Wednesday, June 22, 2022
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US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.7 million grant to the Sullivan County Division of Public Works, Monticello (NY), to increase local internet connectivity. This grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan. This project will enhance community high-speed internet throughout Sullivan County, promoting job creation and economic diversification in the region. This EDA grant will be matched with $415,063 in local funds and is expected to generate $4.5 million in private investment. This project is funded under EDA’s American Rescue Plan Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which makes $500 million in Economic Adjustment Assistance grants available to American communities. The Economic Adjustment Assistance program is EDA’s most flexible program, and grants made under this program will help hundreds of communities across the nation plan, build, innovate, and put people back to work through construction or non-construction projects designed to meet local needs.
The Federal Communications Commission launched a major initiative to provide high-speed internet service to rural Americans in 2020, dedicating $9.2 billion through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to entice companies to extend their networks to places previously deemed too costly to reach. More than 18 months later, many of those rural communities still wait for broadband. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase 1 auction drew bids from more than 300 companies, but LTD Broadband was the top dollar winner. The company won rights to $1.3 billion to extend fiber-optic cable to rural communities scattered over 15 states, in some cases beating out local competitors. LTD has since missed deadlines to be certified by local regulators in six of the 15 states, prompting the FCC to block the company’s access to broadband funds there. At least 275,000 people live in affected areas of those states, census and FCC data show. LTD asked the FCC for more time to be certified, but the agency denied that request. LTD is appealing the FCC’s decision in four of the six states. In nine other states, FCC officials are still reviewing LTD’s ability to do the job, even though the agency has authorized more than 300 other bidders to move forward.
US Ignite, an organization that has spent the last decade helping cities across the country plan and tackle broadband projects, brings seven more communities into its fold. All told, more than 50 cities are now part of its network and it’s looking to grow that number as communities face a daunting challenge: navigating an influx of federal broadband funding opportunities. In addition to money from the American Rescue Plan Act and various state-level grants, municipalities across the country are assessing how they might take advantage of the $42.5 billion set to flow through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. There’s just one problem. Many either don’t quite know where to start or don’t have the employee resources to tackle such projects. Jonathan Beam, one of US Ignite’s Community Innovation Managers, said there are two main ways it helps communities. First, it helps them navigate the wide array of federal funding opportunities available to them, identifying suitable matches and eligible projects. And second, it establishes a pilot project with the community, which can be used to inform their grant applications and demonstrate what can be accomplished with the funding.
I took part in a webinar last week for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) that talked about the good, the bad, and the money issues with the upcoming Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants. At the end of the session, the last question asked, “How do you reconcile some of the impractical aspects of the BEAD grant processes with the reality of the market?” My response to the question was to get immediately get involved with your State broadband grant office. The various State broadband grant offices are in communication, and there is hope that if enough States push back that the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) might soften some of the most troubling aspects of the grant rules. States also have another option, which is to build friendlier rules into the State grant rules since, at the end of the day, each State gets to decide who wins the grant funding. Internet service providers (ISPs) need to provide specific feedback to State grant offices now so that they understand how troubling some of the grant rules are for potential applicants. But at some point, an ISP is going to have to determine if it can live with all of the grant requirements. My first advice to an ISP considering the BEAD grants is to take the time to consider the aspects of the grants that you find troublesome – then categorize them. Some grant issues are just annoyances that will make it harder to ask for the grants. But other issues are more serious, and every ISP will have its own list. You should separate the troubling issues into two categories – issues that will cause big headaches and issues that are potential deal stoppers and might make you decide not to bother with the BEAD grants.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the initial 2022 Texas Broadband Plan on June 15. The new broadband plan, from Texas' Broadband Development Office (BDO) outlines the state's goals for improving broadband access and affordability. Most notably, Fierce reports, the BDO aims to develop a statewide broadband map by January 2023. The mapping focus stems from the BDO’s concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s current broadband maps “are not an accurate representation of the served, underserved and unserved areas in Texas.” The BDO formulated the state's report based on survey responses from over 16,000 Texas residents, as well as insights from various roundtable discussions. The report added the granular data from the BDO’s map “will help quantify the digital divide in ways that are impossible at the drafting of this initial plan.” The BDO also emphasized interagency cooperation, both on the state and federal levels, is critical to obtaining more broadband funding. Only 11 percent of elected Texas officials indicated they have enough financial resources to meet their community’s broadband needs.
More Californians are gaining access to broadband internet, but Black and Latino households still lag behind their white counterparts, according to an analysis of the latest available American Community Survey data. The Public Policy Institute of California, which recently presented the findings, noted that the US Census Bureau survey paints a picture of expanding but unequal access to high-speed internet service in the state at a time when reliable internet service became a necessity for remote work and school. According to the data, 85 percent of California households had high-speed internet in 2020 while 94 percent had internet access of any kind, including cellphone data plans. Eighty-seven percent of white households had access to high-speed internet, compared with 83 percent of Black households and 80 percent of Latino ones. The divides were not only among racial groups; households headed by adults 65 or older or non-college graduates lagged behind younger and college-educated households. Likewise, households with an annual income below $50,000 were less likely to have access to broadband than wealthier households. Additionally, 15 percent of both Black and Latino households, and 23 percent of low-income households, reported not having a laptop, desktop or “other computing device” at home.
Thanks to nearly $1 billion in funding from a variety of sources, West Virginia officials are working to provide high-speed broadband to 300,000 households in the state that are currently lacking service. The funding comes from American Rescue Plan Act allocations, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and other sources that were wrapped into Gov Jim Justice (R-WV)'s $1 billion plan released in October 2021. According to West Virginia Department of Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Mitch Carmichael, the strategy aims to close the "digital divide in West Virginia." In June 2022, West Virginia was one of four states in the country to receive funding from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund–$136 million that will be spent working toward the state's broadband connectivity goals. Carmichael outlined four projects that will funnel the various funding sources into direct aid to those lacking access to broadband, but in order to do so, the West Virginia Broadband enhancement Council had to first create a new broadband service map of its own that was outside the influence of the Federal Communications Commission.
Gainesville (FL) officials have shot down a proposal to use nearly $10 million in pandemic relief funds for an expansion of low-cost, city-run broadband internet despite years of discussion on the issue. Instead, elected leaders said they would keep exploring options on the issue and would instead look at how to spend the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars on affordable housing, an issue some city commissioners agree is Gainesville's most pressing issue. The city commission voted 2-5 to dismiss the broadband proposal on June 16. The commission had hired a consulting firm to study a proposal to spend $9.6 million in federal ARPA funds for a pilot project to provide the Internet service through the city’s GRUCom telecommunications service. The plan would have allowed high-speed internet starting at $30 a month to more than 5,000 potential customers, covering neighborhoods around Northwest 13th Street, including Stephen Foster, Oakview, Duckpond and North East (FL) neighbors. Bryan Eastman, the founder of Connected Gainesville, said ARPA funds don’t come along often and this is a prime opportunity to address the digital divide, adding that the city is already losing jobs and residents to Ocala, which provides the service.
Dish said that it has reached an agreement with T-Mobile to use the T-Mobile Ultra Capacity 5G network to provide connectivity to Dish mobile customers and to customers of Dish’s retail wireless brands, including Boost Mobile. The agreement requires Department of Justice (DOJ) approval, and the DOJ must make a decision no later than August 14, 2022. Dish recently launched 5G service in markets covering 20 percent of the US population but needs to use another carrier’s network to provide coverage in areas where it doesn’t have its own facilities. T-Mobile uses the Ultra Capacity 5G name for service delivered over the mid-band spectrum that the company acquired when it merged with Sprint. That network covers at least 80 percent of the carrier’s customers. The news about the Dish and T-Mobile agreement comes a bit less than a year since Dish reached an agreement to use the AT&T 5G network. Dish stated that AT&T would be the “primary network services partner for DISH MVNO customers.” The company also stated that AT&T would provide service for Boost, Ting and Republic customers – three brands that Dish uses in addition to the Dish brand.
Big Tech companies are continuing to try and head off any Federal Communications Commission effort to establish what they said would be 'one-size-fits-all" standards for 5G receivers that would work against the FCC's goals of an innovative 5G environment. The FCC in April 2022 opened an inquiry into setting wireless receiver standards, one of several routes the FCC could take, alone or in tandem, to protect signals in increasingly crowded spectrum bands, a roadmap laid out by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel. "We recognize that a variety of approaches may be appropriate, whether through industry-led voluntary measures, Commission policy and guidance, or rule requirements where other approaches would be insufficient," she said after the FCC approved the Notice of Inquiry (NOI). The NOI was unanimous, but that was not necessarily an indication of any unanimity on which approach to take. At this stage the NOI is only an effort to collect info on how to improve receiver performance and expand the FCC's traditional focus beyond transmitters alone. In June 2022, the Consumer Technology Association told advisors to Rosenworcel and other top FCC staffers that FCC-mandated receiver standards were not the way to go. While conceding an increasingly congested environment for RF signals that could only become more congested as the FCC opens up more spectrum for 5G, CTA said that "One-size-fits all mandates on receiver performance" would actually undercut reallocation efforts and "stifle" the innovation the FCC is trying to promote. CTA said self-regulation in the form of industry-led efforts, have the most likelihood of success, as it says has been proven "time and time again."
Vertical Systems Group announced that seven companies achieved a rank on the 2021 Global Provider Ethernet Leaderboard as follows: Orange Business Services, Colt, Verizon, AT&T, Lumen, BT Global Services and NTT. This industry benchmark for multinational Ethernet network market presence ranks companies that hold a 4 percent or higher share of billable retail ports at sites outside of their respective home countries. Orange jumped from third position to rank #1, displacing AT&T which had held the top position since 2018. AT&T moves from first to the #4 position. Fierce reports that more than two dozen companies, including Comcast, T-Mobile and Zayo, were listed in the Market Player tier. This group includes those who have 2 percent market share or less. Vertical Systems Group said its research shows enterprise demand for Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access connections has jumped due to an uptick in global software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) rollouts while virtual private network (VPN) connectivity is sliding.
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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