Author Archives: CTC Technology & Energy



Weighing Your Options: An Analysis of Recent Federal Broadband Funding

By Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, CGEIT, V.P. for Broadband Strategy

If you are like many of our friends right now, you may be unsure about which federal funds to target for broadband expansion. Some of you may consider going after the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF), authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which is currently an object of hot debate and often competing priorities. Others may be interested in the Treasury Department’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CCPF), because—unlike FRF—it is solely focused on broadband projects. You may even think about bypassing these funds altogether in favor of future stimulus funding that may include broadband alongside other areas of infrastructure policy.

With all these considerations and the gravity of your decision, it is important to weigh your options. We hope that our expert advice can help you decide which funding strategy is best for you.

Your Federal Funding Landscape Explained

Coronavirus State and Local Federal Recovery Funds (FRF): Department of the Treasury

  • FRF is likely the most unrestricted opportunity you will have when it comes to broadband infrastructure investments. If your community is currently shackled when considering needed broadband investments because it is “mostly” served—even though the broadband is unreliable, below functional speeds, or unaffordable—FRF may be your best opportunity for addressing gaps in coverage.
  • So far, FRF is the only opportunity to potentially offset bad RDOF outcomes for most projects. Many states and counties have been marred by FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction (RDOF) outcomes, with SpaceX and fixed wireless providers winning sizable areas using specious speed claims and unaffordable prices. Other funding opportunities will likely be hampered by industry and congressional pressures to avoid “duplication” and “overbuilding” that would make these areas ineligible for funding, but FRF interim rules specifically define “served” as only including reliable wireline 25/3 Mbps services. (Tribal entities may also apply for NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to address bad RDOF outcomes.) 

Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CCPF): Department of the Treasury

  • The CCPF may be a good alternative, but it depends on how your state government decides to administer the funds. Treasury has provided an initial statement framing this fund in anticipation of rules, but they have indicated that it is a companion piece to FRF and may adopt some similar guardrails on eligibility and solution requirements. However, after our initial review, we expect somewhat more restricted rules than FRF, but much of that depends on how your state decides to administer the projects. For example, states may use their own policy priorities—on top of Treasury’s guidelines and requirements—in deciding whether to build infrastructure itself, funnel funds directly to a state broadband grant program, or directly solicit project proposals from ISPs and local communities.

Upcoming infrastructure and stimulus funding

  • Upcoming infrastructure and stimulus funding bills targeting broadband expansion are far from a sure thing. Even if broadband expansion is included in upcoming bills, congressional negotiations and industry pressure may result in restrictions so onerous that is practically precludes most desired initiatives.

Other funding streams

  • The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) released interim final rules, and it may have restrictions that severely limit what projects are deemed eligible. Treasury adopted FCC’s minimal speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream as its qualifying threshold of what constitutes “unserved” areas. Assuming this reflects an administration policy priority, we expected NTIA to adopt the 25/3 Mbps benchmark for funding eligibility. This low benchmark limits the pool of areas eligible for NTIA grant funding. The enabling legislation also clearly requires proposed projects not to duplicate federally funded areas, so it may exclude all RDOF-funded areas. In fact, in a recent webinar, NTIA suggested RDOF-funded areas should be excluded, but they also recognized that some would be going through a long process of certification and therefore could be eligible for federal funding – but the timeline just doesn’t work out to clarify this in time for submitting the grant application. And NITA has not clearly indicated whether SpaceX satellite areas would be considered ineligible. In other words, NTIA grant funds could be a lot more restrictive than FRF or CPF funds.

While these limitations restrict possible proposed service areas, we must also highlight that these funds can be applied toward unserved areas bridging or right outside RDOF-awarded areas and incorporate middle-mile and backhaul fiber necessary to reach those unserved areas.

  • United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect will have strings attached.  While we do not anticipate ReConnect grant funding to open until early 2022, USDA has more strings attached in enabling legislation than other grant programs. USDA does have some discretion, but it only funds infrastructure in unserved areas. While we hope USDA will readjust its eligibility requirements from 10/1 to 25/3 Mbps, there are no guarantees. We still expect it to have stringent eligibility requirements and require large matching shares for its grant program.
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA) has more flexibility and generous funding but remains a heavy lift. EDA has lately seen more projects with a strong broadband component. It does not have any rules regarding what broadband speeds are eligible, but it requires documentation on economic impact and has strongly preferred projects that extend to businesses rather than residential buildings, even with a remote work justification. EDA requires the applicant—a public or nonprofit entity—to own the infrastructure. Since many of our government clients do not want to manage, let alone operate broadband infrastructure, and EDA will not allow handing over assets to a private partner, a workable business model requires some creative thinking. EDA also generally focuses on direct impact to business locations and are less interested in residential ones. That translates to a heavily involved process for finding the right model regarding ownership, control, management, and operations; identifying beneficiary businesses; and soliciting letters of support. But look out for the EDA to release NOFOs regarding the $3 billion in ARPA funds in short order. We anticipate some funds to be directly set aside for broadband projects. 
  • The recommended, but not required, 10 percent match for NTIA BIP is a welcome low bar and does not require cash commitments from strained local government budgets. NTIA has indicated it will consider grant proposals favorably if they include a 10 percent or higher match from the partnership, but it does not need to be in cash. Thankfully, the 10 percent threshold is fairly low and in-line with what an ISP partner can contribute, and because in-kind matching is allowed, planning efforts and staff support hours qualify.


In light of this analysis, we recommend that you discuss setting aside funds from your local allocation of FRF—however modest it may be—with your government decision-makers to target underserved areas that would otherwise prove difficult to fund with federal or state grant funding. Just keep in mind that such projects should fulfill the FRF’s proposed requirements of 100/100 Mbps and only allow cable with 100/20 Mbps if the project can show there are significant cost or physical barriers to deploying a symmetric solution, and it can indicate a roadmap to symmetric speeds.

NTIA funds could be targeted toward unserved areas bridging or right outside RDOF-awarded areas and incorporate middle-mile and backhaul fiber tying the areas together and providing additional resiliency and capacity – including in the form of multi-year leased IRU fiber, which NTIA has indicated are allowable costs. State or local FRF funds can then be set aside as backstop if an NTIA grant Is not awarded.

FRF funds—local and state (if there aren’t additional restrictions added by a state grant program)—are more flexible. As long as unserved areas are specifically targeted, there are no restrictions from picking up areas that may have prior service. This is important for areas that do not qualify for traditional grant programs because they are technically served with 25/3, but actual performance is poor, or have costly subscriptions pricing creating adoption barriers. It can also be a solution for areas where it is difficult to demonstrate that areas are in fact unserved, e.g., due to spotty fixed wireless connectivity.

EDA grants should be considered for specific economically depressed areas that may be technically served but lack the broadband speed options necessary to sustain economic growth; retain and attract businesses; and allow critical remote work, remote learning, and telehealth options; and stem population flight.

CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies team continues to analyze the latest developments in infrastructure funding. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

Published: Friday, June 18, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Putting State Broadband Funds to Work: Best Practices In State Rural Broadband Grant Programs

Joanne Hovis, President
Ryland Sherman, Senior Research Associate
Jacob Levin, Senior Analyst

After a year of pandemic and crisis, the scale of our national digital divide is at last recognized by policymakers at all levels, with federal, state, and local governments making unprecedented commitments to narrow the divide.

While most of the funds to address these challenges flow from the federal government, it is at the state, county, and local levels where remarkable innovation has developed.

Particularly critical in this moment are state-level efforts to distribute federal funds and incubate local initiatives.

Those states that have long-established programs for addressing rural broadband gaps offer a valuable history of lessons learned, both of what works and what doesn’t. Through more than a decade of significant efforts and experimentation in broadband funding strategies, new innovations and trends have emerged that offer insights for other states that are developing new rural broadband funding programs or retooling existing programs.

Given this rich set of data and experience, this paper describes the commonalities among many of the leading state rural broadband funding programs and recommends best practices. In subsequent case studies to be published online later this year, we will illustrate these programs and practices in more depth.

This post was excerpted from “Putting State Broadband Funds to Work: Best Practices In State Rural Broadband Grant Programs,” a paper published on June 16, 2021 by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. You can download it at their website.

Published: Thursday, June 17, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



First Take on NTIA’s Newest Broadband Grant Program

Heather D. Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies
Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, CGEIT, V.P. for Broadband Strategy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) on May 19, 2021, for the Broadband Infrastructure Program—what the Consolidated Appropriations Act referred to as the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program. The funding window for submission of grant applications is now open and will close on August 17, 2021.

This program represents a remarkable opportunity for communities and their private partners. Based on our first take on the NOFO, NTIA will fund projects that represent win-win, shared-risk scenarios as between public and private entities: projects in which public entities fund, build, and maintain communications infrastructure assets and their private partners operate those networks and provide services to the public.

This is a model we’ve long analyzed, developed, and championed because of the opportunity for communities to share risk and effort with private partners.

Here are key points you should understand about the program in general:

  1. This program is intended to support partnerships between a state or local jurisdiction of a state and a service provider capable of providing fixed broadband service. To qualify as an eligible partner for this program, an entity must deliver “broadband service” as defined by the statute.
  2. The program clearly prioritizes rural projects, but it does not rule out a project in urban areas if the project meets all of the other requirements. All will depend on your application’s score and the number of other applications NTIA receives.
  3. The program has a $5 million floor and a $30 million ceiling. If you plan to ask for funds above this range, be sure to have a strong justification. If you are interested in less than $5 million, your application should address the reasons for needing less.
  4. The program has only $288 million in total funding—for the entire country. Unfortunately, this means that competition will be stiff and only a fraction of worthy projects will be funded. For that reason, we recommend communities develop grant applications that are usable not only for this NOFO, but also to apply for funds under other state and federal programs.

While you don’t have long to get your application in, you need to carefully consider your project strategy as you develop your application materials. We plan to release a more detailed analysis of NTIA’s scoring and prioritization process in the coming days; here are our key takeaways so far:

  • No match is required, but you might consider a 10 percent match to get more points. Willingness to provide a match—in cash or in-kind—will garner you extra points in NTIA’s scoring. If you do offer the 10 percent match, it’s binding. You can structure your partnership with a provider to include their costs as an in-kind match if the partner is passing through the costs. As a caveat for in-kind match: Be sure you understand the requirements for the Indirect Cost Rate. If you have a way to provide cash and want to be competitive in a market where it might be difficult to find partners or where the supply chain for materials may be challenged, matching funds will give the project capital with which to purchase and deploy assets.
  • You can propose a middle-mile project or purchase an indefeasible right of use (IRU). Your proposal will have to prioritize interconnections with last-mile networks, and you will need to describe in detail how a middle-mile network will benefit the last-mile provider and how an IRU will enable your network design. Remember the description of your project’s level of impact will be essential to your total score.
  • Municipal, cooperative, or non-profit providers are encouraged to apply. The NOFO defines an eligible partnership as a “partnership between: (A) a State, or one or more political subdivisions of a State; and (B) a provider of fixed broadband service,” and the NTIA notes in the opening paragraphs of its program description that it “encourages municipalities, non-profits, or cooperatives that own and/or operate broadband networks to participate in this program as part of a covered partnership.” Although we don’t yet know the details of what kind of partner a municipal or cooperative ISP would need, it’s clear that such applicants are well-positioned for this opportunity. We’ll share more detail on this topic as we learn more from NTIA.
  • The lead applicant is not the private partner. The state or local division of government serves as the lead and will bear ultimate responsibility for the application, meaning that if the private partner fails to perform, the applicant is still responsible. In light of that, the selection of a partner or partners with a strong financial track record and established operations will be seen as favorable by the reviewers—and will be critical for public entities, as they will ultimately be responsible for all grant obligations.
  • Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and other “enforceable buildout commitments” matter. While the mention is fleeting under the definition of unserved, the eligibility of unserved areas that have a funding commitment from another program such as RDOF, the Connect America Fund (CAF II), or ReConnect is clear: If a federal program is paying for a buildout—including planned buildouts that haven’t yet put a shovel in the ground—that area is not eligible. To be clear: RDOF-awarded areas are not eligible—so plan accordingly.
  • Your availability maps are likely just as good as, or even better than, the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM). If you’ve recently completed a needs assessment or survey of broadband service availability in your area, you are well-prepared for submission; speed test data compiled within the past two years will also be helpful to your application narrative. Based on our initial read of the NOFO, applicants who aren’t located in states that are participating in NBAM will not have access to NBAM prior to submitting applications. If you are in one of the 36 states participating in NBAM (updated as of May 17, 2021), you should contact your state’s NBAM administrator.[1]
  • You should prioritize connecting as many unserved addresses as possible. NTIA will first conduct an initial screening of applications to confirm eligibility and completeness; it will then prioritize projects based on the defined priority areas, and review applications in order of priority area based on point scores. As such, if your application meets a “qualified” point status, and if it is part of the first priority group (see below), it will be reviewed against other qualified first-priority applications. (We don’t yet know how NTIA will handle applications that meet more than one of the stated priorities.) If there is money left over after the review of the first priority group, NTIA will then move on to the second priority group and so on. NTIA’s priority areas are:
    • Greatest number of households in an eligible area
    • Rurality
    • “Cost-effective” while prioritizing by rurality
    • Speed of “not less than 100 megabits per second and an upload speed of not less than 20 megabits per second”
    • All other applications that meet the basic requirements of the NOFO

One bright note as you begin your application: NTIA’s application submittal process is less burdensome than some others in that you can prepare almost everything outside of the portal, allowing you to simply upload most of your application materials.

In our next post, we’ll dive into the details on how the NTIA will be scoring and prioritizing submissions and how to ensure your strategic approach to an application for the Broadband Infrastructure Program will maximize your points.

CTC’s grant and funding strategies team continues to analyze the latest funding developments. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

[1] See or email

Published: Thursday, May 20, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Greendale, IN Issues Broadband RFP

The City of Greendale, Indiana, has released an RFP to identify an entity to plan, construct, and operate middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. This infrastructure will be used to deliver broadband services to the City’s currently unserved or underserved areas.

City leaders regard broadband as foundational to the City’s vitality. The City’s critical priority is to successfully implement an affordable, reliable, fast broadband connection to homes and businesses beyond what is currently available, allowing for broadband-dependent work and distance learning. Ideally, the infrastructure would be fiber broadband.

Responses are due July 14th by 4:00 p.m. local time.

To read the full RFP and attachments, click here.

Published: by CTC Technology & Energy



Initial Guidance and Analysis: Treasury Announces Preliminary Guidance for Broadband Projects Funded by the $350B Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

Heather D. Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies
Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, V.P. for Broadband Strategy

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has released interim final rules for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program.[1] Established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), this program will provide $350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments, and includes broadband spending as an eligible use.

These funds are separate from the Treasury-managed $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, which is primarily for broadband projects. Treasury will distribute those allocations directly to states, counties, metropolitan cities and other eligible local governments, while smaller non-entitlement local governments will receive funds through their state government.

Treasury has allocated a specific amount of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program funding for each eligible entity. Table 1 provides an overview of the allocations, while information about specific governments’ individual allocations is available on the Treasury’s website.

Table 1: Allocation of Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds by the U.S. Department of the Treasury[2]
TypeAmount (billions)
States & District of Columbia$195.3
Metropolitan Cities$45.6
Tribal Governments$20.0
Non-Entitlement Units of Local Government$19.5

The program will fund broadband deployments and digital equity strategies, and has been designed to enable states and localities “to identify the specific locations within their communities to be served and to otherwise design the project” to fit their needs.[3] Treasury provided interim rules establishing certain minimum requirements on how recipients can use funds for broadband deployments,[4] and it also provides suggestive guidance about the range of digital equity projects that can use program funds. Key guidance includes the following:

  • Infrastructure projects must support 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds unless geographical, topographical or fiscal constraints make it impractical. For the purposes of the Fiscal Recovery Funds, Treasury’s approach to broadband infrastructure matches some of the most forward-thinking states’ broadband grant programs. In its interim rules, Treasury expects the funds to be used on broadband deployments that are capable of at least 100/100 Mbps speeds, to address Americans’ modern communications needs. The program also strongly suggests that projects focus on fiber deployments, because fiber has the capability of affordably meeting the steady annual increase in broadband capacity demands faced by our nation’s networks.

    The interim rules also outline a scenario in which symmetrical 100 Mbps service may be considered “impractical due to geographical, topographical, or financial constraints,”[5] and in that case, require projects to provide 100/20 Mbps service with the ability to scale to 100 Mbps symmetrical. This appears to be a concession to incumbent cable providers who can cost-effectively extend to unserved locations from their current network footprint and are on a roadmap to symmetric speeds. Most cable companies have implemented DOCSIS 3.1—and while they currently limit upstream to 35 to 50 Mbps, field upgrades would allow them to deliver gigabit speeds upstream and would also put them on a long-term roadmap to DOCSIS 4.0’s 10/6 Gbps capability.
  • Projects must address areas that lack 25/3 Mbps. The interim final rules state that projects will be expected to address unserved and underserved areas, defined as those that do not yet have access to speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. The manner in which this goal is phrased suggests wide latitude in designing projects – as long as they also address unserved locations.
  • Projects are encouraged to prioritize affordability as well as local broadband solutions. After noting that the U.S. has some of the most expensive broadband services in the world,[6] the program’s interim rules place special emphasis on ensuring that the resulting broadband service provided over the funded network is affordable. The “Treasury also encourages recipients to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”[7]
  • Projects are encouraged to prioritize last-mile connectivity. While Treasury underscores this, states and localities are not precluded from setting their own priorities, and other initiatives that could improve affordability by investing in capacity bottlenecks such as middle-mile or data center builds could be funded.
  • Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) results likely won’t affect funding eligibility. The interim rules encourage recipients to avoid funding projects that will serve a location with an existing agreement “to build reliable wireline service with minimum speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload by December 31, 2024.”[8] In other words, fixed wireless and satellite commitments (such as SpaceX) funded with federal funds will not be considered ineligible. And because 2024 represents the third year of RDOF, at which point no RDOF winner will yet be obligated to serve a specific area, RDOF-funded wireline areas are also not considered. Unless a winner made written commitments separately (for example, through a state grant application) for completing a build before this date, planners can largely disregard RDOF when evaluating projects for funding under this specific allocation.
  • Infrastructure projects are expected to meet strong labor standards. This includes project labor agreements, community benefit agreements, and wages at or above the prevailing rate with local hire provisions. Treasury notes that it will release additional guidance related to workforce reporting requirements at a later date, but expect fair (high) wage provisions, benefits, and local sourcing as key components.
  • Projects can address a wide array of broadband-related concerns. In addition to infrastructure, these State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars can also be used for an array of other initiatives that respond to the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. While Treasury leaves the door open for a wide variety of fundable initiatives, it offers the general guidance that recipients should “identify a need or negative impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency and, second, identify how the [proposed] program, service, or other intervention addresses the identified need or impact.”[9]

While we wait for the formal rules to be issued, CTC’s grant and funding strategies team and broadband strategies team are here to help.

[1] “Fact Sheet: The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Will Deliver $350 Billion for State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal Governments to Respond to the COVID-19 Emergency and Bring Back Jobs,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 10, 2021,  

[2] “Funding amounts,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, (accessed May 11, 2021).

[3] “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, Interim Final Rule,” Department of the Treasury, 31 CFR Part 35,  RIN 1505-AC77, released May 10, 2021, page 71, Interim Final Rules, “Interim Final Rules.”

[4] “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Frequently Asked Questions,” pages 11-12, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[5] Interim Final Rules, page 75, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[6] “Even in areas where broadband infrastructure exists, broadband access may be out of reach for millions of Americans because it is unaffordable, as the United States has some of the highest broadband prices in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).” Interim Final Rules, page 70, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[7] Interim Final Rules, pages 76-77, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[8] Interim Final Rules, page 76, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[9] Interim Final Rules, page 10, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Published: Wednesday, May 12, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Initial Guidance and Analysis: Treasury Issues First Details on $10B Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund

Heather D. Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies
Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, V.P. for Broadband Strategy

The Treasury Department has released initial information regarding pending rules and regulations for the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects grant fund…and it’s clear now is the time to get organized if you have rural broadband projects you’re interested in moving forward.

What Details Did Treasury Reveal?

ARPA defined this program without using the word “broadband”—noting that funds were to be used for “capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency.” The brief statement posted by the Treasury makes clears that the program “allows for investment in high-quality broadband.”

The statement further notes that proposed projects “must be critical in nature, providing connectivity for those who lack it.” We still don’t know how Treasury will define “unserved” in its final rules, but there are some hints at least.

The statement also makes it clear that Treasury sees the Capital Projects Fund as complementary to the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds when it comes to broadband. The interim rules for the Recovery Funds show that Treasury intends to favor fiber optic investments, and to target symmetrical 100 Mbps service where feasible, which could indicate one aspect of what Treasury considers “high quality.”

How Should You Plan for Capital Project Fund Proposals?

ARPA and Treasury’s current guidance note that states are to submit proposals on how the Capital Project Fund allocations should be used. It’s important to understand that fixed funding amounts are allocated to states and that the states will now be required to submit proposed uses of those funds to Treasury for approval. Until we have more defined rules, Treasury’s guidelines indicate that states will have wide discretion for determining how to identify worthy projects.

That means, for example, that states with their own existing broadband grant funding programs could propose to simply inject all funding from the Capital Projects Fund into their current programs with alignment to overall program guidelines on timing and purpose of expenditure. Many of those state programs, however, have overly restrictive conditions designed to prioritize areas in economic distress where available internet access speeds are below 10/1. Such conditions may not meet Treasury’s program rules.

Treasury has indicated it intends to make NTIA’s National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) available to states as a planning and implementation tool in the absence of an updated and accurate FCC broadband map.

Recommendation: If you have a likely project proposal, reach out to your state broadband office to see how they are thinking about a process for distributing the Capital Projects Fund allocations. If your project would not qualify under current state grant rules, consider advocating to your state broadband office to expand eligibility to include projects like yours.

While infrastructure is the focus, ancillary projects that make infrastructure projects more efficient will be eligible. To be clear, we’re talking about projects like broadband mapping. The FCC maps are roundly agreed to be seriously lacking—not even the USDA will rely on the Form 477 data to confirm availability of service. Additionally, other supplemental support programs that meet the stated goals may also be eligible.

Recommendation: Keep your eyes peeled for the anticipated opening of the NBAM to the public to see if and where it expands unserved areas. Also watch out for NTIA and/or Treasury’s expected rules and processes for challenging that map.

Overbuilding is not a program goal. It is not clear what the final Capital Projects Fund rules will be, but Treasury’s statement emphasizes the need to demonstrate bringing critical connectivity to those who do not currently have it. The companion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds also disincentivize overbuilds.

In other words, the Capital Projects Fund does not seem – according to the brief statement released – to be designed to create more affordable service options by increasing competition (such as by building new infrastructure in an area that already has high-speed wireline service). You likely are also out of luck if you are trying to improve the broadband infrastructure in your city in collaboration with an incumbent cable provider. You may have better luck there with an application to the less restricted Local Fiscal Recovery Fund program or your state broadband expansion grant program, if you live in a state that has such a program – and especially if your state decides to direct some of its State Fiscal Recovery Fund allocations to it.

Recommendation: Focus on projects that would bring broadband infrastructure to places where none currently exists.

But eligible projects are not confined to unserved areas alone. The goal is to build critical infrastructure to provide connectivity to those who do not have it. That could mean ensuring solid backbones along rural routes that have no infrastructure, and connecting to regional hubs. Such projects would alleviate current bottlenecks in capacity, reduce costs for backhaul and data center connectivity, and lower the cost of entry to remote clusters of unserved premises.

Building backbones would also benefit existing users who can receive broadband speeds but at high prices and with unreliable connections due to under-investment in existing infrastructure.

Recommendation: Consider incorporating middle-mile runs along routes without existing carrier fiber in your project concept. We await more rules on this approach.

We don’t know yet how the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) will matter to this program… but you can bet it will be an important conversation. The interim final rules for the companion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds leave some wiggle room by defining served as wireline broadband with at least 25/3 Mbps. That could potentially allow builds at least in RDOF areas won by fixed wireless providers and SpaceX.

Recommendation: As we note in our other grant updates, any planning at this time should have a plan A/plan B approach. And we firmly believe that any time spent thinking about and planning potential project proposals is never wasted: you can always repurpose content as needed for applications to future grant opportunities and to guide other funding approaches.

Expect an agnostic approach to business models and plans. The goal here is for this fund to be a part of the overall solution. The intent is to encourage creative approaches to solve the rural broadband problem. There won’t be a preference for private partnerships over public sector proposals.

Recommendation: With generous funding potentially available, you should take a long view of solving broadband gaps and focus on gigabit wireline technologies that will last decades rather than years.

Important questions remain. What will be considered unserved and underserved? Will the NBAM differ enough from the FCC maps to make a difference? And if so, will there be a challenge process that places the burden of proof on incumbents, or will an incumbent-favored claims process render the new map useless? Will projects that install wireline/fiber be favored for their ‘future proof-ness’? Will these funds be retroactive for certain types of projects in order to help pay for important pandemic-response infrastructure efforts already underway or started within the past year? And will all RDOF- awarded areas be excluded from consideration, or will there be allowances made for areas awarded to satellite bidders, like in past funding opportunities?

Recommendation: While we wait for the formal rules to be issued, CTC’s grant and funding strategies team and broadband strategies team are here to help.

Published: by CTC Technology & Energy



The Internet Society Releases a Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities

CTC is proud to have supported the Internet Society—a global nonprofit that advocates for a strong internet and global internet growth—in its development of a Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities in the United States.

The impetus for this funding guide grew out of recommendations developed at the Internet Society’s 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit. Participants asked the Internet Society to create a centralized database of funding opportunities, eligibility, and information to support the growth of indigenous-led broadband deployment projects.

This work comes at a point in time when more attention and dollars are being put toward broadband infrastructure than ever before. The guide is one of many resources that the Internet Society provides to empower internet initiatives spearheaded “by the community, for the community.” Find the full guide on the Internet Society’s website here.

Published: Friday, May 7, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Developing a Grant Strategy in an Evolving Funding Landscape

By Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, CGEIT, VP for Broadband Strategy

Are you trying to get more secure footing in a shifting broadband landscape? You’re not alone. Between existing and potential funding programs, it’s very challenging to plan in the current moment.

For example, as we discussed in a previous paper, the results of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction and the pending rules for a range of new federal broadband funding programs have created some uncertainty about whether RDOF-awarded areas will be eligible for other streams of federal broadband funding.

This uncertainty leaves many communities’ grant planning efforts in flux at a time when Congress has allocated historic amounts of new funding for broadband infrastructure. Based on what we know now, we offer the following preliminary guidance to communities about preparing for new federal funding opportunities.

The moving pieces

Two unknowns will determine how RDOF awards will affect communities’ eligibility for other federal funding programs:

  • Whether the FCC will ultimately certify RDOF awardees. While the FCC technically has awarded geographic areas to auction bidders, it is still going through the process of reviewing bidders’ detailed technical and financial information. The possibility remains that the FCC could retract awards if it is not confident that a bidder will meet its commitments. In particular, fixed wireless and satellite providers’ (e.g., SpaceX’s Starlink) network designs are likely to face scrutiny.
  • What the new funding programs’ rules will look like. Several new broadband funding streams have been created in the past few months, including multiple programs enacted by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and robust funding allocations included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

These programs are so new that their rules are still being developed by the agencies that will administer them—so we do not yet know how they will consider areas that have already received federal funds (such as RDOF awards). Some existing broadband funding programs have chosen to disregard RDOF in their latest funding rounds. For example, the Appalachian Regional Commission is not considering RDOF awards at all in the current application cycle for its Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program.

Funding streams to consider

The legislation that enabled NTIA’s new broadband funding programs explicitly stated that NTIA should coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the same project area is not funded by more than one agency. While there is precedent for satellite-awarded RDOF areas to be exempt from such a rule, most areas that were awarded to RDOF winners likely will be excluded from receiving funds from NTIA’s new programs.

The various broadband-relevant allocations of ARPA stimulus funding could be more attractive opportunities. The legislation itself places few restrictions on the use of the funds, simply mentioning broadband infrastructure as an eligible expense.

The $220 billion State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the $130 billion Local Fiscal Recovery Fund leave spending guidelines entirely up to state and local authorities, respectively. For the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund, guidance from the Department of the Treasury is anticipated in the near future, and will provide further information regarding restrictions and parameters.

States and localities can certainly develop their own criteria for evaluating projects and distributing ARPA funding, though, and broadband projects will have to compete against other capital infrastructure proposals and priorities. Additionally, it is highly likely that the telecom industry will lobby to prevent funding of broadband projects that would compete in their existing service areas.

Despite these hurdles, the ARPA funding presents a chance to build fiber optic infrastructure that will last for decades in areas where RDOF commitments have a high risk of not materializing, or where existing coverage is spotty or barely meets broadband speeds. In other words, areas that face challenges in qualifying for eligibility within traditional broadband funding frameworks could be viable candidates for ARPA funding.

ARPA funding could also resolve a blind spot in FCC auctions and traditional grant frameworks such as ReConnect: These types of programs typically exclude backhaul and middle-mile infrastructure that could lower barriers of entry for ISPs—which in turn could facilitate not only the extension of service to unserved areas, but also competition in already-served areas. ARPA funding could also potentially be used to pay for broadband strategic planning, including granular mapping and the development of programmatic solutions to facilitate broadband adoption.

Finally, we can consider the second round of RDOF. The FCC may fix and retain the reverse auction format, particularly if there are sufficient non-awarded areas after the first round—areas that either were ultimately rejected in the first round of RDOF or those that the FCC newly deems eligible. The auction format may yet be salvageable—if designed and executed correctly, with full and robust enforcement of bidder obligations. (That said, we hope that reverse auctions will be supplemented by more robust merit-based grantmaking at both federal and state levels, to address the inherent limitations of the reverse auction mechanism.)

The second round of RDOF, in whatever form it may take, will have a longer timeline than other federal funding sources since it will rely on the implementation of the FCC’s new address fabric and mapping data.

Even prior to the auction itself, former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was criticized for rushing to design and execute the process, and for relying on poor and misleading mapping data to determine eligible areas. Former Chairman Pai argued that it was preferable to work quickly to solve the problem for most areas in need, and tackle the remaining areas later when better mapping data became available. This decision to conduct the auction before more accurate maps were ready has created a patchwork of isolated unserved areas, which are no longer fit for an auction format because only nearby incumbents would have a viable business case to serve them.

What should communities do?

In light of these moving pieces—and the potential funding streams—we recommend communities take the following steps to develop a funding strategy and position themselves competitively for federal dollars:

An RFP or RFI can also be an excellent vehicle for addressing community priorities. For example, it could address affordability concerns by capturing ISPs’ proposed fees and willingness to participate in subsidy programs. These elements could be considered as a scoring element for potential partners.

  • Explore potential partnerships. If you already know the areas of your community that are served and unserved by broadband, reach out to potential partners directly or write a request for proposals (RFP) or a request for information (RFI) to get a better understanding of potential partnerships. It can be a good strategy to target larger geographic areas at the outset and refine the service area later to reflect factors such as partner priorities, community need, and funding eligibility.

    Additionally, any critical anchor institutions such as public housing, community centers, or first responder units that lack adequate connectivity can be included as priorities in the RFP or RFI. Lastly, the RFP/RFI document or the contract agreement with a partner can include performance and auditing requirements as a partnership condition.

    Additionally, any critical anchor institutions such as public housing, community centers, or first responder units that lack adequate connectivity can be included as priorities in the RFP or RFI. Lastly, the RFP/RFI document or the contract agreement with a partner can include performance and auditing requirements as a partnership condition.

    Throughout this process, do not limit yourself to working with incumbent service providers. If there are RDOF areas in or near your community, you can use the FCC auction results portal to see which ISPs bid in various auction rounds. Even if they did not win the auction, these providers may be willing to build in your community if sufficient support is available.
  • Develop a community mapping initiative. If a broadband mapping effort is not already underway in your community, it would be a valuable project to pursue. In some cases, especially if there is a potential partnership on the table, incumbent ISPs will share their actual network maps. The local school district may also have data about which neighborhoods have broadband gaps.

    Creating a robust mapping effort to identify served and unserved areas is not just critical for identifying areas eligible for federal funding, but also for having the capability to challenge provider claims when the new FCC mapping program—which will rely on providers’ data—comes online. The FCC’s draft rules for the process explicitly give local governments the ability to challenge providers’ service claims.
  • Watch for updates from the FCC. It is prudent to keep a close eye on FCC announcements of RDOF bidder certifications or denials, to understand whether any areas will open up for second-round bidding (or other funding) in your community.
  • Build support for a broadband project. Finally, make sure your executive stakeholders are in the loop and supportive of project priorities. At minimum, you may need their approval, and you may need a pool of matching funds available, too, depending on the funding program. It is never too early to start having internal conversations about how to gather community resources behind a potential broadband initiative.

CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies team continues to analyze the latest funding developments. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Broadband Funding Webinar: CTC’s Heather Mills Joins the Broadband Bunch Podcast to Discuss New Federal Funding Opportunities

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will distribute more than $2 billion in new broadband funding through three new programs created by the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act…and that’s just the start of the new funding opportunities coming our way. If your organization or institution will be eligible to apply for one or more of these programs, you shouldn’t wait for the rules to start thinking about the opportunity. While each of the upcoming programs will have different rules and requirements, your strategic approach to preparing an application will be vital.

This webinar will address how you can start preparing the broad outlines of your projects now – so you’re ready to submit a competitive application when the funding window’s open later this summer.

This webinar is a conversation between Heather Mills, CTC’s Vice President, Grant and Funding Strategies, and Heather Gold, CEO of HBG Strategies.

Register for the FREE webinar here.

Published: Monday, May 3, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy



Scott County, KY Issues Broadband RFP

Scott County, Kentucky, released an RFP to identify private sector entities interested in providing an analysis of the current availability of broadband services in the County and formulating a plan outlining the design, construction, and operation of a broadband services network to unserved and underserved areas in Scott County.

This RFP is meant to allow the County to continue the significant steps already undertaken by a previous RFI process to build an environment that is conducive to investment and broadband expansion, including a strategic effort to identify and analyze unserved and underserved areas and potential solutions. The County hopes to build on this foundation with a partner to fully meet its connectivity needs.

Responses are due July 1st by 2 p.m. local time.

To read the full RFP and attachments, click here.

Published: by CTC Technology & Energy