22 11, 2021

Dec. 7 Webinar: Benefiting from the Broadband Infrastructure Bonanza

2021-11-30T13:20:52-05:00November 22, 2021|Webinars|

Now is the time to prepare for this historic opportunity

The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $65 billion for broadband-related infrastructure over the next five years, including nearly $42.5 billion in state grants to be used for broadband buildout projects. The availability of this much money is already drawing the attention of non-traditional broadband providers, many of whom will be clamoring to get a slice of the broadband pie. Although the funds will not start flowing out until 2022, now is the time to educate yourself about what will be available, how it can be used, and what you can do now to prepare for a successful future.

Join us for a special webinar on Tuesday, December 7 at 2 p.m. EST to learn more about the infrastructure bill and the sea change this is going to cause in our industry. JSI experts Douglas Meredith and Carl Perry will be discussing:

  • How the money will be divided between traditional providers and new entrants, including electric cooperatives;
  • Priorities for each program;
  • Possible timing of program funding;
  • Ways to best position yourself for the changes this money is going to trigger (here’s a hint, the answer is fiber); and
  • How to prepare for ongoing funding needs after FY2026.

Registration for this webinar is $249 per company. (Can’t make it on the 7th? We offer recordings of our webinars as well.)

Register

Contact Brenda Cordwell in JSI’s Maryland office at 240-556-1295 for more information about this webinar or questions about registration.

11 11, 2021

Webinar: Breaking Down the ReConnect Round 3 Funding Program

2021-11-12T08:29:17-05:00November 11, 2021|Webinar Recordings|

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has announced the application window for Round 3 of its Rural eConnectivity Program (ReConnect), which will provide $1.15 billion in grants, loans, and grant-loan combinations for broadband buildout projects in rural America. This third round of funding will consider areas where 90% of the households lack access to fixed broadband services with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps. If you did not have qualifying areas for Round 2, you likely will for Round 3 due to this eligibility change. The program requires awardees to provide services with speeds of 100/100 Mbps to all premises in the proposed geographic area(s). RUS will begin accepting applications on November 24, 2021, and all applications must be received by February 22, 2022.

JSI recently hosted a webinar to help those interested in applying for the funds prepare for the 2022 program. Our experts, who have shepherded many companies through the process in Rounds 1 and 2, shared important information and strategies, including:

  • Program requirements and deadlines for grants, loans, and grant/loan combinations, including details on requirements for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities
  • Differences between Round 3 and previous competitions
  • How to determine eligible areas and whether to apply
  • Details on RUS’s scoring criteria
  • Strategies for success based on JSI’s work with past ReConnect winners

Because of the program’s complexity and the funding options available, this webinar also will feature scenarios for each of the funding options: 100% loan, 50% loan 50% grant combinations, 100% grant, and 100% grant for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities.

JSI-assisted applicants have been very successful in previous ReConnect competitions, with 93% of Round 2 applicants awarded funding through the program. We are ready to work with you on all aspects of a ReConnect application and broadband project.

For a copy of the webinar recording, please contact Brenda Cordwell at 240-556-1295. For more information about the ReConnect program or to get started on an application, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Amanda Molina at 321-985-5709.

9 11, 2021

Landmark Federal Infrastructure Bill to Provide $65 Billion for Broadband

2021-11-09T15:03:13-05:00November 9, 2021|e-Lerts|

Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act late on Friday, November 5, 2021. The legislation appropriates more than $1 trillion to fund national infrastructure projects, including approximately $65 billion specifically for broadband infrastructure and related programs over the next five years. The bill now heads to the White House for signing. Rural broadband providers will benefit from several of the Act’s programs. This e-Lert summarizes the key broadband provisions for rural broadband providers.

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program
The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will distribute $42.45 billion to the states based on the number of unserved locations in each state, with an initial minimum allocation of $100 million for each state. The remainder of the funds will be distributed based on each state’s unserved locations, defined as those lacking 25Mbps / 3Mbps. Private companies, cooperatives, and public-private partnerships will be eligible to receive grant funds through each state. Grants can be used for unserved (25/3Mbps) and underserved (less than 100/20Mbps) projects; connecting anchor institutions; data collection, broadband mapping and planning; installing CPE to eligible multi-family residential buildings; providing affordable internet-capable devices; and other uses determined by NTIA. Except for high-cost areas, grant funds may cover a maximum of 75% of the project costs, but grantees may use funds from the four previously passed COVID-19 response laws to meet the remaining 25%. Funded projects must deliver 100/20 Mbps within four years and must offer at least one low-cost broadband service option.

Middle-Mile Infrastructure Grant Program
Congress appropriated $1 billion to NTIA for a competitive middle-mile grant program to connect unserved and underserved last mile areas to the Internet backbone. Rural carriers are among the entities eligible for this program, which encourages public/private partnerships and may fund up to 70% of the middle-mile project costs. NTIA must release its notice of funding within the next six months.

Affordable Connectivity Program
Congress extended and modified the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), now called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), with $14.2 billion to the FCC. The Act decreases the non-tribal monthly household benefit from $50 to $30.

ReConnect
Congress appropriated $2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sep. 30, 2022, to Rural Utilities Service’s existing the ReConnect program for broadband grants, loans and grant/loan combinations. ReConnect requires broadband speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
Congress appropriated $2 billion to the existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for 2021-2022 fiscal year and to remain available until expended.

Appalachian Region High-Speed Broadband Deployment Initiative
Congress appropriated $1 billion over five years to the Appalachian Regional Commission for High-Speed Broadband Deployment and Regional Energy Hub initiatives. Congress directs that at least 65% of the funds be used for the broadband initiative. The Regional Commission must coordinate its grants with the FCC, NTIA, and the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to avoid duplication of federal funding programs.

Digital Equity Programs
Congress appropriated $1.5 billion over five years to promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by states related to broadband adoption. States must develop a State Digital Equity Plan and submit it with its application for grant funds. The Commerce Department will also create the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to award $1.25 billion over five years to support those efforts.

Other Notable Items

Beyond the various grant programs contained in the legislation, Congress directed the FCC to take action in three broadband-related administrative programs:

  • $10 million to the FCC for a Broadband Deployment Locations Map. This program is funded separately from the FCC’s broadband DATA maps but will incorporate broadband service availability reported by those maps.
  • The FCC is directed to examine and make recommendations on how it should achieve universal service goals for broadband and submit to Congress its report in 270 days after the Act’s enactment.
  • Congress also directs the FCC to develop rules for consumer labels for broadband service no later than one year of enactment. After the FCC develops the rules, broadband providers must use broadband consumer labels when giving information to customers regarding broadband internet access service plans.

In addition, the legislation includes funds for improving the nation’s electric grid through smart grid and boost its security. The Rural and Municipal Utility Advance Cybersecurity Grant and Technical Assistance Program will provide $250 million for grants to help rural and municipal utilities deploy advanced cybersecurity technologies for electric utility systems and increase participation in threat sharing programs. As well, $3 billion will go towards a Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program to fund up to 50% of qualifying smart grid investments.

Please contact Douglas Meredith at 801-294-4576 or Carl Perry at 512-338-0473 if you have questions or concerns about the Infrastructure Act or would like JSI’s help in planning your participation in these new opportunities.

7 10, 2021

NTIA Invites Providers to Challenge Census Blocks in BIP Applications

2021-11-02T12:57:17-04:00October 7, 2021|e-Lerts|

JSI encourages clients to confirm their service areas are not impacted

This week, the NTIA announced a preliminary list of applicants that are undergoing review in its Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP). This announcement opens a 15-day window for service providers to voluntarily submit information to NTIA about the areas proposed for funding. This brief window is now open and will close October 19th.

In its announcement, NTIA released a list of census blocks along with applicants, states/territories, and proposed service areas that they have identified as eligible applications. JSI encourages clients to look at this list and identify any census blocks where they provide qualified broadband service. If you find any blocks in which your company provides broadband service speeds of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, you now have the opportunity to show NTIA that service already exists in the designated area proposed for grant funds.

Information provided to NTIA will be considered when they ultimately award funding if the following information is submitted:

  • Name of the company providing information;
  • Summary explaining the information you have submitted to NTIA;
  • List of 15-digit census block codes for any service area(s) being challenged;
  • List of your Points of Presence (POPs) in or near the census blocks listed by the announcement;
  • Maps indicating where you provide broadband service in an applicants’ proposed service area (preferably in shapefiles, .kmz, or .kml formats);
  • Number of households and businesses that have access to broadband service in that portion of your service territory that overlaps with the applicants’ proposed service area by census block and the number lacking access to qualified broadband service;
  • Type of broadband services offered in your service territory by census block and the technology used to provide those services, including, for wireless carriers, the spectrum that is used;
  • Speed of the broadband services offered; and
  • Number of subscribers that you currently have for each of the broadband services offered in your service territory by census block.

NTIA has requested that some items be provided in their template by census block and in tabular format. Please note, some information will be made public unless identified as confidential. NTIA may request further information be provided.

If you would like assistance submitting a challenge to NTIA or have questions about this process, please contact Amanda Molina at 321-985-5709 or Lans Chase at 770-569-2105.

13 07, 2021

NTIA Funding Application Deadlines Quickly Approaching

2021-11-02T13:08:42-04:00July 13, 2021|e-Lerts|

Two NTIA grant programs providing more than $1 billion for broadband projects are accepting applications but the deadlines for both programs are right around the corner. NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) has $288 million in funding for government entities. And the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program will distribute $980 million for tribal broadband deployment and adoption. Broadband providers are not eligible stand-alone applicants of either program, but many of the government and tribal entities vying for the grants will need support from current broadband providers to make a successful application. These programs provide a unique opportunity to build relationships in the community and serve areas that are not economical without grant funding. If you are considering participating as a partner with a government entity or a Tribal group, you must act soon. BIP program applications are due August 17. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program applications are due September 1.

NTIA’s BIP is looking for both last mile and middle mile project applications between $5 million and $30 million, but applications outside those ranges will be considered (See JSI’s May 24, 2021, e-Lert for more information). In addition, the partner can be the owner of the plant constructed if they comply with the other requirements of the grant. Lastly, there is no matching requirement, but there is additional scoring if a 10% match is provided.

The NTIA Tribal program is looking for applications between $1 million and $50 million for broadband deployment applications and between $50,000 and $2.5 million for increased adoption applications.  However, like the NTIA BIP applications outside those ranges will be considered.  There is no restriction for the commercial partner from owning the constructed plant and there is no matching requirement.

If your company is hoping to participate in an application for either program, you will need to act now. If you need assistance, JSI can support your application with maps, check lists, financial projections, project management, support for the narratives, and engineering support. If you would like our assistance or if you have questions about the requirements for either program, please contact Amanda Molina at 321-985-5709, Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590.

23 06, 2021

Webinar Duo: Broadband Funding – Where’s the Money & How to Plan for Success

2021-11-02T13:09:56-04:00June 23, 2021|Webinar Recordings|

Expanding broadband, particularly in rural America, is finally in the spotlight after the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for everyone to be connected. We are seeing billions of dollars being appropriated on the federal and state levels for broadband buildout and other programs to connect Americans to their work, schools, doctors, and other institutions.

This flood of money will provide many opportunities for broadband providers, but you need to keep track of these new developments and prepare for the various programs’ requirements. We recently held a two-part webinar event. During Part One we surveyed all the programs that are authorized and being planned—including state grant deployments, tribal land funds, and NTIA funding programs. Part Two focused on steps you can take today to prepare and what you need to do to be successful in receiving these funds for your deployment.

Part One:

  • Updates on several annual grant/loan programs, including RUS’s ReConnect and Community Connect;
  • How state and local governments plan to use the $220 billion provided in the COVID-19 State Fiscal Recovery Fund and $130 billion in the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and what portion of those funds could be earmarked for broadband-related efforts;
  • New funding programs under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), including the Economic Development Appropriation and the Broadband Infrastructure Program; and
  • Other programs that may tangentially benefit broadband providers and their customers, such as the Homeowners Assistance Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

Part Two:

  • Identifying potential target areas even before an application deadline is announced;
  • Starting conversations with potential partners/allies in order to expand eligibility for grants based on the qualification of both parties;
  • Preparing business cases, buildout budgets and financial documents, including letters of support; and
  • Getting set up with required registrations (CAGE codes, Dunns numbers, state registrations, etc.) to speed up your application prep.

Recordings of the full two-part webinar are available for $400. Contact Leah Yoakum or Brenda Cordwell in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 for more information about these webinars or to purchase the recording.

24 05, 2021

NTIA Announces $288M Broadband Grant Program

2021-11-02T13:11:36-04:00May 24, 2021|e-Lerts|

Money will go to state/broadband provider partnerships

As explained in our January 18 e-Lert, Congress established a new $288 million grant program designed to support broadband infrastructure deployment funded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). After anxiously waiting for months for NTIA to announce the details, the agency released its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) this week for the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) and set a deadline of August 17, 2021, for applications.

This funding is available only to fixed broadband providers that partner with their states. Also, the program excludes funding to any areas currently funded by federal or state funding programs, including those that receive Universal Service or ReConnect funds from the Rural Utilities Services (RUS). If these criteria are not an issue for your company, and you are interested in pursuing this funding opportunity, the clock is ticking for you to develop a partnership and find an area to secure a portion of the funding. NTIA is expecting to award 200 grants between $5 million and $30 million per award to covered partnerships and is not requiring cost sharing or matching funds.

What to do now to get started:

  1. Reach out to your state, or political subdivision of your state, to determine partnership opportunities and formulate the partnership’s description. The lead applicant must be the governmental entity.
  2. Locate eligible service areas and the number of households in the potential eligible service areas.
    1. Eligible area(s) are census block(s) in which the minimum broadband service speed of 25/3 is not available at one or more households or businesses within the block.
    2. Areas may not be in counties, cities, and towns with populations of more than 50,000; located in the urbanized area contiguous or adjacent to a city or town of more than 50,000; or in an area where a broadband provider has been selected to receive, or is otherwise receiving, federal or state funding subject to enforceable build-out commitments (e., ReConnect, RDOF, A-CAM).
  3. Broadband projects must be provisioned via fixed broadband and with technologies that are forward looking. Fiber is not required but is encouraged. NTIA will give priority to applications planning to provide 100Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, but minimum speeds must be at least 25Mbps/3Mbps.

If you would like any assistance with locating eligible areas or with preparing a grant application, please reach out to Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Amanda Molina at 321-985-5709.

11 05, 2021

JSI Creates Pamphlet Outlining Upcoming Federal Grant Programs

2021-11-02T13:12:11-04:00May 11, 2021|e-Lerts|

Many funding opportunities will soon be available

Amid COVID-19, rural healthcare and educational funding support has never been more important. The FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Service Administration (HSRA) are making funding opportunities available to assist rural healthcare providers, schools and libraries implement telehealth and distance learning networks.

To assist clients in obtaining a better understanding of these programs, JSI has developed a pamphlet that provides more detailed information on each program. It is designed so that you can share it with local healthcare and educational institution customers who might be interested in applying for funds from one or more of the programs.

These new funding opportunities will not only benefit healthcare providers, schools and libraries, but also broadband providers. Upcoming federal funding opportunities include:

 Application Dates
NTIA
National Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program Summer 2021
Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grants Summer 2021
Connecting Minority Communities Grant Pilot Program Summer 2021
FCC
COVID-19 Telehealth Program 4/29/2021- 5/6/2021
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Now accepting applications
Emergency Connectivity Fund Spring/Summer 2021
5G for Rural America Est. 2022
USDA
ReConnect Program, Round 3 Late Spring/Summer 2021
Community Connect Program Est. Late 2021
Distance Learning and Telemedicine Due June 5, 2021
Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans TBD
HSRA
Telehealth Network Grant Program TBD

If you would like a copy of the pamphlet, have any questions about the programs, or would like JSI to assist your healthcare and/or educational customers where such assistance is allowed, please contact Terri Delong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473 or Chresanthe Staurulakis in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590.

30 04, 2021

Begin Prepping Now for ReConnect Round 3 Competition

2021-11-02T13:13:19-04:00April 30, 2021|e-Lerts|

We expect to see the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announce the third competition soon for grants and loans under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect). RUS could open the competition any time. RUS recently requested comments on rule and criteria changes and that comment period ended earlier this week. The standard application window has been six weeks. And unlike the recent RDOF reverse auction, ReConnect funds network construction based on the budget you provide.

Six weeks does not leave much time for identifying qualified areas, completing financials, and preparing applications. Starting some of that work now will allow you to target the best areas for your application, start a build-out budget, and collect the required documentation to develop a competitive application once the final grant rules are announced. Much of this prep work also will be applicable to other grant programs, such as special COVID-19 related programs and state grants. For example, all applications require a System for Award Management (SAM) registration to do business with a government agency, including RUS. The SAM registration provides companies with a Commercial and Government Entity Code (known as a CAGE code). These CAGE codes sometimes take several weeks for companies to obtain.

Leverage JSI’s Success and Expertise
JSI can help broadband providers with all aspects involved with completing applications. Our clients have had tremendous success in the first two rounds of ReConnect. During ReConnect Round 2 in 2020, 93% of the providers we worked with on their applications were awarded grants and loans.

Even before the competition begins, our experts can map potentially eligible unserved and underserved communities so that you target the right areas. These maps can show you competitors and their speed coverage; existing mechanisms funding the area (grants/loans, RDOF funding, RUS borrowers, etc.); and the number of locations. The maps should guide you to your target areas and can easily be fine-tuned based on the program’s final criteria. JSI also can begin the financial modeling and engineering required for an accurate network construction budget.

What to Expect in Round 3
Although the Round 3 competition has not yet been announced, RUS did publish ReConnect rules in the Federal Register, which became effective April 27, 2021. The rules allow for the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to be shorter and relevant to only the subset of data that can change with each funding year. Expect to also see the following for ReConnect Round 3 once the competition is announced:

  • A minimum acceptable level of broadband will be released to establish qualifying areas;
  • Future speed requirements for application(s) will be documented;
  • RUS will identify and establish what areas will be protected in the new application windows;
  • Additional section specifications, including scoring criteria, eligible service area threshold, and eligible award costs;
  • Identified interest rates for direct cost-of-money loans and, as applicable, reduced interest rates for 100% loans; and
  • Total funding available by category of grant, grant/loan combination, and 100% loan for Round 3.

If you’d like more information about ReConnect Round 3, or if you’d like to get started on your company’s application, contact Valerie Wimer in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Lans Chase in our Georgia office at 770-569-2105.

18 01, 2021

Additional Broadband Service Support Included in Latest COVID-Relief Package

2021-11-02T13:18:44-04:00January 18, 2021|e-Lerts|

The second Coronavirus response package, which Congress passed and the President signed in late December 2020, provides relief and targeted support to many segments of our national economy, including funds for broadband internet access service. Three sections are of particular importance to rural telecom carriers: Section 903 – FCC COVID-19 Telehealth program; Section 904 – Benefit for Broadband Service During Emergency Period Relating to COVID-19; and Section 905 – Grants for Broadband Connectivity.  JSI will be holding webinars on these funding opportunities once the rules have been established and we are available now to assist with applications and other required filings.

Companies seeking funding for broadband infrastructure will want to be on the lookout in the coming weeks for more information about the Section 905 – Grants for Broadband Activity, which will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In conjunction with releasing these details, NTIA will open its 90-day grant application window. As well, JSI clients hoping to provide discounted broadband service and internet devices, such as computers and tablets for qualifying low-income households, will benefit from the Section 904 – Benefit for Broadband Service. Comments on the rules for this program are currently being sought.  Those that serve Tribal lands should particularly be aware of specific funding that applies to those areas in both the NTIA grant program and the Benefit for Broadband Service programs.

In Section 903, Congress directs an additional $250M to the FCC’s Telehealth program that was authorized under the CARES Act. The FCC released a Public Notice (DA 21-14) seeking comment on this program. Comments are due on January 19. Rural carriers that have facilities in their areas that receive Telehealth funds from the CARES Act should be aware that the FCC is seeking comment on whether and how the FCC should target funding to health care providers in “hardest hit” areas of the nation. The second relief package also requires that these funds be awarded to all 50 states and the District of Columbia (regrettably without any mention of the various U.S. Territories) and the FCC seeks comment on how to ensure that awards are so distributed throughout the 50 states and D.C.

Section 904 establishes a broadband benefit program and directs $3.2B to provide households up to $50 ($75 for Tribal lands’ households) per month for broadband service and a subsidy for internet devices, such as computers and tablets. The FCC governs this program and is soliciting comments, which are due January 25. The legislation directs the FCC to allow all broadband providers that were offering broadband service as of December 1, 2020, to participate, including those providers that are not eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs). The FCC seeks comments on several issues related to how providers will qualify and how funds will be distributed and accounted for. The FCC proposes that rural carriers seeking to participate in this program will need to notify USAC of their intent to participate. In addition to households that participate in the FCC’s Lifeline program, this expands the eligibility of households to include households where one member receives school lunch and breakfast benefits; has experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020; has received a Pell Grant; or meets a broadband provider’s existing low-income COVID-19 program. As the FCC finalizes rules in this program, we encourage rural carriers to participate in the program. Given the expanded eligibility, as well as the expanded list of possible participating providers, JSI observes there will be high demand for this program. JSI will keep you notified on the comments and reply comments that will shape the final rules for this program.

Lastly, Section 905 directs NTIA to establish two grant programs. The first is to support broadband on Tribal lands with $1B. The second program is $300M designed to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband. These grants will be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments, tribal governments, and fixed broadband providers. NTIA has not yet released information regarding these programs.  Section 905 requires NTIA to issue a notice containing the application requirements no sooner than January 27 and no later than February 25 with the application window opening that day and ending 90 days later.

If you are interested in learning more about these programs as soon as the final rules are released, we encourage you to let us know by emailing Janee Devis, and, in addition to receiving our e-Lerts and webinar announcements, one of our team members will personally contact you to make sure that you are aware of critical deadlines and program requirements.  If you have any questions about the programs or would like our assistance in applying for the programs, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105, Douglas Meredith at 801-294-4576, or John Kuykendall at 301-459-7590.

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