This edition of Broadband Bytes includes ReConnect Program Rd 5, the new NTIA Permitting tool, RDOF default and penalty debate, loss of ACP and impact on BEAD, $811M in Digital Equity Funds and municipal drive for competition.

  1. USDA has begun accepting applications for $700 million in funding in round five of the ReConnect program, which covers some of the costs of high-speed broadband deployments in rural areas where service is not available. Eligible applicants have until May 21 to apply. The original deadline of April 22 was extended. Read more.
  2. NTIA launched a public permitting tool to help ISPs identify the permits they will need. The agency unveiled a new, publicly available permitting tool to help federal broadband grant recipients and subgrantees identify and understand the types of permits they’ll need and avoid potential environmental impacts. Dubbed the NTIA Permitting and Environmental Information Application, the tool is a map that combines public federal maps from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other sources. Read more.
  3. As the FCC considers pleas for more lenient RDOF fines, electric co-ops are saying it is time for defaulters to own up.  Last month a coalition of ISPs, unions and local officials penned a letter to the FCC appealing for a brief amnesty period, during which defaulting companies could surrender their contracts with reduced penalties. Mostly, they warned that locations covered by RDOF awards are ineligible for grants through the BEAD program. In a letter to the FCC, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which represents nearly 900 rural electric co-ops, said the time for amnesty to have a positive effect on BEAD has passed, because most states’ Volume One plans for the BEAD program have already been approved by NTIA, and over half have begun or completed their challenge process to determine location eligibility. Read more.
  4. Service providers should not let reporting requirements or a requirement to offer low-cost service stop them from applying for BEAD funding, said Evan Feinman, BEAD program director for NTIA. The requirement to offer a low-cost service has become a big concern as funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is set to run out. Many providers had seen the FCC $30-a-month ACP benefit for low-income customers as a means of meeting that requirement. Without the ACP, some providers might be reluctant to participate in the BEAD program.  As Feinman explained, individual states will set their own low-cost program requirements within guidelines set by NTIA. Some states are saying that providers have to offer a $30-a-month service, he noted. But if a service provider says the economics do not work, the state can issue waivers to allow prices up to $65 or $75 a month, he said. Read more.
  5. The FCC announced that the maximum benefit in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for May for non-tribal areas will be no more than $14 unless Congress makes additional funding available for the program. That is a bit less than half the usual monthly amount of $30. The ACP program, launched in January 2022, is designed to make internet connectivity more affordable for low-income households by covering some of the costs for monthly broadband service. The program will run out of funding in May, however, unless additional funding is made available. Congress appears unlikely to do that, as the legislators have not voted to allocate more funding, despite pleas from the FCC, consumer groups, President Biden, and others. Without the additional funding, the ACP will end in May, with no benefits paid beginning in June. Read more
  6. NTIA Gets Set to Release $811M to the States for Digital Equity. NTIA said that it will make $811 million available through the Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. The agency also announced tentative allocations to each U.S. state through the program. The funding announced March 29th is the first tranche that NTIA will administer in the Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. The program has a total budget of $1.44 billion.

The total funding allocated to the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in this tranche is $760 million. An additional $8.4 million will go to American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with the funding divided equally among the four territories. In addition, $45 million is available to native entities. Receipt of funding is not automatic. Each state must apply for funding, following guidelines to be released March 29th. States will have until May 28 to apply. Read more.

Read more: Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program Fact Sheet. 

  1. NTIA aims to streamline National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for broadband projects via 30 new categorical exclusions. Categorical exclusions are actions that a federal agency has determined will not have a significant environmental impact, so they do not require an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement. Typically, broadband deployment projects have limited, if any, significant environmental impacts, according to NTIA. NTIA relied on 11 categorical exclusions that were established in 2009. Read more.
  2. Net neutrality is happening whether broadband providers like it or not.  The FCC plans to publish its final proposed order for net neutrality April 4th. And then, the full FCC will vote on the order at its meeting on April 25, where it is expected to pass on a 3-2 partisan vote. At a high level, net neutrality means that the FCC is reclassifying broadband service providers as Title II carriers under the Communications Act. This will subject them to the same rules as telcos. Most controversially, the rules say that broadband providers cannot selectively block or throttle internet traffic or sell unreasonable paid prioritization. Read more.
  3. Some Wireless Services Deemed ‘Underserved’ in 4 States, Expanding BEAD Locations.  Vermont, Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada received Commerce Department approval to mark areas whose sole source of internet comes from cellular fixed wireless service as “underserved,” hence making these regions eligible for broadband infrastructure funding under the BEAD program.  Gaining approval of the NTIA, the four states’ broadband availability maps will now consider all locations served only by CFWA as “underserved.” Providers will be able to rebut the claims of underservice. In Georgia alone, the implementation of the cellular fixed wireless modification resulted in over 25,000 locations being reinstated on the state broadband map as eligible for BEAD funding.
  4. The city of Joplin, Missouri, has taken broadband competitiveness into its own hands and has wooed ALLO Fiber to build a fiber network in the city that will compete against the long-time incumbent Cable One. This deal between Joplin and ALLO is a new animal. It is not by definition a municipal network. The network will be funded, built, and operated entirely by ALLO. The city is involved because it was fed up with what it considered sub-par internet for its residents, and it put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a fiber company to enter the market. Read more

David Levine of UCL Swift headshot

Broadband Bytes is a regular feature by David Levine. David is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, a certified BICSI RCDD, and a 35-year industry veteran in fiber and copper solutions. He currently works as a Business Development Manager for UCL Swift.

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