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

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 $600 million in Round 2 ReConnect 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.

Awards will be posted on the USDA ReConnect Program webpage.

For more information about ReConnect and Colorado, visit our 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. Electronic applications for window two may be submitted through grants.gov and are due no later than July 13, 2020. DLT grant applications are accepted through a competitive process and applicants are required to provide a minimum 15 percent match. Awards can range from $50,000 to $1,000,000 in the FY 2020 program.


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.

    For more information about RDOF in Colorado, visit our 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) with links containing more information.

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

Report and Order (PDF)

The R&O establishes 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, 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 closes on Monday, August 3, 2020 at 6 p.m. EDT. A list of applications that have been submitted in the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Window can be found here. Further information about the Rural Tribal Window, including the dates, application filing process, and the workshop, will be announced on the Rural Tribal Window web page.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection (Updated May 5, 2020)
WC Docket Nos. 19-195 and 11-10

Report and Order and second FNPRM (PDF)

The R&O establishes a new data collection methodology, collecting geospatial broadband coverage data from fixed providers (Form 477). Comments and reply comments were filed on September 23, and October 7, 2019 respectively. The Governor’s Office, in conjunction with a number of other State agencies, filed comments suggesting best practices for data collection. See comments, reply comments, ex partes, petitions for reconsideration, and congressional correspondence filed in this proceeding. In January, Petitions for Reconsideration were filed in the Commission’s proceeding. This matter remains under consideration by the FCC.

Rural Health Care Program Changes (Updated June 5, 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. 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. 

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 on circulation at the FCC.

Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries (Updated May 6, 2020)
WC Docket No. 13-184

Report and Order (PDF) 

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.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Updated May 6, 2020)
WC Docket Nos. 19-126

RDOF Web Page

On March 17 the FCC released a preliminary list of census blocks and a map of areas that have been deemed initially eligible for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction (Auction 904). In addition the FCC released a list of the census block groups and associated reserve prices, and a list of the associated census tracts and reserve prices. Approximately 99,000 locations in Colorado are identified on the preliminary list, with associated reserve prices of approximately $69M, or $690M over 10 years. RDOF census block challenges have been filed by numerous providers.   

On March 2, the FCC issued a Public Notice (PN) proposing bidding procedures in the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will make up to $16B available for the deployment of fixed broadband in unserved rural areas of the country. The PN seeks comment on the appropriate minimum size of eligible funding areas and proposes operational, technical, and financial information applicants and winning bidders would be required to submit. Comments and Reply comments were filed on March 27, and April 10, 2020, respectively. The bidding in Phase I of the RDOF 904 reverse auction is scheduled to begin October 22, 2020. Petitions for reconsideration of the RDOF report and order were filed by the Vermont Department of Public Service (VDPS), Illinois Office of Broadband, and the Colorado Broadband Office filed a letter of support on behalf of the VDPS’s petition. Oppositions to petitions for reconsideration of the RDOF R&O are due May 18, 2020; replies are due May 26, 2020.

Phase II of the RDOF program will make $4.4B available in areas deemed partially served, in addition to the census blocks that weren’t awarded in Phase I. The FCC proposes to use more precise broadband mapping data, under development in the FCC’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding, for the distribution of RDOF Phase II funding.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Webinar  May 5, 2020

On April 15 the FCC issued a public notice announcing a May 5, webinar on the RDOF Phase I auction (Auction 904). The webinar provides an overview of the program; tips on how to apply and bid; and advice for interested service providers. The webinar recording can be viewed here.

Promoting Access to Connected Care Services (Updated March 23, 2020)
WC Docket No. 18-213

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Comments and Reply Comments were filed August 29 and September 30, 2019, respectively. See comments and reply comments filed in this proceeding. The Colorado Office of eHealth Innovation filed comments on behalf of the Governor’s office. This proceeding remains under consideration by the FCC.

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

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (PDF)

On April 24, 2020, the FCC released an NPRM seeking comment on establishing a $9 billion 5G Fund for Rural America. The Notice proposes to make up to $8 billion available in Phase I to support deployment of 5G networks in rural areas that are unlikely to see timely deployment of 5G and the second phase would target at least $1 billion to bring wireless connectivity to higher cost areas. The Notice proposes to use a competitive reverse auction format to award funding. Comment is sought on two approaches to identify eligible areas for Phase I: 

Option one would hold an auction in 2021 by defining eligible areas based on current data sources and prioritizing funding to areas that lack 4G LTE or even 3G service.  Option two delays the Phase I auction until at least 2023, using improved mobile broadband coverage data from the FCC’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. 

Option one would hold an auction in 2021 by defining eligible areas based on current data sources and prioritizing funding to areas that lack 4G LTE or even 3G service. 

Option two delays the Phase I auction until at least 2023, using improved mobile broadband coverage data from the FCC’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. 

The proposed 5G Fund budget includes $680 million reserved to support 5G networks serving Tribal lands as part of Phase I. Comments are due June 25, 2020 and replies July 27, 2020.

Stay Connected during COVID-19: Broadband Resources and Updates