Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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Conexon Partner and former Federal Communications Commission planner Jonathan Chambers warned that the FCC’s broadband mapping effort is headed for disaster—flagging potential issues with state-level mapping efforts which he said could slow or bias the funding allocation process for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program support. There are two primary problems at the federal level. The first is the method Congress has chosen for calculating the ratio of BEAD funding given to each state on top of the baseline $100 million allocation that has been granted across the board. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the amount of funding will be allocated proportionally based on the amount of un- and underserved locations in each state as determined by new maps being developed by the FCC. However, the vast majority of un- and underserved locations tend to be in rural areas and the FCC’s new maps aren’t expected to be 100 percent accurate anyway. The second issue relates to the challenge process the FCC is planning for its new maps. Given there are millions of serviceable locations across the country—which the agency will likely have to implement some measure of “materiality” to determine what disputes are prioritized for review—one can anticipate a muddled and inefficient review process that will hamper meaningful BEAD funding allocation. The solution, according to Chambers, is to put the onus of mapping responsibilities on the states, not the FCC.
On July 22, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) first Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC) grants were announced totaling over $10 million in funds for five minority-serving colleges and universities. With $754,970 from the CMC Pilot Program, grant-winner Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) is expanding efforts to connect and train minority populations through its Investing in Student Success and Increasing Minority Workforce Participation program. This program will be managed through OSUIT’s Workforce & Economic Development department to train fiber optic technicians and provide subsidized broadband service and hotspots for eligible residents.
It seemed like a really big deal when the ReConnect program and the new Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grants upped the amount of federal grants to 75% of funding. But, I still see a lot of situations where a 75% grant is not enough assistance to create a viable ongoing business plan. It is the interplay of many variables that determine the percentage of grant funding that is needed for any particular broadband provider in a given market. For example, if two broadband providers have the same cost per passing, interest rate, and expected customer penetration, the broadband provider with the lowest broadband rates will need more grant funding. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is going to allow for some grants greater than 75% based upon categorizing areas as high cost. This is a mixed benefit because being classified as high-cost can also mean that the BEAD grants can fund a technology other than fiber. The NTIA hasn’t announced its high-cost parameters yet, but it seems likely that this will be some variation of cost per passing. The agency still hasn’t released that number, and I’m hoping that’s because they are finding out that concentrating on just one of the key variables cannot suffice to define a high-cost area. Ultimately, there has to be enough future revenue generated by broadband providers to satisfy the debt used to finance the matching grant funds. So, if that means starting with higher rates, then that’s what is needed to accept grant funding.
Minnesota is poised for an unprecedented windfall of money to help build high-speed internet in rural areas; estimating $550 million in extra cash. This will bring Minnesota up to $650 million for broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The final amount Minnesota will get won’t be known until later, and it’s dependent on maps of areas without access to broadband that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to update. In addition, Minnesota must submit a plan for how it would use the money over a five-year period. It could take roughly a year before Minnesota gets any money to spend under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Minnesota officials currently have two goals in law for broadband access across the state. One is for every home to have access to internet with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 3 Mbps no later than 2022. The other is to provide a faster broadband speed goal of 100/20 Mbps by 2026, which has been the primary focus of Minnesota broadband officials.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on the proposed eligible services list (ESL) for the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism (more commonly known as the E-Rate program) for funding year 2023. The FCC has included its proposed eligible services list here and invites stakeholders to comment. Interested parties may file comments on or before September 21, 2022 and reply comments on or before October 6, 2022. The FCC’s rules provide that all services that are eligible to receive discounts under the E-Rate program are listed in this ESL. Eligible schools and libraries may seek E-Rate support for eligible Category One telecommunications services, telecommunications, and Internet access, and Category Two internal connections, basic maintenance, and managed internal broadband services.
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau seeks nominations for six Board member positions on the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) for a three-year term. The FCC is persuaded that having Board members with substantive areas of expertise relevant to running a large and complex organization with such skills as accounting, finance, auditing, procurement, data management and information technology will improve the management, administration and oversight of USAC. If members of the relevant industry or non-industry group fail to reach consensus on a candidate to serve on the Board, or fail to submit a nomination for a particular Board member seat, the Chair of the FCC will select an individual from that industry or nonindustry group to serve on the Board. All nominations must be filed with the FCC Office of the Secretary by October 24, 2022.
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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