Author Archives: CTC Technology & Energy

DEC

16

Congratulations to Moline, IL, for entering an agreement that will bring fiber broadband competition to residents with no financial subsidy from the city

David Talbot, Director of Research Services

CTC congratulates the City of Moline, IL, on its December 13 City Council vote to enter into a fiber broadband development agreement with Metronet. The company will now construct a fiber optic network throughout the city and deliver up to 10 Gbps internet service to homes and businesses– providing high-speed broadband competition with the local cable company, Mediacom.

The agreement, which requires no financial contribution from the city, represented a win-win outcome whereby the city achieved its broadband goals and Metronet, based in Evansville, IN, was able to secure the opportunity to build along the city’s rights-of-way cost effectively, with the city as a facilitator.

CTC was pleased to support Moline in drafting the RFP seeking fiber providers and evaluating the initial responses, which ultimately led to the selection of Metronet and the subsequent negotiation process between the city and the company.

City Administrator Bob Vitas and Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati say the agreement delivers on an element of the City Council’s strategic plan to expand broadband options for City residents. Metronet—which already serves nearby cities, says construction will begin in the spring of 2023, with the first customers connected as early as fall of 2023.

Published: Friday, December 16, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

DEC

15

Challenging the FCC broadband map: Guidance to local governments

Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, VP for Broadband Strategy

CTC Technology & Energy

The FCC will be accepting challenges to the address-level service availability data in the pre-production National Broadband Map through January 13, 2023. While challenges can continue beyond the January 13th deadline, that’s the date on which challenges are expected to end for purposes of the most consequential use of the map—NTIA’s allocations among the states of the $42.5 billion in IIJA broadband infrastructure funds through the BEAD program.

Using the challenge data, the FCC is expected to release an updated version of the map in spring 2023. The updated mapping data will be the basis on which NTIA will determine each state’s number of unserved and high-cost unserved locations as a share of the entire country’s unserved population. BEAD allocations will be calculated accordingly.

So, while it’s clear that state governments will benefit from identifying and challenging inaccurate map data prior to January 13th, the benefits of increasing a state’s BEAD allocation will have only an indirect impact at the local level.

After that first deadline, however, there are opportunities to continue to challenge the FCC map and, later, the NTIA’s grant-eligible locations map when it becomes ready. Post-January 13th, map challenges will continue to be critical to local jurisdictions to ensure their residents and community anchors will be connected.

The FCC has not made it easy for state and local governments to submit challenges to its address fabric and coverage maps—nor has it provided adequate time for them to provide feedback and collect evidence to affect a state’s allocation of the BEAD funding.

Many states, however, have their own address fabrics and have decided to strategically mount both location and service availability challenges. The first step for localities, therefore, is to check with their state broadband office to see whether the office has a challenge process underway. City and county governments may be able to contribute address location and parcel data to assist in the location challenge efforts, depending on the source and quality of the state’s address fabric.

Beyond identifying addresses, localities that want to challenge the FCC’s map face tight deadlines and potentially high costs. Likely the biggest return on investment will be from the following approaches:

  1. Spread the word to residents and businesses to check their address on the FCC’s broadband map and mount an individual service availability or location challenge if they find inaccurate information. In terms of service availability, residents can paste screenshots of ISP websites that indicate service is not available to their address. They can also save online customer service chat transcripts in which an ISP declines to provide service or will only do so for an extra fee. If residents find that their locations are missing, misplaced on the map, or have wrong address details, they can submit a brief description of the location error.
  2. Compare address fabrics (i.e., locations, not service availability claims) and submit a bulk location challenge that identifies locations that appear in local address fabric but not the FCC’s fabric. If a state broadband office is not already taking this approach, a locality can mount a bulk address fabric challenge.

To submit a bulk location challenge, the jurisdiction should compare its independent address fabric (sourced from E911 or tax records, for example) to the FCC’s fabric (access to which requires signing a license agreement). An engineer would oversee the alignment of addresses across the data sets and the tying of the two sets of address data to parcel data; identifying the locations not included in the FCC fabric; and comparing those locations to the FCC’s service availability data to identify the unserved locations that are missing from the FCC’s data and can thus be challenged. The engineer would then prepare a statement to attach to the bulk submission that documents the process.

For the local government that just wants to make sure unserved areas are picked up and included as fundable locations, there is much more time to challenge the FCC’s data. The challenge data can be submitted in waves, and crowd-sourced data using speed tests may have an impact on how NTIA subsequently draws up its own grant eligibility maps. A local-government-sponsored speed test website can be an effective tool for gathering data to communicate to NTIA not just updates to its address fabric but also exaggerated ISP claims on coverage and speeds.

The CTC team is available to help state and local governments develop FCC broadband map challenges, including strategic and tactical approaches to gathering and analyzing location and service data. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

Published: Thursday, December 15, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

NOV

28

How to prepare for an application to the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program

Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, VP for Broadband Strategy

Heather Mills, VP for Grant & Funding Strategies

CTC Technology & Energy

Recognizing that cost can be a barrier to subscribing to broadband services, Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to subsidize subscriptions for low-income residents.[1] To increase enrollment in the program, a new FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program will distribute $70 million to eligible entities that will raise awareness and help eligible residents sign up – potentially as part of an ongoing digital equity effort.

Each eligible state and territory, as well as Tribal entities as a group, will be allocated a set amount – for states, it is $500,000. Actual funding will be awarded by the FCC based on competitive review of all applications. Coordination between states and their localities and other eligible applicants will be essential (and is specifically encouraged by the FCC).

Applications for projects ranging from $50,000 to $1 million[2] – with no match requirement – will be accepted through January 9, 2023 (which means applications must be completed over a very short timeline). While ISPs are not eligible, the program will still be highly competitive, so state, local, and Tribal governments should begin planning their applications or providing support to eligible entities now.

Overview of the opportunity

According to the first notice of funding opportunity (NOFO), the FCC has allocated $70 million for competitive grants, with $60 million reserved for states and U.S. territories (i.e., the National Competitive Outreach Program, or NCOP) and $10 million for Tribal governments and organizations (i.e., the Tribal Community Outreach Program, or TCOP).

The NCOP reserves $27 million for minimum allocations to each state[3] ($500,000) and U.S. Territory ($250,000). That leaves the remaining funding for all other eligible NCOP applicants, which include social service providers, community anchor institutions, and public housing agencies. ISPs are specifically named as ineligible for this program.

The FCC will issue a second NOFO in the future to define two $5 million, one-year pilot programs: Your Home, Your Internet and the ACP Navigator Pilot Program.[4]

In addition to general educational outreach (which would include digital campaigns), the FCC is looking for proposals that include hands-on, in-person outreach and support for potential ACP customers. The NOFO and the ACP NCOP Order make clear that no funding from the NCOP can be used for remote application assistance.

Application strategy

The NOFO spells out the program’s goals and priorities – which indicate that an applicant would be wise to discuss how their proposal will effectively and efficiently reach eligible consumers who do not know about the ACP. Beyond that key point, the application asks specific questions to gauge the efficacy of the applicant’s plans. As you plan your application, consider the following:

What is the applicant’s background and experience with the ACP? That includes anything important to an outreach solution, such as expertise and history, high-level planning of a project timeline, and profiles of who is (or could be) on the team (including partners, if any). Having this information gathered before you embark on the application narrative will save considerable time in writing the application.

How will you measure success? It’s important to think creatively about how you will define success. What metrics are measurable and how? How else can you demonstrate that the outreach will be successful? The NOFO includes performance measures that applicants should speak to in their narrative, such as:

  • Awareness measures
    • Outreach activities/events by type
    • Number of individuals/households reached by outreach type
  • Enrollment measures
    • Number and type of in-person enrollment events held
    • Number of households enrolled during the events

What data will you collect? Building on the awareness and enrollment measures, the NOFO refers to the FCC’s plan to measure success through the “ongoing collection, analysis, and reporting of data” related to grant recipients’ programs. These data analyses may also enable a roadmap for decision-makers to consider when ACP funds run out. In that light, how will you gather data to help inform the FCC’s analysis of ACP eligibility criteria, subsidy amounts, and funding levels? For example, can you gather data to assess what level of subsidy might best balance the ACP’s limited funds and the needs of eligible enrollees (i.e., is that $30 or might $20 suffice)? In your outreach efforts can you evaluate whether enrollees have considered ISPs’ existing low-cost service tiers?

How can you leverage your existing programs to support the mission of the NCOP? As described in the Order, the FCC is looking for both large- and small-scale solutions that will leverage existing programs at the local and national level. That means your ongoing digital equity programs may be able to benefit from the outreach funded by the NCOP, making those programs more effective. How can you quantify and qualify the ways your existing programs might benefit from this funding?

How can you stand out? This is a competitive process. Putting in an application does not guarantee an award. The FCC requires that a portion of the NCOP allocation be distributed to each state while also prioritizing projects that are regional or national in nature and engaging other community resources or existing programs. That means that any applicant can expect competition from at least one application per state and territory. Expect high demand for limited funds – and strategize how to stand out.

What grant funding amount will enable you to deliver the most impact? The FCC will accept applications for projects as small as $50,000 and as large as $1 million. (Those requesting the maximum should aim to propose programming that is strategically “multi-state, national-level, and/or regional level, with the ability to passthrough to local-based eligible entities, as applicable.”[5]) And unlike many funding opportunities, there is no match requirement for this program. Applicants don’t have to provide cash/skin in the game as part of their proposals. That indicates that the FCC wants to cast a wide net to see what kind of solutions are proposed. It also means they are serious about making between 200 and 400 awards overall. As you develop your plans, think about the impact you might deliver at varying levels of grant funding.

Next steps

As with applications to the ACP program itself, the FCC has done no favors here for grant applicants: This application will take real effort to pull together, and your efforts are not reimbursable if awarded a grant. Given the level of effort required – and the FCC’s encouragement of coordination among states and other eligible entities – state broadband offices should consider taking the lead (or designating alternative state agencies) and engaging with other eligible entities in the state to develop a primary, high-impact application.

CTC’s Grant & Funding Strategies and Broadband Strategies teams are ready to assist with your grant writing and strategy needs. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.


[1] The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) became the ACP as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and was then funded further with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

[2] If exceeding the state-allocated amount, the application must be for a multi-state region.

[3] The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are included here.

[4] The Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program aims to reach 5 million households in public housing or receiving federal assistance. The ACP Navigator Pilot Program will help public entities conduct outreach.

[5] See Page 9 of NOFO, Item B, “Recommended Funding Floor and Ceiling.”

Published: Monday, November 28, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

AUG

17

Why the FCC rejecting funding for two of the biggest RDOF winners may be great news for your community

Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, VP for Broadband Strategy

CTC Technology & Energy

With the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rejection of broadband funding for two of the biggest winners in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, more communities with areas currently unserved by broadband now have the opportunity to finally get future-proof fiber with federal funding.

Figure 1: Areas awarded to LTD Broadband and Starlink in the RDOF auction

On August 10, the FCC announced that it rejected authorizing $2.2 billion of funding over a 10-year period previously assigned to two massive auction winners—SpaceX’s Starlink, the satellite provider founded by Elon Musk, and LTD Broadband, a small fixed wireless provider that proposed a hybrid fiber optic and fixed wireless network with gigabit speeds across 15 states.

RDOF bidders submitted a short-form application to participate in the initial RDOF auction, where they were sorted into tiers based on the speed and latency they could deliver. Starlink and LTD were weighted favorably, giving them an advantage in competing with gigabit fiber providers—despite offering operationally unproven technologies. By bidding aggressively in the reverse auction, they won big[1]: LTD was originally awarded approximately $1.3 billion, and Starlink won nearly $886 million.[2] However, winners were required to submit a long-form application after the auction with more detailed financials and buildout plans. After reviewing Starlink and LTD’s submissions, the FCC determined the companies could not deliver the services they committed to in the auction.

Other RDOF awards to wireless providers, albeit not as large, may also be vulnerable to rejection as the remaining awardees yet to be certified undergo the long-form process. To date, the FCC has mostly approved fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) providers, as well as some fixed wireless and hybrid technology bidders that promised to deliver 100/20 Mbps or lower speed tiers.[3] The remaining bidders yet to be certified include winners that controversially claimed they could deliver gigabit speeds with fixed wireless or a hybrid between fixed wireless and fiber; the FCC’s rejection of LTD signals that these providers could be in jeopardy if their claims are specious.

Communities can now plan a future-proof solution via BEAD

RDOF made available the largest amount of broadband infrastructure funding in U.S. history at the time of the auction.[4] Since then, however, Congress has made enormous sums of money available for broadband through new funding programs, including those in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). In particular, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program—part of the IIJA—provides $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access.

However, the IIJA legislation and subsequent Notice of Funding Opportunity of its BEAD program ruled areas with RDOF awards to non-satellite providers ineligible for funding—including the areas assigned to LTD. The FCC’s decision rejecting RDOF certification of LTD should benefit these areas in particular, and it also potentially benefits other communities, including those with areas that Starlink previously won.

Communities now have the chance to have these areas included in a planning process designed to produce a better, future-proof fiber solution through the  BEAD program. Unlike RDOF, the BEAD program requires extensive planning and coordination by state broadband offices with localities and stakeholders; its goal is to design a state-driven grant program that can solve broadband gaps with the best possible technology feasible for a particular area. BEAD explicitly requires fiber as the default option, while defining some locations as likely requiring non-fiber solutions because of “extremely high cost.”

By contrast, the RDOF process assumed local planning was of low importance. Local and state governments were not engaged in the decision making; instead, RDOF simply ranked providers by technology-agnostic speed and latency tiers in an attempt to automatically deliver the best technology feasible at the lowest cost. As the FCC’s rejection of two of the biggest winners makes clear, this approach did not work.

The FCC can use its extra money for projects BEAD is unable to fund—or to fund the ACP

In addition to allowing some communities to participate in the BEAD planning process, the FCC’s decision sends the rejected funds back to the RDOF pool. These funds could be used for future FCC programs to plug any unserved and underserved holes left over after BEAD funds have been allocated.

While a future auction round of RDOF (RDOF II) had been planned, the FCC has put the second auction on hold until it has updated its broadband maps through the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program.[5] Combining the money planned for that future auction ($11.2 billion)[6] with the recently rejected funds, the FCC would have at least $13.4 billion available. These funds could be used to support the deployment of future-proof technologies in areas that remain unserved or underserved when BEAD funding is exhausted, or the money could even be allocated to extending benefits under the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This program provides a monthly subsidy toward internet subscriptions for eligible low-income families; it is expected to run out of money in 2024. Additional funding for the ACP and/or areas not adequately served by BEAD could mean lower-cost, higher-speed connectivity for the RDOF areas previously awarded to Starlink and LTD.


[1] Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, “FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction Was Supposed to Significantly Reduce America’s Rural Broadband Gap,” The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, December 21, 2020, https://www.benton.org/blog/fccs-rural-digital-opportunity-fund-auction-was-supposed-significantly-reduce-americas-rural (accessed August 12, 2022).

[2] Federal Communications Commission, “FCC Rejects LTD Broadband, Starlink Bids for Broadband Subsidies,” August 10, 2022, https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-rejects-ltd-broadband-starlink-bids-broadband-subsidies (accessed August 12, 2022).

[3] Federal Communications Commission, “Auction 904: Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904/releases (accessed August 12, 2022).

[4] Federal Communications Commission, “FCC Launches $20 Billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-launches-20-billion-rural-digital-opportunity-fund-0 (accessed August 12, 2022).

[5] Federal Communications Commission, “Broadband Data Collection,” https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData (accessed August 12, 2022).

[6] Universal Service Administrative Company, “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” https://www.usac.org/high-cost/funds/rural-digital-opportunity-fund/ (accessed August 12, 2022).

Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

MAY

19

States will play a key coordinating role for applications to NTIA’s Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program

NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is out for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. Applications are due by September 30, 2022—but if you are an eligible non-State or non-Tribal Government applicant, you may have less time than you think to craft a winning grant application. That’s because the NOFO requires non-State and non-Tribal applicants to consult with their State Broadband Office or other coordinating entity[1]—which adds a layer of complexity to your process. We explain here how this requirement and others might affect your overall approach and strategy.

The timeline is tight—particularly for non-State and non-Tribal applicants. While we do not yet have an official opening date for the application period, NTIA noted during a webinar that applications are expected to be available in June. That gives applicants about three months—but State and Tribal entities may be a bit distracted during that time with the scramble over BEAD and State Digital Equity Planning fund program requirements. Add to the mix a five-year period of performance in the middle of a supply chain crunch (with a lot of other broadband programs pulling on resources), and non-State and non-Tribal applicants will have an even bigger job of ironing out coordination and strategy issues for their middle mile applications.

Non-State and non-Tribal entities should act now to ensure you have enough time to coordinate and get support from the State or Tribal entity and prepare your application materials to show how you have aligned with the state’s broadband policy priorities. We expect NTIA to release further guidance related to these consultations before it opens the application portal.

Note, too, that the middle mile program is explicitly meant as a complement to the Digital Equity and BEAD programs—so early coordination with your State or Tribal entity on middle mile may directly inform all three efforts.

The middle mile program will look favorably on creative partnerships, especially those necessary to reach unserved rural America. This preference for rural areas does not exclude urban communities, however, and the connection of both is an explicit program purpose.

NTIA expects to make awards ranging from $5 million to $100 million and is encouraging applications that reflect a diversity of project sizes. It will consider requests for funding outside of this range only with a “reasonable explanation” for the variance.

An applicant’s financial, technical, and managerial qualifications are important. Financial requirements include an Irrevocable Letter of Credit (ILOC) for 25 percent of the project cost. This implies a preference for financially well-established applicants.[2] Applicants must demonstrate additional financial, managerial, and technical qualifications, plus provide matching for 30 percent of the project cost either in cash or with “in-kind” assets.[3]

Consider connections to anchor institutions. Project proposals must include direct interconnections to “facilitate the provision of broadband service, at speeds not less than 1 Gigabit per second for downloads and 1 Gigabit per second uploads to anchor institutions located within 1,000 feet of the middle mile infrastructure” (NOFO, p. 14). The definition of anchor institutions allows for a bit of flexibility, however. A state or other eligible entity could petition the NTIA to include not-yet-included anchor institutions (such as a religious institution, for example) if the applicant can show that the organization will facilitate greater use of broadband service by vulnerable populations.

Craft your application to align with NTIA’s application review process and maximize your score. Applications that score highly during the merit review will move forward to a programmatic review, where the application will be evaluated across eight stated program priorities. Applications will be ranked by their weighted scores—and funding will be awarded in rank order until the funds are depleted.

Assigned points and weighted scores will consider the application’s geographic diversity/location and the size of the funding request. NTIA has the discretion to fund applications that were not ultimately recommended through the formal review process or vice versa.

Demonstrate your project’s strong labor standards, fiscal sustainability, network interconnections, and climate resilience. These are key factors in NTIA’s review process. To this end, application materials must include:

  • Demonstration of the project’s climate resilience
  • Demonstration of the project’s purpose and need
    • Demonstration of demand for middle mile services, including letters of intent and agreements with last mile service providers
    • Information on anchor institutions, socio-economic indicators of the project area, and identification of unserved areas
    • Description of nondiscrimination and interconnection plans with reasonable rates and terms
  • Demonstration of the project’s highly skilled workforce plan, including a description of sector-based partnerships, the creation of equitable jobs, the maintenance of job quality, and other equitable workforce and job quality initiatives and practices
  • A written plan assuring compliance with labor standards, including:
    • Wage scales and overtime pay
    • Implementation of a workplace safety committee

Plan now for post-award needs. Grantees will have to submit bi-annual performance and financial reporting. This is not a small effort. As part of the grant budget, applicants should include administrative costs related to grant reporting and compliance.

Understand the period of performance. NTIA expects to complete its review, selection, and award process by mid-February 2023 and expects that project buildouts will begin, at the earliest, on March 1, 2023. The period of performance for this program is five years, after which the projects must be completed, lit, and operating. Additionally, each project must meet the following milestones:

  • 40 percent of project miles by the end of the second year
  • 60 percent of project miles by the end of the third year
  • 80 percent of project miles by the end of the fourth year
  • 100 percent of project miles by the end of the fifth year

The buildout can be extended by one year if extenuating circumstances occur. Feel free to contact info@ctcnet.us with any questions.


[1] “Prospective non-State and non-Tribal Government applicants must, prior to submitting an application, coordinate and consult with the State Broadband Office or other coordinating body located in the jurisdiction in which the eligible entity proposes to deploy middle mile infrastructure to ensure that the proposal is consistent with the State’s broadband plan and priorities.” (NOFO, pages 22 – 23).

[2] “The required documentation includes organizational historical financials, audited financials, pro-forma financial projections and analysis to substantiate the sustainability of the proposed project, and submission of a letter of credit valued at no less than 25 percent of the requested award amount,” (NOFO, p. 13).

[3] NTIA encourages matching funds that include “in-kind” assets that they describe as “non-cash donations of property, goods or services” and they provide examples of (NOFO, p. 12).

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

MAY

17

BEAD and Digital Equity NOFOs put states in charge of broadband funding allocations—but local governments have a role

NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) are out for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program and the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program[1]—and the rules indicate that state governments will decide how to allocate the funding (within certain parameters). Local governments should engage with their state decision-makers during the preliminary planning processes for both programs to offer support on data collection and to advocate for their critical broadband projects.

Below is an overview of our initial takeaways on the two NOFOs in order of the most pressing deadlines. (Don’t worry, we’ve got thoughts on the Middle Mile program as well; we included key points in our timeline below – and watch this space for more on that program soon.)

State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program: Applications due July 12

As directed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), NTIA will distribute $60 million to states, territories, and tribal groups to fund the creation of Digital Equity Plans. (Tentative allocated funding amounts for each state are listed in the NOFO.[2]) States must submit a planning application by July 12, 2022, to begin the process.

These plans are a critical first step for two reasons.

  1. The Digital Equity Plan is the key to receiving the state’s portion of the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, which NTIA will open sometime in the future. That funding will enable the state to execute the programs identified in the state’s Digital Equity Plan.
  2. The Digital Equity Plan is expected to complement applications for BEAD grants to fund network deployments. Projects and priorities identified in the state’s Digital Equity Plan will dovetail with BEAD planning.

What does this mean for localities looking to benefit from State Digital Equity Planning Grant funding? Fundamentally, state governments are in charge of developing their Digital Equity Plans.

But local governments will still play a key role in this process—and local priorities should be considered in state-level planning. 

For starters, collaborating with local stakeholders is a statutory requirement. States are expected to include local governments when developing and implementing their Digital Equity Plans and Five-Year BEAD Plans (see below for more on that).

Any local entity that wants a seat at this table should identify who in state government is leading the charge on these efforts. (NTIA provides information about appropriate contacts in each state.) And localities should keep a close eye on which agency the governor selects as the Administering Entity for the Digital Equity Plan. Reaching out to these decision-makers to open dialogues and build relationships will be critical to local government efforts to get their projects funded.

BEAD: Letter of intent due July 18

NTIA’s IIJA BEAD program will provide federal funding directly to the states to support broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. The states must complete a multi-step process by which they plan and then propose how to allocate the funds to eligible sub-recipients (all of which must be approved by NTIA for funding to flow). As with the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, states are required to engage with local stakeholders on BEAD planning. These activities will provide localities and other stakeholders with opportunities to express their local needs and shape the state’s process—including through the development of highly accurate broadband availability data.

States must submit a letter of intent for BEAD funding by July 18, 2022, and an application for $5 million in initial planning funds by August 15, 2022. Planning efforts can include research, data collection, surveys, and broadband mapping efforts related to broadband availability, adoption, affordability, and equity issues across the state. After that, however, the process will slow down considerably while NTIA waits for the FCC to release updated broadband availability maps. So local governments should engage with their state decision-makers now (the letter of intent will indicate who the governor selects as the administering agent for the program)—and be prepared to continue engaging over the planning process.

Be sure to take a look at the NTIA’s program info sheet for a quick overview of the basics. In short, the overall BEAD process looks something like this:

  • Letter of Intent – Due July 18, 2022 
  • Request for Initial Planning Funds – Due August 15, 2022 
  • Initial Planning Funds released after approval of Request for Initial Planning Funds (no timeline commitment in NOFO) 
  • Five-Year Action Plan – Due 270 days after receipt of Initial Planning Funds 
  • Program Fund Allocation and Notice of Available Amounts released
  • Initial Proposal – Due 180 days from release of Notice of Available Amounts 
  • 20 Percent Funding Release – Upon approval of Initial Proposal
  • Challenge Process – Required before subgrantee selection 
  • Subgrantee Selection Process
  • Final Proposal and Release of Remaining Funds 

Here are some key takeaways localities and other stakeholders should keep in mind as they engage with their state regarding the BEAD funding:

Local coordination with stakeholders is required: Throughout the planning process, states are obligated to collaborate with local, regional, and Tribal organizations, including representatives of underrepresented communities, civil rights organizations, community anchor institutions, and unions and worker organizations. This required outreach will provide stakeholders with opportunities to submit feedback and data regarding existing broadband assets, broadband deployment and adoption needs, barriers to deployment, existing broadband adoption and digital equity programs and related gaps, and existing and planned economic development and other community planning efforts. NTIA expects that this local engagement and outreach process will inform each element of the state’s required submissions for the BEAD funding.

Interested localities and organizations should reach out to their state’s broadband office to discuss both their communities’ needs and existing broadband strategies and efforts. This extensive local coordination obligation requires that the states document their efforts transparently and maintain an ongoing dialogue, which will produce a public record of localities’ involvement and efforts to improve local broadband opportunities. This effort can be complemented by the similar engagement requirements of State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, which will also be happening over the next year.

The state designs the grant program for distribution of its BEAD funds: The BEAD program sets out a framework for a subgrantee program to be administered by each state, but the state will decide the details. As such, it’s important that local governments and other potential applicants understand how to strategize around the framework (and pay close attention to final rules from each state).

For example, areas that do not have access to broadband services that offer at least 100/20 Mbps are eligible for funding. Generally, areas that have received federal or state funds to begin broadband deployment projects to meet that 100/20 Mbps threshold may not be eligible for funding. However, BEAD rules specify that areas slated to receive funds under the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) may still be eligible for funding under BEAD if the RDOF grant is not yet ready-to-be-authorized or authorized by the date of the challenge process or if RDOF funding was awarded for satellite technology to deliver service.

In another example, BEAD funding requires a 25 percent match (see below for more on the required match) of a specific project cost by the state or project applicant. But states are encouraged by the BEAD framework to design their grants programs to provide additional points in their application scoring criteria to encourage applicants to provide more than the minimum 25 percent match.

Affordability proposals could be a significant opportunity for input from local entities, community organizations, and digital equity groups: States must also design a grant program that requires recipients to allow qualifying families to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and provide a low-cost service option as part of the funded project. However, BEAD rules also allow states to design low-cost plans that will meet the state’s needs—with the input of local entities. Those plans will then be submitted to NTIA for approval.

A financial match is required: Applicants seeking BEAD funding from their state must provide at least a 25 percent funding match. This can be cash or in-kind (where the value of services or goods is substituted for cash), but applicants should keep in mind that states are “required to incentivize matches of greater than 25 percent from subgrantees wherever feasible” (NOFO, p. 21). The most likely means of meeting this requirement is for a state, in designing their grant program, to include extra points or weight to applicants that offer to provide more than 25 percent in match.

Further, the IIJA provides some guardrails regarding use of certain federal funding as the match. While generally federal funds related to the Covid pandemic (for example, ARPA funds) with the purpose of expanding broadband can be used as match, the terms and requirements of those funds will apply in addition to requirements set forth by the BEAD program. For In-kind matches, seek out guidance if you have questions. NTIA suggests to states that they should ”thoroughly consider potential sources of in-kind contributions” (NOFO, p. 22). That means, consistent with federal cost principles, applicants for subgrants from the state could include waivers of pole attachment fees, access to conduit, or the value of an easement as part of the required match.

The NTIA provided for an additional challenge opportunity: The BEAD program requires that states establish an opportunity for local governments, nonprofits, and ISPs to challenge a determination made by the state as to whether a particular location should be eligible for BEAD funds under the state’s newly designed program. With this BEAD challenge process, states are directed to incorporate additional eligibility criteria that fall outside the FCC’s broadband availability data, such as reliability, affordability, proportion of served units, and technology types. Only after this challenge process is complete can a state finalize the areas that will be eligible for funding.

This challenge process is separate from the FCC DATA Act map challenge process, which focuses on mapping data of served and unserved addresses. For example, an apartment building with reliable service only to some of the units may be classified as “served” under the FCC’s map. During a BEAD challenge process, a local government could provide data showing that several units are “unserved” and should be eligible for funding. Our team is closely monitoring the development of the frameworks for both the FCC’s and NTIA’s challenge processes. Watch this space for a full analysis of how local entities can participate in both processes to support broadband deployment to meet community needs.

Start planning now: Interested local entities and other stakeholders should not wait to start gathering data, talking to their communities, and strategizing about broadband needs and deployment plans. From almost the first stage of the BEAD program, states are required to seek out broadband availability, adoption, and digital needs information from local jurisdictions and regional and community-based organizations.

Your efforts, and the work within your communities, should help to shape how this once-in-a-lifeline funding opportunity is utilized. To be well-prepared to be an active and substantive participant in this unprecedented level of coordination across federal, state, local, and organizational perspectives, it is now time to develop the latest data and understanding of what is happening in your community.

Keep up to date with our insights at ctcnet.us/blog and feel free to contact info@ctcnet.us with any questions.


[1] “Internet for All: Programs,” https://www.internetforall.gov/programs.

[2] See Page 13 of NOFO for State Digital Equity Planning Grants, Section II.C.2.

Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

MAR

10

Understanding the ReConnect Challenge Process

With the March 9, 2022, application deadline recently passed, it is time to begin planning for the next step in the ReConnect grant and loan program: the challenge process. The ReConnect challenge process is one way the program’s administrator, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), will seek to ensure that funding is going to eligible locations.[1] The process is straightforward—but will unfold over multiple steps.

  1. RUS issues a Public Notice Filing for each application
  2. Internet service providers (ISP) can challenge a Public Notice Filing with a Public Notice Response if they already serve a proposed funded service area—or have substantially initiated service there
  3. RUS validates Public Notice Responses
  4. RUS conducts Service Area Validations to confirm or deny Public Notice Responses

Step one: RUS issues a Public Notice Filing (PNF) for each application

The starting point is the proposed funded service area (PFSA) identified in ReConnect applications. Within a few days, RUS is expected to launch a searchable database of Public Notice Filings (PNF) documenting the PFSAs and other key details in each application.[2] PNFs will be publicly available for 45 calendar days, roughly through April 8, 2022.

Step two: ISPs can challenge a PNF with a Public Notice Response (PNR) if they already serve a PFSA—or have substantially initiated service there

If an ISP or another eligible entity wants to respond to a PNF—in other words, to challenge the eligibility of one or more PFSAs in an application—they will file a Public Notice Response (PNR).

An ISP can challenge a PFSA by showing RUS that the ISP currently is “offering sufficient access to broadband service” within the PFSA.[3] An ISP can also challenge a PFSA if it has substantially begun efforts to offer services in the area.

The ISP (referred to as a “respondent” in this step) will file a PNR through its USDA Level 2 eAuthentication (eAuth) account. In terms of mapping, the respondent can draw a shape on the PFSA map associated with the PNF or can submit its own shapefile with details of its service area within the PFSA.

The PNR also requires the respondent to provide details on its service levels and number of households served; respondents can also submit speed test results for the disputed area (though those are optional).

PNRs will not be public; rather, they will be used by RUS to guide the next steps in the process.

Step three: RUS validates PNRs

RUS will validate PNRs by working directly with respondents (i.e., the ISPs that challenged PFSAs in ReConnect applications). According to RUS, PNR respondents will be contacted during this step to:

  • Provide additional information, including test results validating the details submitted in the PNR
  • Conduct an on-site field validation with RUS staff
  • Conduct on-site testing with RUS staff

RUS states that it “will notify respondents if their challenge was successful or not and allow for [a] response.”[4]

Step four: RUS conducts Service Area Validations (SAV) to confirm or deny PNRs

As a final step, RUS will conduct a Service Area Validation (SAV) of all PFSAs that were subject to a PNR. (If no PNR is submitted, then an application’s PFSA will be assumed to be eligible if it meets RUS’s other requirements.)

To validate the service area, RUS states that it will:

  • “Check for 100/20 Mbps service in the PFSA
  • Utilize desktop research to inform determinations on service availability
  • Validate other information submitted in the application”[5]

CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies team is ready to help you with the ReConnect challenge process. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.


[1] “Service Area Eligibility Requirements,” USDA RUS, https://www.usda.gov/reconnect/service-area-eligibility-requirements.

[2] “Public Notice Filings,” USDA RUS, https://www.rus-services.rd.usda.gov/s/. To receive alerts when PNFs are published, sign up here: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDARD/subscriber/new?qsp=USDA_RD-PNFs.

[3] “Notify (PNF/PNR) Process: USDA RUS ReConnect Program,” Notify (PNF/PNR) Process (usda.gov).

[4] “Notify (PNF/PNR) Process: USDA RUS ReConnect Program,” Notify (PNF/PNR) Process (usda.gov).

[5] “Notify (PNF/PNR) Process: USDA RUS ReConnect Program,” Notify (PNF/PNR) Process (usda.gov).

Published: Thursday, March 10, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy

DEC

21

Mason County and the City of Maysville, KY, Issue Broadband RFP

Mason County and the City of Maysville, KY (the City/County) seek a partner to review the current status of broadband availability in the community; plan for the construction of an expanded network to address underserved, unserved, and unreliably served areas; and construct and operate the broadband infrastructure.

The City/County seek to empower residents and local businesses to be network economy producers and believe this project will enable economic diversification and create new job opportunities. The City/County intend to support this vision with a fiscally sustainable, scalable, and long-term solution. Responses to this RFP will ideally consider community needs not just of today, but for 10 to 15 years in the future.

 Responses are due Monday, January 17, 2022, at 2:00 PM local time.

The full RFP is available here.

Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy

NOV

03

ReConnect Round 3 scoring rules are the key to planning a competitive application: What you need to know

Heather Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies

If you’ve glanced at the scoring metrics for USDA’s ReConnect Round 3, a few big changes probably jumped out at you. Most notably, the eligibility requirements related to available speeds have changed in a very forward-thinking and game-changing way (all hail 100/20!). Areas that receive inadequate 25/3 Mbps service are now eligible.

But the program balances this expanded eligibility criteria against rurality and lack of service. What does this scoring approach mean for your ReConnect grant strategy? To maximize your points, you need to include areas that:

  • Are rural: Maximum points are awarded for Proposed Funded Service Areas (PFSA) with population densities of six or less and PFSAs located 100 miles from a city or town with 50,000 people
  • Do not currently receive 25/3 Mbps services: Points are awarded based on the number of households without 25/3 that will be served

Also, don’t look to ReConnect as a solution for your middle-mile woes. This program is designed to deliver last-mile service. While middle-mile can be included, it’s only allowable as a means to a “fiber-to-the-premises” end. If you are looking to leverage the ReConnect program for middle-mile, your proposal must include last-mile services.

These are just one of the strategic approaches you should consider in light of the new ReConnect rules. Let’s dive into the rules to uncover additional strategies.

Base scores are calculated automatically, thanks to “AI”

To maximize your score, you should first recognize there are two sets of ReConnect scoring criteria: those you can influence with narrative writing, and those that are set in stone because they are calculated automatically. The application portal USDA commissioned for the ReConnect program was designed with a certain amount of “AI” to help calculate your base scores. (More on that later.)

Generally, here is how the scoring process for the ReConnect program will work for Round 3:

  1. Your application will be grouped with all the applications in your category (grant or grant/loan or tribal/socially vulnerable grant).
  2. Your application will then be reviewed for financial feasibility and sustainability as a matter of eligibility.
  3. Your ‘AI’ score will be confirmed.
  4. The remainder of your score will be calculated and will include:
    1. A merit review of the required materials submitted with your narrative to ensure they satisfy the evaluation criteria. The Final Rules include a healthy list beginning at section § 1740.60 on page 13 (page 11,615 of the printed document) that every potential applicant should take the time to review.
    1. A review of the scoring sheet on which you have the opportunity to discuss the scoring criteria as they pertain to your proposed project. Use the opportunity to address each scoring element directly and explain how your project satisfies the requirements.
    1. A merit review of the technical feasibility of your project.
    1. A merit review of the financial feasibility of your project (beyond the basic eligibility review).
    1. A possible site visit and creation of a Management Analysis Profile (MAP).

Awards will be made based on score and availability of funding.

So what goes into the ‘AI’ score?

Scores for certain evaluation categories are automatically calculated. For example, you will be required to upload mapping information that will, among other things, validate the eligibility of your PFSA—and will calculate your score for 75 of the possible 175 points.

A trip to the Evaluation Criteria webpage will give you an ordered list of criteria by point value, with the most point-worthy items listed first. For the purpose of understanding where you need to spend the most energy, let’s start with the ‘AI’ items (with links to the mapping tool):

  • Rurality of PFSA (25 points) – for serving the least dense rural area as measured by the population of a square mile OR if the PFSA is at least 100 miles from a city or town with a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants. Multiple service areas will have a combined density calculation as if they were a single area – not the average of individual area densities.
  • Economic Need of the Community (20 points) – this is based on the county poverty percentage of the PFSA. They have provided the mapping from the US Census Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program.
  • Tribal Lands (15 points) – the requirement is not only to be a tribal government, but to propose services to an area that includes 50 percent tribal lands.
  • Socially Vulnerable Communities (15 points) – if you include a PFSA where at least 75 percent of the PFSA is proposing to serve Socially Vulnerable communities (defined as those areas with an SVI score of 0.75 or higher (see the map at the link), you’ll get up to 15 additional points.

How is the rest of your score determined?

The rest of the scoring is based on your ability to demonstrate the following throughout the application narrative and other required materials:

  • Level of Existing Service (25 points) – points awarded based on the number of households in the PFSA lacking 25/3 service. Expect this to be a straight calculation of total possible points multiplied by percent of PFSA lacking 25/3 Mbps.
  • Affordability (20 points) – points awarded based on how affordable the resulting services will be for the target markets as well as the completeness of information regarding the offerings. Low cost options and a willingness to commit to participating in the FCC’s Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit programs will be looked at favorably.
  • Labor Standards (20 points) – While it’s not a requirement, it will get you points if you can commit to strong labor standards and give details about:
    • How the project will incorporate strong labor standards
    • If workers will be paid wages at or above the prevailing rate
    • If there will be labor agreement
    • What safety training, professional certifications, in-house training and licensing will be required of workers (contractors AND subcontractors)
    • If locally based workers will be used
    • If work will be done by employees or contractors/subcontractors and if there are policies in place to make sure contractors and subcontractors are qualified
    • If there have been any safety violations by you or your contractors/subcontractors in the last five years
  • Local, governments, non-profits, and cooperatives (15 points) This is a bump for the municipal/non-profit/coop groups in points.
  • Net neutrality (10 points) Committing to net neutrality gets you some extra points.
  • Wholesale broadband service (10 points) Offer wholesale broadband service at reasonable rates/terms and you will get 10 points. You will have to provide evidence that you are actively marketing those services.

How much funding is available, and when are applications due?

As we noted in our post earlier this week: The program will make available $350 million for grants (25 percent match required); $250 million for 50/50 grant-loans; $200 million for loans; and $350 million for new 100 percent grants (no match required) for Tribal and socially vulnerable communities.

The funding application window/portal will open on November 24, 2021 and will close on February 22, 2022.

CTC’s grant writing and broadband strategies team are ready to assist with your grant writing and strategy needs. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

Published: Wednesday, November 3, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy