NTIA Funds Public-Private Broadband Partnerships

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, April 22, 2022

Weekly Digest

NTIA Funds Public-Private Broadband Partnerships

 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 April 18-22

Grace Tepper

Last week, we highlighted the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program awards given to 5 states and 1 US territory–Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Washington, and Guam. Here, we look at NTIA's seven awards given at the state commission and county level, offering a closer look at each grantees’ identified needs and broadband deployment objectives. What sets the Broadband Infrastructure Program apart from other federal funding initiatives is its focus on "covered partnerships" as recipients of its funding–that is, a public-private partnership between a state or subdivision(s) of a state and a provider of fixed broadband service.

Acadiana Planning Commission, Louisiana

The Acadiana Planning Commission is receiving $29,940,612 to deploy last-mile fiber broadband in rural underserved areas of Louisiana. The Acadiana Planning Commission (APC)—made up of the Parish governments of Acadia Parish, Evangeline Parish, and St. Landry Parish—has entered into an eligible covered partnership with Allen’s TV Cable Service, DBA Allen Communications, and LUSFiber, owned by the Lafayette Utilities System, to accomplish the project within the three Parishes. In total, including the over $29 million grant from NTIA, the project will cost $35,263,502.

Identified Needs of the Acadiana Planning Commission's Project

This Acadiana Planning Commission's covered partnership will build off existing infrastructure to expand fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service to households in adjacent unserved census blocks. The commission's application prioritizes four main project goals:

  1. Deploy high-speed FTTH broadband to residents and businesses in eligible census blocks in northern Acadia Parish, Evangeline Parish, and St. Landry Parish.
  2. Build a network that can provide 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical service with low latency and that is easily scalable to meet bandwidth demands of up to 10 Gbps symmetric service over the next decade.
  3. Provide an affordable pricing tier with a minimum service level of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical service at or below $60 per month for low-income households.
  4. Deliver broadband service with 95% or more of all peak period measurements of network round-trip latency at or below 80 milliseconds (ms).

Allen Communication will provide symmetrical broadband speeds of 30 Mbps for $38.95 to 940 Mbps for $169.95 to residential subscribers in its proposed service area. LUSFiber will provide symmetrical broadband speeds of 60 Mbps for $57.95 to 10 Gbps for $295.95 to residential subscribers. The prices listed reflect monthly rates.

Project Outcomes

The project aims to connect 22,196 unserved households, 3,723 unserved businesses, and 46 unserved community anchor institutions with broadband. In its service area of the Acadia, Evangeline, and St. Landry Parishes, the project will cover 100% of unserved households.

Support for the Grant

Following the grant announcement, Vice President Kamala Harris and Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves traveled to Louisiana to discuss the state's digital divide. "[The grant award] will serve as a down-payment on Louisiana’s future,” Graves said, adding that it will “bring us one step closer to closing the digital divide in Louisiana and across the country by making sure Americans can access the internet and participate in the 21st-century economy.” Governor John Bel Edwards (D-LA) said about the project, "This aligns with the work we have been doing since 2019, and we will use this grant in combination with funds received through the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help achieve our goal of eliminating the digital divide."

Development Planner II for the Acadiana Planning Commission Chad LaComb said everyone was incredibly excited to receive the grant. "Just by the numbers, [there was] a 7 percent chance of getting awarded. It was highly competitive." LaComb said that the covered partnership focus is "the strength of the application" because on the public side, it allows them to "make sure providers are offering the level of service" needed. "The areas we serve [with the grant funding] are areas with long-term persistent poverty and limited jobs and educational opportunities," he said. "Broadband is the first step in moving the needle on addressing poverty in the long-term."

Glen Howie, Senior Policy Analyst for ConnectLA, Louisiana's state broadband office, said the office assisted the Acadiana Planning Commission during the challenge process leading up to the grant award. Howie said that in areas seeing new broadband deployment, "connectivity for the first time also means new opportunity and new responsibility." Partnerships like these need to "support new connections with digital literacy" initiatives, he said. "It's the government's responsibility to time [digital literacy programs] to follow as areas get connected. Digital literacy has a critical role in the success of infrastructure and access."

Elko County, Nevada

Elko County is partnering with Fallon-based CC Communications to accomplish its $18,375,002 last-mile fiber deployment in Spring Creek, Nevada. NTIA awarded the county $7,350,000; the remaining funding will be provided by CC Communications, which will provide any additional funding to meet the buildout requirements of the project should it exceed the requested funding amount.

Identified Needs of Elko County's Project

The project intends to utilize CC Communications’ existing network core, central office, middle mile, fiber, and conduit that is currently deployed in the region to directly connect unserved locations to qualifying broadband service. CC Communications will expand on its FTTH network that is serving City of Elko customers and passing hundreds of locations. The company will use this grant to deploy into the rural adjacent area to which CC Communications currently has an active FTTH construction project. Residents will receive access to symmetrical broadband speeds of 100 Mbps ($49.99), 500 Mbps ($99.99), and up to 1 Gbps ($149.99). Elko County also requested an extension of 2 years, for a total project period of 36 months, due to labor shortages and the area’s winter weather conditions.

Project Outcomes

The Spring Creek project will deploy fiber broadband to 5,568 unserved households, 169 businesses, and 21 community anchor institutions.

Support for the Grant

“Expanded access to broadband is critical for the success of communities across Nevada, particularly in rural areas of our state,” said Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV). US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said, "In Nevada, 14% of households don’t have an internet subscription and over 120,000 Nevadans live in areas where there is zero broadband infrastructure. These awards will help us close the digital divide in Nevada and across the country, and we will not stop our work until all Americans can access the internet and participate in our modern economy.”

Sienna Stierman, an administrative assistant at Elko County Community Development,  grew up in Spring Creek and is now working to help bridge its digital divide. "Getting the grant reassured us that the project is going to be a great opportunity for the community," Stierman said. According to Stierman, the relationship between Elko County and its partner CC Communications is crucial to the success of the effort. "CC Communications is a company out of Fallon, Nevada, which is really important to us because they have projects in place already, and they started from the ground up there," she said. "They know what [the process] is like and were instrumental in putting our application together." Stierman added sometimes partnerships can be difficult if both partners aren't passionate about the work, but that was not the case in Elko County. "Having that relationship with a company is very special, and I'm personally very grateful."

Logan County, West Virginia

The Logan and Mingo Counties Fiber to the Premises Project, submitted by the Logan County Commission in partnership with the Mingo County Commission and GigaBeam Networks, will deliver fiber broadband to unserved rural areas across the two counties. NTIA awarded the project $19,678,779 toward the total cost of $25,126,779. The project is a collaboration between the three aforementioned partners and Appalachian Electric Power (AEP).

Identified Needs of Logan County's Project

AEP is investing $61.3 million in constructing over 400 miles of middle-mile fiber to modernize its grid for the electrical service AEP provides in Logan and Mingo Counties. With Broadband Infrastructure Program funds, GigaBeam will work with Logan and Mingo Counties to construct an FTTH network utilizing this AEP middle-mile fiber and an additional 83 miles in fiber extensions that will establish high-speed broadband access for unserved locations in Logan and Mingo Counties. The proposed FTTP network will utilize 10 Gbps symmetrical fiber technology to offer four speed tiers, ranging from 100 Mbps symmetrical at $59 up to 1 Gbps symmetrical at $129.

Project Outcomes

This project will provide high-speed broadband access to 12,859 unserved residences, 218 unserved businesses, 16 unserved educational institutions, 32 unserved government buildings, 6 unserved health care facilities, 11 unserved utility sites, and 130 unserved churches in Logan and Mingo Counties.

Support for the Grant

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable, affordable broadband access for all West Virginians and Americans. We know that at least 258,000 West Virginians have no broadband access, and we think that number is likely much higher,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). "This announcement is great news for Logan and Mingo counties  and will help expand broadband access to every West Virginian, no matter where they live." Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, “This is great news for West Virginia, and specifically for people in Mingo and Logan counties who continue to struggle with unreliable internet access.”

“It’s just not a portion of any of the counties is getting this but our whole counties, every area of Logan and Mingo counties will be covered,” said Rocky Adkins, the Executive Director of Logan County Development Authority, to MetroNews. “It allows fiber to the premises, in other words, fiber connected to your home. That gives you great connectivity having all fiber.”

Lumpkin County, Georgia

NTIA awarded $8,154,539 to Lumpkin County for its covered partnership with Windstream. The total cost of the last-mile fiber broadband buildout is $12,795,448, with the remainder being covered by Windstream.

Identified Needs of Lumpkin County's Project

Windstream will leverage its existing network infrastructure, engineering design experience, construction management, and operational experience to deploy future-proof FTTH in Lumpkin County. This last-mile access network will include four major components: a Multi-Service Access Node, an Optical Line Terminal, an Optical Network Terminal, and a Passive Optical Network. Windstream will provide symmetrical broadband speeds from 50 Mbps at $60 to 1 Gbps at $90.

Project Outcomes

This project will serve 5,448 households, 193 businesses and 13 community anchor institutions in Lumpkin County.

Support for the Grant

“The pandemic forced many of us to live even more of our lives online. Hardworking Lumpkin County families need reliable internet access for their jobs, education, health care and so much more,” said Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA). “I’m pleased to see significant federal investments coming to rural Georgia. I look forward to continuing to provide our rural communities with the virtual and physical infrastructure they need to connect with the rest of the state and thrive in our bustling economy.” US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said, “[This grant] brings us one step closer to closing the digital divide in Georgia and across the country, ensuring that all Americans can access the internet in order to participate in our modern economy.”

Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania

Huntingdon County's rural broadband expansion proposal received $20,463,175 from NTIA towards a total project cost of $22,736,861. The county is partnering with Upward Broadband, Crowsnest Broadband, and Alleghenies Broadband to connect rural unserved areas of Huntingdon, Bedford, Fulton, Mifflin, Juniata, and Franklin (PA) counties with last-mile fixed wireless service.  According to Huntingdon County Commissioners Chairman Mark Sather, the topography of the area adds an extra challenge to broadband infrastructure deployment. “We live in a beautiful area; however, topographically, on the wireless end, it’s been difficult. So, going to this next level allows us to expand it,” said Sather. Commissioner Scott Walls echoed Sater's statement. “The commissioners are committed to bringing broadband to every resident eventually," he said. "It’s a very difficult thing to do in Huntingdon County due to the topography, but this will be a big step."

Identified Needs of Huntingdon County's Project

The project includes the construction of new infrastructure to support an expansion of fixed wireless service to unserved and underserved residents and businesses. All covered areas will have access to a minimum of 25/3 Mbps services. In total, the project will result in the construction of 30 new towers and equipment fit-ups to 16 existing tower sites to deliver fixed wireless technology to 7,261 unserved households at speeds of 10/2 Mbps to 150/45 Mbps. By county, the project includes the construction of 10 new towers and 4 equipment fit-ups in Bedford County, construction of 9 new towers and 9 equipment fit-ups in Huntingdon County, construction of 8 new towers and 3 equipment fit-ups in Fulton County, and construction of 3 new towers in Mifflin, Juniata, and Franklin Counties.

Crowsnest will provide broadband service from 12/10 Mbps at $54/month to 150/45 Mbps at $169/month to residential customers. Upward Broadband will provide broadband service from 10/12 Mbps at $49.95/month to 100/20 Mbps at $299.95/month to residential customers.

Project Outcomes

Broadband service will be provided to 7,261 unserved households and 26,943 unserved individuals across the six counties served by this project. Specifically, the project will connect 2,103 unserved households in Bedford County, 2,979 in Huntingdon County, 1,229 in Fulton County, and 950 in Mifflin County. This data was not made available for Franklin and Juniata Counties.

Support for the Grant

Huntingdon County Commissioner and Chair of the Allegheny Broadband Initiative Jeff Thomas said, "You’re looking at more a year, year and a half to construct a tower and get it up and running, but still it’s a huge, huge accomplishment for Huntingdon County.” He added, as reported by the Huntingdon Daily News, "I mean, this is something we’ve worked on for years, and to get that kind of money into Huntingdon County is just incredible.”

Following the grant award, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said, "The pandemic has shown us how vital strong and reliable high-speed internet access is for families across the Nation. This is just the start of the hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the Commonwealth thanks to the infrastructure law to better connect Pennsylvanians to the world.” "Access to high-speed internet is critical to so much that we do in our daily lives,” stated Tim Beiler, the co-owner of Upward Broadband. “This substantial grant provides a tremendous opportunity to reach many people that desperately need access to this critical tool. We are grateful for this opportunity to serve the residents in this area.”

Sabine County, Texas

NTIA awarded Sabine County with $12,700,959 in funding for the county's $17,398,574 project. Sabine County is partnering with Windstream to deliver last-mile FTTH broadband to unserved rural areas.

Identified Needs of Sabine County's Project

Windstream plans to leverage its existing network infrastructure to deploy future-proof FTTH in Sabine County. This last-mile access network will include four major components: a Multi-Service Access Node, an Optical Line Terminal, an Optical Network Terminal, and a Passive Optical Network. Windstream will provide symmetrical consumer broadband speeds from 50 Mbps at $60 to 1 Gbps at $90 to residential customers.

Project Outcomes

Sabine County's project will connect 5,254 households, 158 businesses, and 2 institutions in rural unserved areas.

Support for the Grant

Lonnie Hunt, Executive Director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) which has worked to close the digital divide in the area, said, “Our goal is to get reliable and affordable high-speed internet to every house, business, and farm across Deep East Texas. The partnership between Sabine County and Kinetic is a great example of how we can make things better when we work together cooperatively."

Sabine County Judge and former President of DETCOG Daryl Melton said the county's grant is a game-changer. "[Sabine County]will be the poster child for seeing what can happen if the money is available, and how fast we can move," Melton said. Windstream being the primary communications company in the county will make the project build-out happen a lot quicker, he added. The county will also put American Rescue Plan Act funds into professional services to ensure NTIA guidelines are adhered to. "This [grant] is a blessing, and we hope we can use it to the best of our abilities."

Scott County, Kentucky

The Scott County Rural Broadband Expansion Project received $3,123,999 in grant funding from NTIA toward its $18,426,999 fiber deployment. The remainder of the costs will be provided by Spectrum, the internet service provider in the covered partnership. Spectrum will provide construction services to build out, own, and maintain the network. CTC Technology and Energy will be a collaborator and provide grant consultation services.

Identified Needs of the Scott County Project

The project will use Spectrum’s FTTH architecture. The network will be engineered and managed to provide 1 Gbps symmetrical service with latency well below 100 ms. Last-mile FTTH facilities will be deployed in all unserved, rural areas of Scott County. The fiber expansion will connect to Spectrum’s current “upstream” hub locations, then to Spectrum’s national backbone through a tiered network structure. For the project, Spectrum will be able to leverage its pre-existing hub location in Georgetown, Kentucky.

New customers in the project area will have access to several internet speed options, including Charter’s “Spectrum Internet Assist” with a speed of 30/4 Mbps for $17.99/month up to “Internet Gig” service with a speed of 1/1 Gbps at $134.99/month.

Scott County requested an extension of one year. The period of performance for the project will be two years.

Project Outcomes

The Scott County project will bring 412.7 miles of new fiber to the county and connect 5,351 households, 273 businesses, and 14 anchor institutions.

Support for the Grant

“In an increasingly tech-centered world, reliable broadband has never been more important," said Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "I look forward to watching county officials deploy these funds effectively to reach every single household currently unserved by broadband."

Scott County Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington said, "This is a great day for Scott County. I feel like we have hit a Grand Slam for our community. I am proud of the vision of the Fiscal Court and its commitment to our broadband project. Fiber to the home broadband connectivity will assure that our entire community has the ability to take advantage of online education, home-based business, and telehealth opportunities. Broadband will help with the continued growth of economic opportunities for all our citizens."

"Expanding our network to connect communities that lack access to high-speed internet continues to be a top priority for Charter and we look forward to the opportunity to partner with and invest in the people and future of Scott County,” said Jason Keller, Vice President of Government Affairs and Regulatory Strategy at Charter Communications.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Grace Tepper.