Wednesday, April 20, 2022
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Unlike roads, bridges, ports, water systems, and transit, broadband was the only infrastructure Congress funded in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that had not been subject to multiple prior bipartisan spending efforts. One can dismiss this difference on the grounds that the physical nature of broadband is similar enough to projects in prior infrastructure legislation that including it was not a great leap. Still, unlike transportation and water systems, broadband is primarily funded by private capital. So, Congress made an uncommon decision that broadband had entered a rare bucket of essential services which justify government support—and further, that private markets were not going to provide those services in some areas without significant government assistance. Will this era of good feelings in broadband policy continue? That will be tested. First, there must be a permanent solution to broadband affordability for low-income persons. Second, there must be a greater effort to consider how to use broadband to improve how industries deliver essential services, including health care, education, workforce development, and general government services.
This article examines the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) access to broadband for low-income households. The article explains what the ACP offers, who can obtain benefits, and how to apply. With over 11.5 million households already enrolled in ACP, consumer practitioners need to know how to help clients with enrollment and to advise those already enrolled as to their rights. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, broadband is essential for full participation in modern society. It is crucial for access to healthcare, employment, assistance programs, commerce, banking, and judicial systems. It is a prerequisite for modern platforms of communication as well as an important connection to loved ones, the community, and public officials. The ACP significantly increases access to and decreases the cost for broadband access—whether individuals choose connection through home internet or their cell phones. For those who want to help advertise the availability of the ACP, the FCC has a helpful toolkit, with flyers, fact sheets, handouts, public service announcements, and videos—all in English and Spanish.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is committing $37 million in the 13th wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund program support, helping to close the Homework Gap. This latest round of funding is supporting over 170 schools, 30 libraries, and 4 consortia across the country, including students in Alaska, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Texas. On April 28, the FCC will open a third application filing window that closes May 13, 2022 for eligible equipment and services to be delivered or received in the upcoming school year. During this third application filing window, eligible schools and libraries can submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and up to 12 months of recurring services between July 1, 2022, and December 31, 2023. Given past demand, the third application filing window will likely be the last opportunity for schools and libraries to request funding before the remaining Emergency Connectivity Funds are exhausted. Total commitments to date have funded over 10 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections. This announcement includes nearly $27 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and over $10 million in commitments from Window 2 applications.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on the Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed on April 7, 2022 by T-Mobile USA. In its Petition, T-Mobile seeks clarification that the Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund and the Connect USVI Fund permit it to use Stage 2 mobile support for the deployment of distributed antenna systems, which T-Mobile states would further the FCC’s goal to make networks more resilient to future disasters.
Comment Due Date: May 2, 2022 Reply Comment Due Date: May 9, 2022 (WC Docket No. 18-143)
Section 80401 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act new law allows for the use of private activity bond financing for qualified broadband projects. It’s an interesting new form of financing that has never been easily available to commercial internet service providers before. This bond funding can only be used for projects that fit the criteria for broadband projects that are covered by the other provisions of the Infrastructure Act. Specifically, the bonds can only be used to finance a project that "is designed to provide broadband service solely to 1 or more census block groups in which more than 50 percent of residential households do not have access to fixed, terrestrial broadband service which delivers at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 3 Mbps upstream," and "results in internet access to residential locations, commercial locations, or a combination of residential ad commercial locations at speeds not less than 100 Mbps for download and 20 Mbps for uploads, but only if at least 90 percent of the locations provided such access under the project are locations where, before the project, a broadband provider did not provide service, or did not provide service meeting the minimum speed requirement." This means the projects can only be used for areas that have at least 50 percent coverage of homes with current broadband of 25/3 or less. That’s likely to mean that this bond funding is going to have a relatively short shelf life – once Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program grants are done, there may not be a whole lot of the US left that will meet this test.
[Doug Dawson is President of CCG Consulting.]
When Congress and former President Trump pushed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, little did they know that a less-discussed part of the bill might make closing the digital divide more difficult. As of now, $42.45 billion in federal broadband grants — as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program — is taxable income due to the 2017 tax cut law. In theory, grant-winning companies could recoup the money they would lose to the tax through bonus depreciation, but the amount they can offset starts to dwindle in 2023, said Ryan Johnson, a partner and CPA at Aldrich Advisors, which helps telecommunications companies. Next year — again thanks to the 2017 tax bill — the bonus depreciation rate will decrease to 80 percent, meaning that if a company were to win $10 million, only $8 million could be offset by bonus depreciation. The bonus depreciation rate drops to 60 and 40 percent in 2024 and 2025, respectively. For big companies like AT&T and Comcast, this new rule might not be a deal breaker, Johnson said. But for smaller companies — some of which are in the best position to provide Internet to very remote areas — the rule could dissuade organizations from applying for federal broadband dollars altogether.
In October 2021, the Broadband Development Group was hired to develop a comprehensive master plan for how the state of Arkansas should approach the inequitable availability of broadband service across the state. "Significant progress has already been made to overcome the state’s broadband problem with plans in place to make even more progress," says the Broadband Development Group (BDG) report. BDG recommends Arkansas focus its efforts on providing broadband service to the remaining 110,000 underserved households not currently served by any federal grants. The expected cost for this effort is roughly up to $550 million and can be funded through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) grants. BDG also includes modifications that would improve the Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) Program. This includes establishing competitive bidding for grants, requiring affordability on rates, and future-proofing technology deployment using fiber infrastructure.
As the city of South Lake Tahoe (CA) grows and tries to develop new economies, officials are focusing on improving broadband access for all the residents and businesses. The Centers for Disease Control classified access to broadband as one of their social determinants to health, which are “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.” The City is no different in recognizing the importance of broadband. Before the city can provide broadband to all, it must take stock of what it currently has. The American Rescue Plan Act provided $400,000 to be used for broadband and the council approved $200,000 of that to be used for a feasibility study. The feasibility study will consist of a speed test followed by an assessment of what needs to be done next. It will also include public outreach, as well as outreach to internet service providers (ISPs) to find the fastest speeds at the lowest costs. The City contracts with private ISPs, such as Spectrum and AT&T, which all provide their own conduit system consisting of underground cables, overhead cables and wi-fi. The study will look at those providers and decide if the city is getting the best possible service.
Sterling, a town of about 8,000 in Worcester County (MA), has become another example of a community controlling its broadband destiny. The Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD) is building the Local Area Municipal Broadband (LAMB) network, which will bring fiber-based internet to Sterling’s residents and businesses. Set to be fully completed in the fourth quarter of 2024, SMLD will proactively notify residents as construction begins in their neighborhoods. “When Darren Borge, general manager for SMLD, came up with the LAMB name, you could not believe the response from the locals who think it’s a great name,” says Bill Underhill, network coordinator at SMLD. “We’re stressing the local part.” Unlike an incumbent service provider or large electric power company, SMLD focuses on improving residents’ lives. “We are owned by the people we serve, so we have to answer to them,” says Borge. “We can bring next-gen services to our little town of Sterling to help our residents save wherever they can. SMLD benefits everyone – it gives them a stronger robust electric system and now the internet.”
A new report highlights the 10 small towns in the US with the average fastest and slowest internet speeds. To compile this report, Salt Lake City, Utah-based Satellite Internet monitored access to a proprietary speed test website for over an entire year. It plotted the results according to the IP addresses of those who used the website, then tallied which towns’ results rated the highest. Per the report, the small towns in the US with the fastest internet speeds are Plattsburgh (NY), Mount Sterling (KY), Alice (TX), Selinsgrove (PA), Heber (UT), Clarksdale(MS), Sidney (OH), Gainesville (TX), Kirksville (MO), and Greenwood (SC). Meanwhile, the small towns with the slowest internet speeds in the US are Hutchinson (KS), Coos Bay (OR), Brevard (NC), Lincoln (IL), Indiana (PA), Ellensburg (WA), Somerset (PA), Ontario (OR), Pottsville (PA), and Tahlequah (OK).
Early in my career in search engine optimization, I was working with an SEO consultant on a particular website project, who gave me some words of wisdom: A website is a building. A domain was brick and mortar, a sitemap was a hallway, webpages were a series of rooms. It was a compelling metaphor, one I kept returning to as I worked on optimizing and organizing the site’s pages. But the project became more complicated the longer I worked on it: Instead of finding a neatly ordered site structure, I found chaos. In the CMS were hundreds of broken links. On the blogs, old branding sat uncomfortably next to new design. Orphaned pages were hidden and sealed off in various, unexpected locations. There was, in other words, a monstrous version of the site lurking just beneath the public-facing one.
Some former Democratic members of Congress have joined what is increasingly a concerted effort to block the nomination of Gigi Sohn [Senior Fellow & Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society], President Joe Biden‘s nominee to the open Democratic seat on the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC presently stands at a 2-2 political tie, as it has been since before Biden took office. A group called The One Country Project (OCP) said it has launched a six-figure ad campaign meant to “ensure that the FCC prioritizes rural broadband expansion and communities,” but in the next sentence defines the campaign as “aimed at raising awareness that the Biden administration’s [FCC] nominee, Gigi Sohn, is the wrong choice for the FCC and rural America.” Sohn‘s nomination was not reported favorably out of the Senate Commerce Committee — it was a tie vote — and must be discharged from the committee by a full Senate vote before she can get a confirmation vote. Among the project's leadership team are OCP founder Heidi Heitkamp, the former Democratic senator from North Dakota, and former Rep Mike Espy, a Democrat and the first African-American elected from Mississippi since reconstruction. “Given the significant progress that has been made in closing the rural digital divide in recent years, and all the important work that remains to fully close the gap, Gigi Sohn’s deeply cynical view of rural broadband is far less than what rural Americans need or deserve,“ Heitkamp said of the new ad campaign. That view is not shared by a number of current high-profile Democratic legislators, including the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, who all strongly back Sohn.
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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