December 5, 2022 – The Iowa Department of Education sent a letter Monday to the Federal Communication Commission raising concern that the commission’s proposal for an E-Rate bidding portal would cause conflicts with state laws.
The E-Rate program provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries and is part of the Universal Service Fund. Late last year, the commission proposed to have a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Company, instead of directly to applicants at a state and local level. Currently, libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers apply directly to those institutions.
The rationale for the proposal is to streamline the program and reduce fraud, waste and abuse, the FCC said, following a government watchdog report that said the E-Rate program is susceptible fraud risks.
But on Monday, the Iowa Department of Education said if the proposal is adopted, the institution faces either breaking FCC rules or state rules. That’s because Iowa is required to notify targeted small businesses 48 hours ahead of a public bid, but this would conflict with the FCC’s requirement that says bidders can’t have advance knowledge of project information, the institution said.
Iowa noted that similar complaints have been made by institutions in California, Kentucky, South Dakota, Illinois, and Utah. The Consortium for School Networking, the National School Boards Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors had also brought forward concerns about conflict with state laws in their submissions to the commission.
Another concern raised by the Iowa Department of Education is that the bidding portal might discourage competitive bidding from applicants and providers because it will make the process more burdensome. That has been a complaint of the program for others as well, with submitters to the FCC complaining about additional complexity with the process.
Connect Humanity calls for sustainable funding, indigenous spectrum renewal
Non-profit Connect Humanity announced Monday calls to the governments of Canada and the United States for action as part of its 2022 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Calls to Action, including ensuring government funds are going to the ongoing operation of networks and not just upfront costs for builds.
“Recognizing the high costs of operating networks in rural and remote areas, we call on governments, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations to provide sustainable funding for the ongoing operation of networks, not just upfront capital costs,” said a Connect Humanity webpage.
The federal government has been delivering billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and will soon be plowing billions more from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to the states to support broadband infrastructure. But some have said the money – $42.5 billion in the case of the latter – is not enough for rural and remote communities to see long-term sustainability.
The Connect Humanity call to action also touched on indigenous rights to spectrum, including asking the governments to stop selling spectrum licensing and renew permits on indigenous territories.
“Furthermore, those departments should promptly and unconditionally release unused spectrum licenses on and over Indigenous traditional territories for the use by and benefit of Indigenous Peoples,” the calls to action said, adding if indigenous leadership chooses not to manage spectrum in their territories, then the federal government should do so on their behalf and turn over revenues to the community.
The calls also ask that governments put in place a “dedicated workforce development initiative,” which would be “conducive to well-paid employment opportunities for Indigenous community members, including youth.” That would include governments, the private sector and philanthropic communities coming together to fund long-term funding for those training initiatives.
The calls to action build upon past recommendations that are made on an annual basis.
New York City discontinues internet master plan
New York City has cancelled its 2020 “Internet Master Plan” without public notice, according to reporting from the Gothamist on Monday, which would’ve provided $157 million in funds for the build out of municipal broadband infrastructure in poor communities.
The project would have connected 1.2 million residents to free or low-cost, high-speed internet. After Mayor Eric Adams assumed office, the project went on hold before it was canceled without public notice, the publication reports. It previously selected about a dozen businesses to lead this effort, many being led by women and people of color.
The plan, signed under previous Mayor Bill de Blasio, said it would extend broadband internet service to all New York residents regardless of income or zip code. In the plan, Blasio said, “We will work with the private sector to make sure it is available across the five boroughs, close the digital divide, and make sure all New Yorkers have equal access to the economic, social, and civic power of the internet.”
The plan aimed to close the digital divide in New York City and provide internet access to those that don’t have access or are underserved at an affordable rate.