The Federal Corner

Welcome to The Federal Corner. Federal agencies disburse billions of dollars in broadband funds each year through multiple agencies and programs. Identifying and educating our state’s broadband stakeholders about these federal programs is essential to Colorado’s ability to secure our “unfair share” of federal funds in order to facilitate broadband access for all Coloradans. In support of Colorado stakeholders’ efforts to secure federal funding, The Federal Corner will provide summary information and links to federal initiatives affecting broadband funding policy and programs.


United States Department of Agriculture

See below for the highlights and updates about a few of the USDA connectivity programs. Visit the USDA website for information on all broadband and telecom programs.

Community Connect

On September 24, 2020, the USDA announced they will begin accepting Community Connect Grant Program applications from eligible applicants for proposed funding areas that do not have access to broadband speeds of at least 10/1Mbps. The RUS will give priority to rural economically-challenged communities that demonstrate the greatest need for broadband services. Applications are due by 11:59 EST, December 23, 2020

The Community Connect grant has an award ceiling of $3,000,000 and an award floor of $100,000 for this funding cycle, requiring a 15% match. A key change in the program is that the USDA will no longer consider the availability of cellular service, as a disqualifier, in the proposed funding service area.

Eligible entities include public and state controlled institutions of higher education, city or township governments, special district governments, nonprofits institutions of higher education, Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments) and any other legal entity, including cooperatives, private corporations, or limited liability companies organized on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. The Funding Opportunity Announcement can be found at this link.

The USDA held Community Connect webinars: 

ReConnect

ReConnect is the USDA’s newest grant, loan, and combination grant/loan program supporting broadband access to rural homes, farms and businesses.

The USDA will commit up to $650 million in Round 2 ReConnect funding (includes $100 million from CARES Act funding). Three Colorado broadband providers applied for $25.1M in USDA ReConnect Round 2 100% Grant funds. The ReConnect 100% Grant product requires a 25% match, ($8.4M) making the total project cost $33.5M for the proposed broadband projects. If funded, these projects will provide FTTH to over 3,112 locations in western Colorado.

On October 13, 2020, Emery Telecommunications & Video Inc. (Emery) was awarded a $6.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 1,638 people, 91 farms, 52 businesses, three fire stations and two post offices in Dolores, San Miguel and Montezuma counties in Colorado. Emery will provide a $2.1 million match making the total project cost $8.4 million.

On October 29, 2020, Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) was awarded a $6 million ReConnect grant to provide gigabit FTTP, expanding northwestern Colorado’s rural broadband access to 264 homes, farms and businesses located in Routt, Moffat and Eagle counties in Colorado. YVEA will provide a $2 million match making the total project cost $8 million.

Awards will be posted on the USDA ReConnect Program webpage.

For more information about ReConnect and Colorado, visit our Colorado ReConnect webpage.

Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant (DLT)

On April, 3, the USDA announced that it would make $72M available to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities by opening a second application window for funding under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The DLT grant application window closed July 13, 2020

On October, 7, 2020, the Colorado Department of Corrections was awarded $985,455 to provide telemedicine services to 17 correction facilities in 12 counties. The project will provide medical assessments, wellness visits, treatment follow-up, remote patient monitoring, mental health screenings, case management services, advanced care planning, and health risk assessment. This award will allow the Colorado Department of Corrections to improve health care by providing access to more health care, preventive medicine, and access medical specialists, while reducing prisoner transport and related security management costs.


Federal Communications Commission

Funding Programs

Administered by Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)

  • E-rate: Ensuring that schools and libraries across the U.S. are connected to information and resources through the internet
  • Rural Health Care: Supporting healthcare facilities in bringing world class medical care to rural areas through increased connectivity
  • Lifeline: Lowering the monthly cost of phone or internet service
  • High Cost: Expanding networks in underserved areas so that all people in the U.S. have access to affordable voice and broadband

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)

  • The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the Commission’s next step in bridging the digital divide to efficiently fund the deployment of broadband networks in rural America. Through a two-phase reverse auction mechanism, the FCC will direct up to $20.4 billion over ten years to finance up to gigabit speed broadband networks in unserved rural areas, connecting millions of American homes and businesses to digital opportunity.

    The Phase I auction began on October 29, 2020, targeting $16 billion to deploy networks to serve up to 10.25 million homes and businesses in census blocks designated as entirely unserved by the FCC, lacking voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.

    For more information about RDOF in Colorado, visit our Colorado RDOF webpage.

Proceedings

The FCC continues to make progress on a number of proceedings. Below is a brief description of the Report and Orders (R&Os) and Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (NPRMs) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Further Notice) with links containing more information.

Promoting Access to Connected Care Services (Updated November 4, 2020)
WC Docket No. 18-213

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

On November 5, 2020, the FCC announced the opening of the application filing window for the FCC’s $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program. The FCC began accepting applications on November 6, 2020, and the application filing window will close on December 7, 2020 at 11:59 PM ET.

The three year pilot program will make up to $100 million available for selected projects that demonstrate an emphasis on providing connected care services to low-income and veteran patients. Projects selected will receive up to 85% of the proposed project costs, a 15% match from “must be paid by the selected pilot project recipients, as well as all of the costs of any ineligible expenses associated with their respective projects”. Applicants should be aware that they will be required to seek competitive bids for the eligible services associated with a Pilot Program award.

5G Fund for Rural America (Updated November 6, 2020)
GN Docket No. 20-32

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (PDF)

On April 23, 2020, the FCC adopted a NPRM proposing to establish the 5G Fund for Rural America, which would make up to $9 billion available to bring 5G mobile broadband service to rural areas that would be unlikely to otherwise see deployment of 5G broadband service.  

On October 27, 2020, the FCC adopted rules creating the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will distribute up to $9 billion over the next decade to fund the deployment of 5G in rural America. The FCC will use multi-round reverse auctions in two phases. Phase I of the 5G Fund will target up to $8 billion of support nationwide to areas lacking unsubsidized 4G LTE or 5G mobile broadband, with $680 million specifically set aside for bidders offering to serve Tribal lands. 

Phase II will provide $1 billion, plus unawarded funds from Phase I, specifically targeting the deployment of 5G networks for precision agriculture. The auction will account for T-Mobile’s commitment to the FCC to cover 90% of rural Americans with its 5G network within six years to prevent overbuild. An adjustment factor will be used to ensure that the hardest-to-serve areas, such as those with rugged terrain or sparse populations, can compete in the auction. 5G Fund winning bidders will be required to deploy networks providing 5G mobile broadband at speeds of at least 35/3 Mbps and meet interim deployment milestones beginning at the three-year mark and a final deployment milestone at the end of the sixth year. Report and Order (FCC 20-150).

Transforming the 2.5 GHz Band for 5G (Updated November 4, 2020)
WT Docket No. 18-120

Report and Order (PDF)

The R&O established a priority filing window for rural Tribal Nations to obtain unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum, formerly designated as the Educational Broadband Service (EBS). On November 1, 2019, the FCC launched the Rural Tribal Window web page. The web page provides a mapping tool which Tribal communities can use to determine the compatibility of the unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum and eligible Tribal lands. The Rural Tribal Priority Window opened Monday, February 3, 2020, and closed September 2, 2020. The FCC received over 400 applications during the priority window and thus far the FCC has granted 154 applications. The FCC staff continue to review and process applications. Both the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe were awarded 2.5 GHz spectrum for their tribal lands. A list of the grantees may be found here.

Rural Health Care Program Changes (Updated November 4, 2020)
WC Docket No. 17-310

Report and Order (PDF)

The R&O adopted changes to the Rural Healthcare (RHC) program for FY2020. A key change, current healthcare providers (HCPs) and new program consortia must be “majority rural” to be eligible for discounts. The R&O eliminated the three-year grace period for consortia to become majority rural and there is no grandfathering of prior Pilot Program consortia or other existing consortia. “Majority rural” means that more than 50% of participating HCPs in a consortium must be rural. Funding requests filed by consortia that are not in compliance with this rule will be denied. The application window opened January 1, 2020, for FY2020. Reply comments were filed on January 13, 2020, on petitions for reconsideration of the August 2019 rural health care order, see comments, reply comments, ex partes, petitions for reconsideration and congressional correspondence filed in this proceeding. The matter remains under consideration by the FCC.

The Rural Health Care (RHC) Funding Cap for FY2020 Increased 

On June 30, 2020 the FCC directed the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program Administrator, to carry forward up to $197.98 million in unused funds from prior funding years to the extent necessary to satisfy funding year 2020 demand for the Program. The Rural Health Care Program funding cap for funding year 2020 is $604.76 million. Today’s announcement will make $802.74 million in support available for funding year 2020 applicants, the most in the RHC’s history.

The Rural Health Care (RHC) FY2020 Filing Window to Close June 30

On June 4, 2020, the USAC announced the RHC Funding Year (FY) 2020 filing window closes June 30, 2020. Funding requests (FCC Forms 462 or 466) must be filed by 11:59 p.m. ET June 30, 2020 to be considered for RHC Program support in FY2020.

Two new tools are available for funding year 2021, the Rurality Tier Search Tool and Telecom Program Rates Database. The rurality tier search tool is used to calculate the “rural rate” for determining the amount of support for eligible telecommunications services in the Telecom Program, see How to Use the Rurality Tier Search Tool, Methods and Procedures. Beginning in FY2021, the rural and urban rates used to calculate the amount of eligible support for an HCP site location will be the median of available rates as identified in the Telecom Program Rates Database, see How to Use the Rates Database, Methods and Procedures.

For more resources:

FCC Releases an Order in the Rural Health Care (RHC) proceeding providing additional relief to HCPs due to COVID-19

On March 26, 2020, the FCC released an Order, granting additional relief to Rural Health Care (RHC) Program participants to ensure that health care providers (HCPs) have the resources they need to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Order takes the following actions: (1) extends the FY2020 RHC Program application filing window until June 30, 2020; (2) eases competitive bidding requirements for HCPs with expiring evergreen contracts; and (3) provides an extension of procedural deadlines to respond to information requests, to deliver non-recurring services in the HCF Program, to file invoices in the HCF Program, and to file appeals to USAC and the FCC. 

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Updated December 7, 2020)
WC Docket Nos. 19-126

Please visit our Colorado RDOF webpage for information on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries (Updated November 4, 2020)
WC Docket No. 13-184

Report and Order (PDF) 

On September 2, 2020, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser submitted a Petition for Waiver to the FCC requesting the E-rate program waive program restrictions,  modernizing the program to cover student connectivity to the home due to a nationwide shift to eLearning due to the pandemic. On October 1, 2020, FCC Chairman Pai sent a letter to over 70 U.S. Senators including Colorado Senator Bennet, stating (on p. 2) that the FCC does not have legal authority to extend E-rate to the home for student connectivity, a legal analysis many disagree with.

On March 23, the FCC issued a Public Notice, permitted schools and libraries that are closed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak to allow the general public to use E-Rate-supported Wi-Fi networks while on the school’s campus or library property.

On January 27, 2020, the FCC issued a Report and Order (R&O) eliminating the requirement that E-Rate applicants amortize upfront, non-recurring charges of $500,000 or more for category one services, including charges for special construction projects.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection (Updated November 9, 2020)
WC Docket Nos. 19-195 and 11-10

Report and Order and Third FNPRM (PDF)

On July 16, the FCC adopted a R&O and a Further Notice to establish new rules to improve collection and mapping of broadband availability data. In the R&O the FCC implements key provisions of the Broadband DATA Act. In the Further Notice the FCC seeks comment on proposals for parties to challenge the data contained in the broadband availability maps and processes for verifying broadband availability data submitted by providers.  The Further Notice also invites comment on targeted reforms to the FCC Form 477 subscribership data that broadband and voice providers are required to file biannually. Comments and reply comments were filed on September 8 and September 17, 2020, respectively, see comments, reply comments, ex partes, petitions for reconsideration or congressional correspondence filed in this proceeding. The matter remains under consideration by the FCC.

Universal Service Contribution Methodology (Updated March 23, 2020)
WC Docket No. 06-122

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF)

The FCC seeks comment on establishing a cap on the Universal Service Fund (USF), and proposes to combine the RHC & the E-rate program. Comments and Reply Comments were filed July 29 and August 26, 2019, respectively. The FCC has not acted on this matter, and it is not currently on circulation at the FCC.

Stay Connected during COVID-19: Broadband Resources and Updates