Representatives of member cooperatives and IEC staff met with members of the lieutenant governor’s office and the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) to discuss the Next Level Connections broadband grant program. The beginning of the meeting was spent discussing successes and areas in need of improvement related to round 1 of the grant program, and the latter part of the one and one half-hour meeting was spent discussing ways the administration plans to or could, in IEC members’ eyes, improve the program for round 2.
Much of the discussion centered around the type of data that would be considered in round 2 of the program – specifically whether they would continue to rely only upon eligible census blocks, or if they would consider evidence that locations within census blocks are actually unserved even though FCC data and maps show census blocks are “served” at the 10Mbps/1Mbps (a standard that is specified in statute via SEA 460-2019). The administration indicated that they face some practical limitations in accepting address-level data because they simply do not have adequate technology or personnel to properly vet whether a location does have service when compared to any challenges by incumbent providers who claim that any such addresses already have qualified broadband service. It remains to be seen whether address-level data will be allowed on applications; however, they will be requiring the submission of address-level data to successfully challenge any applications that are submitted during round 2.
Also discussed during the meeting was the timing of round two as well as how much of the remaining approximately $75 million will be allocated in grants in round two. At this time the administration’s goal is to open up round two before the end of CY 2019 and ideally make awards by the spring of 2021. As far as the total amount of money awarded in round two is concerned, that is largely determinant on the number and quality of grant requests made in round two. If they receive a lot of high-quality applications they are not opposed to awarding the remaining grant dollars in round two.