Tag Archives: EDA

Federal agencies begin to sing the same broadband policy music, according to NTIA report

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Mormon tabernacle choir

There’s more coherency and cooperation amongst federal broadband development planning and programs, according to a report just released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Once you get past the love letter penned to president Donald Trump by a couple of his cabinet secretaries, it’s a good overview of how at least some parts of the federal bureaucracy are trying to coordinate broadband policy.

The need for better execution is clear. The report notes the gap between urban and rural broadband availability – 2% of urban residents lack access to fixed service at a minimum speed of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. The divide is even wider when, um, overly optimistic fixed wireless availability claims are factored out.

Most of the agency initiatives mentioned in the report already exist, and focus on streamlining processes for things like getting permits to build fiber routes through federal lands or renting space on federally owned towers. That’s all useful, and it’s good to know that, little by little, federal agencies are making it easier to get some work done.

But money talks. No new broadband funding was announced, but the report does highlight the federal agriculture department’s new ReConnect program, which will direct $600 million into rural projects. It also offers clues to other sources of broadband money in the federal bureaucracy…

Other Agencies have also made broadband an allowable expense within their current funding streams. Funding for broadband infrastructure may be supported by block and formula grants provided through programs managed by HUD and the DOE. The Economic Development Administration (EDA), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and DRA have identified broadband as an eligible expense and a priority for economic development. These funding streams are critical. They can catalyze private investment and ensure that services are sustained and upgraded over time.

The report also recommends closer cooperation between the agriculture department and the Federal Communications Commission, suggesting that the USDA’s infrastructure construction grants and the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) operating subsidies could complement each other.

Perhaps, but it would require a major change in the way the FCC decides who gets CAF money. Right now, incumbent telephone companies get first dibs on nearly all the money, and what’s left over is auctioned off. USDA, on the other hand, opens up infrastructure grant application windows at irregular intervals. Redesigning the programs would almost certainly require congressional approval.

One agency is conspicuously absent from the action items. Although the report mentions the federal transportation department, it doesn’t sketch out a role for it, and there’s no mention of dig once requirements for federal highway projects.

Federal broadband funding guide is mostly old news

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A new booklet published by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration outlining ways to finance broadband projects contains no surprises. It’s a summary of federal programs that fund, or might fund, broadband infrastructure and it’s useful as a reference. But there’s no new money on the table, and many of the programs listed are either restricted in scope – Appalachia or tribal areas, for example – or are narrowly focused on specific users, such as libraries or public housing residents.

The list is also heavily weighted toward rural areas, which are served by federal programs that tend to ignore California. The best opportunities for urban infrastructure support comes from either the Economic Development Administration (EDA) or a few indirect money sources, such as the E-rate program for schools and libraries, which provide operating subsidies that might be spent with new service providers. As far as EDA is concerned, though, it’s good news that there’s a clear statement that broadband is moving up the priority list…

EDA’s mission is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. Given that broadband is an important ingredient in economic development strategies, EDA funding may be used to support broadband infrastructure projects under EDA’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance competitive grant programs, within certain parameters.

One troubling aspect is that the list of broadband-friendly federal programs in the booklet is shorter than the report published by the white house a couple of weeks ago. For example, it doesn’t list the agriculture department’s rural community facility program that was highlighted in that report and accounted for about a quarter of the $10 billion that the white house claimed was available for broadband infrastructure projects.

The booklet is a nice resource for beginners, but if you’re already actively involved in trying to develop broadband infrastructure, it’s not nearly as helpful as you probably want.

EDA opens new source for broadband funding with $2 million for San Leandro conduit

The City of San Leandro will fill in key gaps in broadband availability in industrial and commercial areas, thanks to a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The press release is here.

As far as we can tell, this award is the first ever given by EDA for a community broadband project, with credit largely due to the City’s economic and business development staff. They worked closely with the EDA to develop the innovative framework required and to meet the stringent requirements of the program. Tellus Venture Associates assisted staff during the process.

The money comes from EDA’s Public Works Economic Development Assistance program. It will pay for 7.5 miles of conduit, which will be connected to the City’s existing infrastructure. The new conduit will make it possible for Lit San Leandro, a privately funded fiber optic system, to extend the reach of its 11 mile network to more than 18 miles. The work is expected to be completed within a year.

Lit San Leandro, the brainchild of Dr. Pat Kennedy, the CEO of San Leandro-based OSIsoft, offers dark fiber and lit broadband services up to 10 Gbps to businesses along the existing route. The City and Lit San Leandro are working in partnership, with the City leasing conduit to the venture.

Thanks to this project, San Leandro is home to the fastest library in California. The main library is connected to the Lit San Leandro network and has clocked speeds in excess of 300 Mbps. It can do even better – right now, the limitation comes from the ability of computers to handle high data speeds, not from the network itself.

The new conduit will largely complete the job of making 21st Century broadband available to San Leandro’s industrial land. The three areas targeted – Doolittle/Adams, Marina/Catalina, Alvarado/Teagarden – were identified in a study conducted by Tellus Venture Associates, which has served as a consultant to the City throughout the negotiation and implementation phases of the Lit San Leandro project.

The study resulted in the approval by the San Leandro City Council last month of a strategic plan for commercial and industrial broadband development. Other action items identified include bringing additional fiber and wireless access to Downtown San Leandro, offering business assistance grants for broadband projects and adopting broadband-friendly planning, public works and community development policies.

Learn more by watching the San Leandro “Get Connected!” video.