 pilot participants from across the country. These participants may include government entities and third-party organizations serving federal housing assistance recipients, and 2) $5 million for the FCC's own outreach activities and potential collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agency partners that work directly with federal housing assistance recipients. The goal is to reach and connect the households living in approximately 5 million available housing units subsidized by federal housing assistance.
The FCC is encouraging federal and non-federal organizations to apply to participate in the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program. Applicants may include federal agencies and their partners, housing agencies, and entities that provide Affordable Connectivity Program support for federal housing assistance recipients. The FCC encourages its federal agency partners—many of whom have promoted the Affordable Connectivity Program thus far—to singularly or in coordination with other partners submit applications for the pilot program with ideas and proposals designed to ensure that households participating in public housing or receiving federal housing assistance are provided with information about the Affordable Connectivity Program, including application and enrollment information. In addition to federal agencies, the FCC is urging state, local, and Tribal housing agencies and non-profit and community-based organizations working with federal housing assistance recipients to apply to participate in Your Home, Your Internet.
The pilot program will support a number of activities. But the FCC is explicit in asking that applicants for funds be creative in developing proposals to connect with eligible but so far unreached households living in public housing or receiving federal housing assistance. With that in mind, the FCC outlines some activities the pilot program will support including 1) easily-shared materials that promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people who receive assistance from federal housing assistance programs, including materials in languages other than English, and 2) application assistance.
Although the FCC voted on the framework for both these programs, much more work needs to be done in the coming weeks to actually launch them. Consistent with federal grant regulations, a Notice of Funding Opportunity (or NOFO for the acronym-inclined) is required to initiate the application process for the programs. One or more such notices will provide additional information on eligible entities, expenses and activities, and program requirements and application processes.
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund News
The FCC also made news this week when it announced that it had rejected the long-form applications of LTD Broadband and Starlink to receive support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. In 2019, the FCC established RDOF to bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that lack it. In 2020, the FCC awarded support to broadband providers that committed to bringing broadband to over five million homes and businesses in census blocks that were entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. But the awards to LTD and Starlink raised eyebrows:
- LTD was a relatively small fixed wireless provider before the auction and many wondered if it could handle expansion into the 15 states where it was awarded RDOF support
- Starlink's low earth orbit satellite network was an untested technology so questions arose about the technology’s potential speed and capacity issues
This week the FCC noted that LTD failed to timely receive approval to provide RDOF service in seven states, rendering it ineligible in those states for support. The FCC concluded that LTD was not reasonably capable of deploying a network of the scope, scale, and size required by LTD’s extensive winning bids.
FCC Chairwoman said, “Starlink’s technology has real promise, but the question before us was whether to publicly subsidize its still developing technology for consumer broadband—which requires that users purchase a $600 dish—with nearly $900 million in universal service funds until 2032.”
Together, LTD and Starlink won over $2.2 billion in RDOF support. LTD was to connect 528,000 unserved locations; Starlink was to connect 642,000 locations in 35 states. When asked about what happens to that money—and those locations—an FCC spokesperson said that the locations "are eligible for other state and federal funding programs."
The Future of the Universal Service Fund
As mandated by Congress, the FCC earlier this year launched a proceeding seeking public comment on issues related to the future of the Universal Service Fund (USF) in light of the broadband investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The FCC invited public comment on the effect of the Infrastructure Act on existing USF programs and the ability of the FCC to reach its goals of universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband throughout the United States. The FCC must report to Congress on ways to improve its effectiveness in achieving the universal service goals for broadband. The FCC may make recommendations on expanding universal broadband goals but "not in any way reduce the congressional mandate to achieve" them.
The FCC must deliver this report to Congress by the end of August. Observers have noted that the FCC report has been circulating among the four commissioners since July 14. We expect the report to be sent and made public any day now.
NTIA Working With States, Tribes
When it comes to broadband, the NTIA has the lion's share of work to do at the federal level to implement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But a good amount of work falls to the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. States and territories must come up with—and NTIA must review and approve—plans to connect, first, every unserved location in their areas; then underserved locations and community anchor institutions as well. States and territories must also develop State Digital Equity Plans over the next year.
In July NTIA announced that all states and territories have confirmed their participation in the initiatives.
Monday, August 15, is the deadline for states and territories to file requests for initial planning funds. With these requests, states will receive $5 million each for planning and pre-deployment activities such as:
- Research and data collection
- The development of a preliminary budget for pre-planning activities
- Publications, outreach, and communications support related to broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption
- Providing technical assistance to potential subgrantees, including through workshops and events
- Training for employees
- Establishing, operating, or increasing capacity of a broadband office that oversees broadband programs and broadband deployment
- Asset mapping to catalogue broadband adoption, affordability, equity, access, and deployment activities
- Conducting surveys of unserved, underserved, and underrepresented communities to better understand barriers to adoption
- Local coordination
The receipt of these funds will also trigger another deadline for states and territories: they will have 270 days (approximately to mid-May 2023) to develop five-year action plans to use Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding to ensure every location has access to broadband.
NTIA also highlighted this week that it has added $1 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the current Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) funding period, which closes September 1, 2022. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program offers grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for high-speed internet deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning. The total available for the program is now $1.98 billion. The funding is obviously needed: NTIA already received more than 300 applications during the application window for over $5 billion in funding requests.
No Escape from Washington Heat
Congress traditionally recesses in summer to go home to cooler climes and check in with constituents. This year, there's no escape for FCC and NTIA staff working on universal broadband. One message that congressional members can take home is this: federal agencies are working to improve broadband infrastructure, promote digital equity, and improve accountability.
- The four sitting commissioners will not gather again until September 29
- NTIA Awards $51 Million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Grants to Two Alaska Native Entities
- NTIA and BIA Streamline Environmental Permitting for High-Speed Internet Projects on Tribal Lands
- Many telecom stakeholders want the Universal Service Fund ‘paused’ for now (telecompetitor)
- FCC Announces Nearly $68 Million in Emergency Connectivity Funding
- Digital Divide May Contribute to Telehealth Disparities (Rheumatology Advisor)
- Fast Fiber Networks Have Quietly Won the Broadband War (C|Net)
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
- The Best Beach Reads of 2022 (Harper's Bazaar)
- 41 Can't-Miss Beach Reads for Summer 2022 (Country Living)
- 25 Best Beach Reads To Add To Your Summer 2022 Reading List (Women's Health)
- The 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written (Esquire)
ICYMI from Benton
- FCC Works to Increase Broadband Subscribership in Federal Housing (Kevin Taglang)
- An Update on Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment (Kevin Taglang)
- FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction Was Supposed to Significantly Reduce America’s Rural Broadband Gap (Ziggy Rivkin-Fish)
- Your Chance to Weigh in on the Future of the Universal Service Fund (Kevin Taglang)
Aug 15—BEAD Program Requests for Initial Planning Funds Due (NTIA)
Aug 17—The 'To and Through' Wireless Opportunity (Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition)
Aug 18—Preparing and Submitting Mobile Availability Data (FCC)
Aug 30—How Can the United States Address the Data Divide? (Center for Data Innovation)
Aug 30—Consumer Advisory Committee (FCC)
Sep 22—40th Annual Parker Lecture & Awards Ceremony (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)
Sep 24—Capital Projects Fund Grant Plan Deadline (Department of Treasury)
Sep 25-28—The Right Connection (CENIC)
Sep 28—Local Coordination in NOFOs (NTIA)
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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