Friday, June 24, 2022
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The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it has awarded nine grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. These grants, totaling more than $7.7 million, are being awarded in six states – Alaska, California, Louisiana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Washington. These grants will fund projects that promote high-speed internet use and adoption that will enable communities to access and fully utilize resources that will connect them to education, healthcare, employment and more. The funds can also be used to conduct planning, engineering, feasibility, and sustainability projects and to expand digital inclusion, workforce, and digital skills development. NTIA has now made a total of 43 awards totaling more than $91 million in funding through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
The Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Data Task Force (Task Force), Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), and Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) announce that the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric) that will be used for the inaugural Broadband Data Collection (BDC) is now available for broadband service providers and governmental entities to access. Broadband availability data as of June 30, 2022 can be submitted in the BDC beginning on June 30, 2022, and initial filings are due no later than September 1, 2022.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has begun accepting applications to the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program and has issued 88 pages of guidance for network operators requesting funding. The program, which was created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), has a budget of $1 billion. The applications portal is ready to accept applications just over a month after NTIA issued a notice of funding opportunity detailing rules for the program. Middle mile networks are defined as those that “do not connect directly to an end user location and include leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral internet exchange facilities, carrier-neutral submarine cable landing stations, undersea cables, transport connectivity to data centers, special access transport, and similar services,” as well as wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure, including microwave capacity, radio tower access and other services. NTIA says it expects to make awards for $5 million to $100 million in the middle mile program. Applicants may request higher or lower dollar amounts, but if they do, they must provide a rationale for the unusually high or low funding requests. The funding can only cover 70% of project costs and applicants must detail their other funding sources and amounts.
As state and local governments and their partners plan to invest billions of dollars in federal funding to build broadband infrastructure, choosing the best technology will have significant long-term implications. Federal policymakers have addressed this subject to some degree: For example, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program’s notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) preferences fiber over fixed wireless. To aid state and local policymakers, CTC Technology & Energy conducted an engineering analysis of fixed-wireless technologies and their suitability for delivering broadband service in various environments. The resulting report, Fixed Wireless Technologies and Their Suitability for Broadband Delivery, addresses a range of critical technology and cost considerations related to fixed-wireless networks—and, as a point of comparison, to fiber-to-the-premises networks. The report seeks to do the following:
- Provide an accessible guide to current and anticipated future fixed wireless technologies,
- Demonstrate whether fixed wireless can be a viable approach to delivering broadband to currently unserved residents in various deployment scenarios, such as in urban and rural communities, and
- Suggest how and in what circumstances states should consider using public funds on fixed wireless technologies as a long-term solution to address residential broadband needs.
When asked where AT&T intends to increase its fixed wireless access (FWA) buildout in response to pressures from competitors T-Mobile and Verizon, McElfresh said that the company continues to see FWA as a stopgap measure that AT&T will use in areas where it doesn’t plan to deploy fiber. “Is fixed wireless a tool to be used for a particular segment that doesn’t have access to fiber? Yes,” COO Jeff McElfresh said.” But it is not the majority of our growth agenda.” However, he added that AT&T does plan to experiment more with FWA, and will deploy it in areas where it won’t have fiber because FWA performs better than DSL. Earlier in 2022, AT&T Executive Vice President of Technology Operations Chris Sambar said that the carrier has over 500,000 fixed wireless subscribers. “We’re no stranger to fixed wireless,” he said. McElfresh said June 23 that the company is “on pace” for its fiber build and will likely cover 3.5 million to 4 million locations with fiber in 2022. In addition, McElfresh said that AT&T’s fiber penetration rates are nearly twice what they have been historically, reaching 24 percent penetration compared to 12 percent penetration in the past.
Most of the published summaries of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant rules state that the BEAD program will provide 75 percent of funding, meaning a grant applicant must contribute 25 percent of the cost of the grant project. The reality is that the matching rules are more complicated than that simple rule. Matching funds can come directly from the grant applicant or can be provided by local and state governments using funding from the CARES or the ARPA programs. The BEAD rules don’t allow matching contributions from other federal sources such as the FCC Universal Service Fund, ReConnect grants, or the RDOF subsidy awards. The BEAD rules allow federal broadband loans to be used to supply the matching funds. Following is a more detailed dive into the issue of BEAD matching.
[Doug Dawson is president of CCG Consulting.]
Additional funding will be available for the current round of Wisconsin's State Broadband Expansion Grants. This brings the total available funds to $125 million—$25 million more than what was announced in November 2021. The funding for the grants comes from the 2021-23 Biennial Budget signed by Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) in July, which will be used to expand high-speed broadband internet to unserved or underserved areas of the state. In March, the PSC received 194 applications requesting more than $495 million in grant funding from the state's Broadband Expansion Grant Program. The Commission is expected to make grant decisions in the coming weeks.
The University of Missouri (UM) System's Digitally Connected Community Guide is a collection of tools and resources that communities can use to become digitally connected. Communities that are digitally connected have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service and use internet-based technologies and applications to improve the health, education, and economic opportunities for everyone in the community. The Guide uses a five-step plan, informed by an online workshop, to bring high-speed internet to unserved Missouri communities. In addition, there is the Digitally Connected Community Guide Course, a Canvas-based series that consists of narrated lectures, targeted tools and supporting materials that community stakeholders can follow to produce a comprehensive proposal. The course is designed to help local governments, private businesses and nonprofits in digitally connecting their communities. To help communities navigate the course and five-step plan, Extension and campus-based faculty at UM System are available to provide course facilitation. Learn more here.
The flood of funding coming down from the federal government to address the digital divide is spurring a range of broadband administrative hires in federal and state offices. At the federal level, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told a Senate committee in February 2022 that the department expected to make at least 100 new hires for broadband alone and to have one staffer at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) assigned to each state. And at a recent senate hearing, Alan Davidson, head of NTIA – which is administering roughly $48 billion in broadband grant programs funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – updated lawmakers on those hires, saying the administration was halfway toward its goal of hiring a broadband point person for every state. But pressed for how NTIA is prioritizing which states it's hiring for first, Davidson indicated the process was driven more by available talent. In addition to new hires at NTIA, states, territories and local governments are filling in their own broadband administration gaps as they prepare to tackle a range of BEAD and broadband-related responsibilities. And as governments fill their ranks with employees to administer and manage grant programs, there's also a new push from the White House to ensure the labor force exists to build the actual infrastructure.
Governors are taking steps to advance workforce innovation, broadband access and digital skills in America’s workforce. In June 2022, Governors’ broadband advisors and workforce development leaders met in New Orleans for an in-person summit and workshop on using Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Action Plans and Digital Equity Plans under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) to advance broadband access and digital skills in America’s workforce. In March of 2021, ten Governors were selected to join the inaugural cohort of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Workforce Innovation Network (NGA WIN) state grantees. NGA WIN was designed as a first-of-its-kind public-private collaborative in which a number of national organizations, corporate partners, practitioners and other thought leaders came together to support the nation’s Governors as they took steps to advance their most urgent workforce development priorities. You can find case studies of state objectives, activities and outcomes achieved in this brief. With support and guidance from NGA WIN Advisors, a second cohort began work in November 2021 on initiatives to advance digital skill development for equitable economic participation in alignment with state workforce and economic development goals. To assist states in closing digital skill gaps and preparing for digital equity planning, in April, NGA and its partners at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Skills Coalition, and World Education, co-published Using Data to Advance Digital Skills: A State Playbook.
Broadband markets in the United States are by and large competitive today, and the trends indicate that competition is becoming more widespread. Federal Communications Commission data show that the share of US households that have access to multiple providers of fast broadband is already very large and is increasing rapidly. Based simply on projecting historic trends, ACA Connects estimates that by December 2025, well over 90% of households will have access to at least one broadband provider offering 100/20+ service and at least one additional provider offering 25/3+ service. Approximately 74% of all households will have access to at least two broadband providers both offering 100/20+ service. Furthermore, these projections based solely on extrapolating historic trends are likely conservative, given the announced plans of most major incumbent telecommunications providers to dramatically accelerate the pace of their investments in fiber-to-the-premises (fiber) infrastructure over the next five years. Taking these already-announced plans for accelerated investments in fiber into account, ACA Connects projects that approximately 84% of all households will have access to at least two providers both offering 100/20+ service by December 2025. Therefore, the potential benefits of greater regulation (lower prices and faster speeds in areas without sufficient competition) would be limited, while the harms of such regulation (reduced investment incentives, reduced efficiency incentives, reduced innovation and reduced experimentation with new business models) would be felt throughout the entire United States.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the July Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, July 14, 2022:
- The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding an enhanced competition incentive program for wireless radio services.
- The FCC will consider a Further NPRM to modify its access stimulation rules to address ongoing harmful arbitrage of the Commission’s intercarrier compensation regime that imposes costs ultimately borne by interexchange carriers and their customers.
- The FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on ways in which it can assist survivors of domestic violence through the Commission’s Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Programs.
- The FCC will consider a NPRM that would begin the process of updating its rules to use the most up-to-date market information for determining a television station’s local market for carriage purposes.
- The FCC will consider an Order and Sixth NPRM that would amend its Part 74 rules for low-power television and television translators to remove obsolete rules for analog TV operations.
- The FCC will consider an enforcement action.
Stories From Abroad
On the eve of this week’s rail strikes, it was reported that industry bosses are planning to phase out paper train tickets and shut almost 1,000 station ticket offices in England. The government says nothing has been decided. But the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has made no secret of his desire to see savings delivered in this way; some stations, Mr Shapps likes to point out, sell only a handful of tickets each week and the vast majority of transactions have moved online. In the name of modernisation and cost-cutting, station ticket offices are likely to follow many high street bank branches and rural post offices into the vaults of sepia-tinted memory. For those of us who have grown used to the advantages of organising travel via a smartphone, there will be little to mourn. But for people without online access or skills – who tend to be older, poorer and more vulnerable – another small social barrier will have been erected. The inexorable shift online is inevitable, but its fallout needs to be managed with more care. Technology should not be allowed to drive people to the side of their own lives, as anecdotal evidence suggests is increasingly the case.
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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