Monday, May 23, 2022
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Affordable Connectivity Program
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The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has established basic rules for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants in the recent Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). One of the most important aspects of the rules that potential applicants need to understand relates to funding and financing. Note that the NOFO instructs the States what it expects to be included in each state’s broadband grant program for the BEAD funding. The first set of rules concerns the amount of grant funding. Since the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed Congress, the industry has been talking about BEAD grants offering 75 percent grant funding. It’s not that simple. The NOFO says that states are required to incentivize matches of greater than 25 percent from subgrantees. That means states must make every effort to award less than a 75 percent grant. In fact, if two entities request building fiber to the same geographic area, the one asking for the smaller amount of money will automatically win, assuming they meet the basic grant requirement. This makes sense and will stretch the grant money further, but internet service providers should be prepared for a sliding scale where the less the borrowing the greater the grant points.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
There is a lot to appreciate in the recently published Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). It is arguably the first federal government proposal that seeks to promote infrastructure policies focused on the future, rather than the usual subsidizing “good enough for now” access. That means that the US government, or at least part of it, finally recognizes what appears obvious: that the future of internet access is in fiber. The NOFO contains a strong emphasis on the deployment of open-access infrastructure designed to facilitate competition and meet the growing needs of communities. Lastly, it promotes affordability key priority outcome of the many projects that will get financed with federal tax dollars. The Electronic Frontier Foundation dives into the details here.
[Ernesto Falcon is senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.]
On May 9, 2022, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced that they have secured commitments from 20 internet service providers to lower high-speed internet costs for US consumers. The providers are all participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a $14.2 billion federal program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to subsidize broadband service for low-income households. Broadband providers who volunteer to participate will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land) for providing service to low-income households and must allow consumers to apply their subsidy to any monthly plan offered. According to the Biden Administration's announcement, the 20 featured participating providers cover more than 80 percent of the US population. For all of their current or potential subscribers, these companies have now committed to offering plans with 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds for $30/month, making sure all Affordable Connectivity Program-participating households can have access to free, high-speed internet once the subsidy is applied. In this two-part series, we are looking at the price reductions or speed increases committed to by the twenty companies featured in the Biden Administration's announcement.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to involve trusted community organizations in outreach efforts for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). NDIA submitted comments to the FCC regarding the implementation of an ACP outreach grant program and a pilot program focused on promoting ACP enrollment among households participating in Federal Public Housing Assistance programs In addition to the $14.2 billion Congress provided to the FCC for the ACP through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress also provided the FCC the authority to provide grants to community based organizations for ACP outreach and engagement. But the FCC has never provided grants like this before. So, when the FCC released the rules for the ACP program on January 21, they simultaneously released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the same document, asking for additional input on how they should best design and manage an outreach grant program. In the NPRM, the FCC also seeks additional feedback on a pilot program they plan to launch to increase ACP enrollment amongst Federal Public Housing Authority residents. NDIA submitted comments advising the FCC on best practices regarding the implementation of these two programs.
The White House made much ado of an announcement that it had secured commitments from a collection of large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to adjust speed tiers and monthly costs for their existing plans so as to be able to offer a $30/month, minimum 100 megabit per second (Mbps) download offering for low-income households across the country. The goal was to create plans for households that qualify for the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to get access to faster connections while ensuring no additional out-of-pocket costs. Analysis from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance shows that even if only a third of eligible households ultimately enroll (ten percent more households than are enrolled today), absent an additional allocation, the ACP will be exhausted by the beginning of November 2024. But even under the best-case scenario, with the benefit reaching as many people as possible, current enrollment rates show that only 68 percent of eligible households will be able to sign up before the funds run out. In this model, the money will be exhausted just 18 months from now, on January 1st, 2024.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken is a senior researcher and the research team lead with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative.]
Gov Gavin Newsom (D-CA) announced that California is awarding new contracts that will supply the materials necessary for building 3,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. The California Department of Technology, as part of the state’s Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative, awarded contracts to two vendors totaling nearly $225 million that will allow the state to purchase enough optical fiber and materials to construct 3,000 miles of the network. California is strengthening broadband connections to improve access to education, health services and employment opportunities throughout the state. The Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative is the first step to creating an open-access, middle-mile network that will build infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband service to unserved and underserved communities, regardless of technology used, on equal economic and service terms. This action is one part of a comprehensive and long-term approach to tackling the broadband infrastructure deficiencies still impacting rural and low-income communities, bringing the state closer to achieving affordable, high-speed broadband internet service for all communities. Construction on the middle-mile network is expected to be completed by December 2026.
Gov Tom Wolf (D-PA) was joined by Department of Commerce Under Secretary Jed Kolko at Marion-Walker Elementary in Centre County (PA) to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s $45 billion Internet for All Initiative and Pennsylvania’s readiness to manage more than $100 million in federal funds to deploy affordable, high-speed internet to Pennsylvanians. The Department of Commerce announced the launch of Internet for All to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade. The $45 billion initiative is made of up three programs to build internet infrastructure, teach digital skills, and provide necessary technology to ensure that everyone—including communities of color, rural communities, and older Americans—has the access and skills needed to fully participate in today’s society. Pennsylvania will receive at least $100 million from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program. Hundreds of millions in additional formula funding will be made based on the forthcoming coverage maps from the Federal Communications Commission. To prepare for this funding and ensure oversight and support for broadband deployment in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s General Assembly worked across party lines to create the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority.
The information pings around the world at the speed of a click, becoming a kind of borderless currency that underpins the digital economy. Largely unregulated, the flow of bits and bytes helped fuel the rise of transnational megacompanies like Google and Amazon and reshaped global communications, commerce, entertainment and media. Now the era of open borders for data is ending. France, Austria, South Africa and more than 50 other countries are accelerating efforts to control the digital information produced by their citizens, government agencies and corporations. Driven by security and privacy concerns, as well as economic interests and authoritarian and nationalistic urges, governments are increasingly setting rules and standards about how data can and cannot move around the globe. The goal is to gain “digital sovereignty.” While countries like China have long cordoned off their digital ecosystems, the imposition of more national rules on information flows represents a fundamental shift in the democratic world and alters how the internet has operated since it became widely commercialized in the 1990s.
MoffetNathanson's Craig Moffet asked Charter CEO Tom Rutledge if cable operators will inevitably have to spend big bucks on fiber deployments to stay competitive in the broadband business. Rutledge said, “We have a lot of fiber in our network, and it’s really a question of where do you end the fiber, and what technology do you use to maximize the connectivity with the end device?” He noted that even a fiber feed directly to a house doesn’t deliver fiber to a device. What delivers connectivity to a device is actually Wi-Fi in most cases. Charter has built an advanced Wi-Fi capacity, which is backed by a fiber backbone and uses hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) cable in the local neighborhood at short distances. A fiber-optic cable doesn’t connect directly to a device in the home. “The idea that this technology [fiber] is transformative and superior is just dead wrong,” said Rutledge. “It’s just another form of transmission.” There would be many in the fiber broadband camp who might disagree with that assessment. They’re lobbying the National Telecommunications and Information Administration heavily to spend the billions of dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on all-fiber deployments.
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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