Good News from USDA for Small ISPs

When the ARRA Broadband RFP was released, multiple small ISPs were interested until they saw the additional workload the owner and staff would have to invest, just to submit the proposal and decided not to participate. When Trump was elected he indicated his administration would support rural broadband funding. My recommendation to the Gold Country Broadband Consortia was to help communities prepare for the RFPs which would be forthcoming, but the Program Manager had other priorities. Her position was “We are not interested in Trump’s money”. A short-sided view of the problem and I terminated my consulting agreement.

I now endorse the USDA action to let small ISPs prepare for the release of their ReConnect RFP.  The important action is for the ISPs to take advantage of this extra preparation time.

USDA Official: States and Localities Need Skin in the Game for Rural Broadband to Succeed

When decision makers consider who should receive some of the $600 million allocated to the USDA ReConnect rural broadband pilot program, the agency will use a scoring system that awards points based on a range of factors, including the number of educational and healthcare facilities that would receive service – and for serving parts of states that have their own broadband funding programs. The latter criteria was included with the goal of “leveraging funding from outside sources” to “maximize the use of very limited resources,” said Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the USDA, in an interview with Telecompetitor.

“We believe the federal government has a role, but we also need to see skin in the game from states and local communities because this is an issue that really touches the quality of life in rural America,” said Hazlett, whose responsibilities include overseeing the USDA Rural Utilities Service program and several other units within USDA.

Hazlett pointed to another example of how the USDA aims to maximize the impact of limited funding: Applicants will be able to request funding in the form of a loan, a grant or a combination of loan and grant.

Full Article is at Telecompetitor

That understanding drove the USDA to release documents on December 14 explaining how to apply for ReConnect rural broadband pilot funding even though the agency will not begin accepting applications for several months.

That move, she said, should help people get any technical assistance they might need to submit applications.

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CA Economic Summit: Resilient rural communities built on upgraded infrastructure, faster broadband for all

The ability to purchase a home is vital to the foundation of a thriving community. As Chair of the Golden State Finance Authority (GSFA), I have seen firsthand the benefits that homeownership affords California’s local communities. GSFA has supported affordable homeownership in California for over two decades, providing homeownership programs featuring competitive interest rates and down payment assistance.

Over the past 25 years, GSFA has helped more than 74,800 individuals and families purchase homes and provided over $537 million in down payment assistance, as well as provided financing for over 30,000 residential or commercial energy efficiency projects.

While GSFA is doing its part to expand access to affordable homeownership in the state, homeownership alone does not constitute a thriving community. Every community needs jobs for its residents and a solid infrastructure platform on which to build its local economy. In 2018, it is vital that such an infrastructure platform include not only high-functioning traditional infrastructure such as water, sewer, and transportation systems, but also a robust broadband network that is accessible to all.

Working through its affiliate organization, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), GSFA has identified a number of industry-specific areas of focus for their economic development strategy in California’s rural counties, including broadband and infrastructure. RCRC’s economic development team is working with a network of economic development professionals in RCRC’s 36 member counties to support and catalyze programs and projects that result in job and investment generation.

Rural Broadband Deployment

High-speed broadband deployment in rural California is one of the most critical missing infrastructure components. Its absence often precludes unserved and underserved communities from participating in the 21st century economy. High-speed broadband provides essential benefits by allowing increased economic and trade opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses, access to medical care (telehealth/telemedicine) and educational opportunities, and enhanced public safety – improving overall quality of life. Speed of commerce service is a critical step in the development of strong rural communities.

Infrastructure

Many communities in rural California are in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades to better serve their residents and businesses, but don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to research, apply, and implement these upgrades. These projects include improvements to water, transportation, and community facilities infrastructure. Innovative funding options and other programs that allow for project pooling and access to multiple funding sources that may reduce existing barriers to entry for rural communities must be identified.

The source is HERE. [Emphasis added]

Webinar: Federal Broadband Funding: Policies and Programs to Connect America

This BroadbandUSA webinar offered an overview of federal funding options to support increasing broadband access in communities across the United States. Learn about recent program and policy updates from officials representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Speakers:

Barrett L. Haga, Ph.D., Senior Administrator for Economic Engagement, Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

Shawn Arner, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Loan Origination and Approval Division, RUS Telecommunications Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Kate Dumouchel, Special Counsel, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission

Links to presentations and audio are HERE.

Techwire: Broadband Spread: First the Route

Then the Tech California’s Broadband Council held its first meeting aimed at allowing stakeholders to identify key communications corridors across the state. This will roll into the plan to develop the state’s broadband infrastructure, delivering services to 98 percent of households, which is one of the council’s legislative goals.

More details HERE.

Broadband Mapping Problems

A GOA Report addressing the lack of broadband on tribal lands outlines the mapping problem. The full tribal lands report is HERE: Tribal BB

In our September 2018 report on broadband access on tribal lands, we found that FCC collects broadband availability data from broadband providers, but its method for collecting the data does not accurately or completely capture broadband access—the ability to obtain service—on tribal lands.9 Specifically, FCC directs fixed broadband providers to submit a list of census blocks where service is available on their Form 477 filings. In the Form 477 instructions, FCC defines “available”10 as whether the provider does—or could, within a typical service interval or without an extraordinary commitment of resources—provide service to at least one end-user premises in a census block.11 Thus, in its annual reports and maps of fixed broadband service, FCC considers an entire block to be served if a provider reports that it does, or could offer, service to at least one household in the census block. As shown in figure 1, FCC’s definition of availability leads to overstatements of fixed broadband availability on tribal lands by: (1) counting an entire census block as served if only one location has broadband, and (2) allowing providers to report availability in blocks where they do not have any infrastructure connecting homes to their networks if the providers determine they could offer service to at least one household. FCC has noted that overstatements of availability can be particularly problematic in rural areas, where census blocks cover larger areas.

BB_Overstatment

According to FCC officials, FCC requires providers to report fixed broadband availability where they could provide service to: (1) ensure that it captures instances in which a provider has a network nearby but has not installed the last connection to the homes, and (2) identify where service is connected to homes, but homes have not subscribed. FCC officials also told us that FCC measures availability at the census block level because sub-census block data may be costly to collect. However, FCC acknowledged that by requiring a provider to report where it could provide service, it is not possible to tell whether the provider would be unable or unwilling to take on additional subscribers in a census block it lists as served.12 In addition, when reporting on broadband access in tribal lands,13 FCC uses the broadband availability data described above, and does not collect information on factors that FCC and tribal stakeholders have stated can affect broadband access.14 These factors include affordability, service quality, and service denials.

By developing and implementing methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands, FCC would be better able to target federal broadband funding to tribal areas that need it the most. We recommended FCC develop and implement methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands. FCC agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is exploring methods to collect more granular broadband deployment data.

Electric Coops Elbow Into Broadband Debate

— One point of contention as lawmakers reconcile competing versions of the farm bill ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline is whether to take up the Senate or House version of the bill’s broadband provisions. While groups like USTelecom and NCTA that represent big internet service providers favor the Senate provisions, electric cooperatives, which are increasingly getting into the broadband business, say the House got it right. Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, told John that the Senate bill, which says a community must lack broadband over 90 percent of its territory before receiving a federal broadband loan, is “way too restrictive.” He lauded the House version for making federal aid contingent on evolving broadband speeds and in using population density to prioritize grant funding.

— Electric coops are “a little frustrated” with how the FCC has managed its billions in broadband subsidies, Matheson added, particularly how the agency relies on census tracts and self-reported ISP data in determining which areas receive coverage and thus are eligible for federal subsidies. Although he’s pleased with how ecoops did in the second phase of the FCC’s Connect America Fund auction (funding awards were announced last month), he thinks the FCC has a ways to go. “For all the universal service money that’s been spent—it’s been over $100 billion since 2000—you’ve still got a bunch of rural America without broadband,” he said.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [Emphasis Added]

See the highlighted text. Why have we failed our rural citizens?  Not enough voting clout? Thoughts?

Best Telco Rural Broadband Strategy?

While all the major 5G carriers, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will use similar core infrastructure to create physical networks the chosen frequency spectrums and the strategic focus are different.

“T-Mobile will attempt to roll out 5G nationwide with a 600MHz low-band service that will prioritize coverage over gigabit speeds.”

“Verizon will target dense urban areas first with very fast millimeter-wave broadband speeds” Verizon millimeter wave licenses are in 28GHz and 39GHz bands.

“AT&T plans to provide 5G services—featuring high speeds and latencies below 10 milliseconds—that utilize millimeter-wave spectrum at 39 GHz.”

It is hard to consider 600 MHz as the 5G spectrum as it does not provide the higher bandwidth and speeds which are promoted at 5G advantages. However, it does have some rural merit. Signals at 600Mhz travel longer distances and can penetrate foliage, windows, and walls. This is an advantage in rural areas were user density is sparse. However, at the current time, T-Mobile is more focused on mobile use rather than fixed service use. You will need a 5G phone to use this service.

In contrast, Verizon is planning to roll out fixed use services and compete with the cable companies to provide access and content. There seem to be little interest in expanding into rural communities, beyond the 4G LTE services they provide today. They are deploying small cells using mmWave with 100 to the 250-meter range which does not make sense for rural service.

Also, AT&T expects its 5G deployments to operate in the millimeter-wave spectrum with transmitters sites that will be within 150-250 meters of each other. AT&T plans to provide 5G services—featuring high speeds and latencies below 10 milliseconds—that utilize millimeter-wave spectrum at 39 GHz, which does not propagate signals nearly as well as the lower-band 700MHz signals used in mobile service.

The rural service outlook is somewhat murky, with AT&T and Verizon focused short distance mmWave spectrum and T-Mobile using their long distance 600MHz spectrum for mobile service. Stay Tuned, as market forces often result in strategic changes.