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Broadband Expansion Grant

Grants to Wisconsin Nonprofits, For-Profits, and Telephone
Companies to Extend Broadband Service to Underserved Areas

Agency Type:

State

Funding Source:

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Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC)

Deadline Date:

07/16/18 4:00 PM CT

Description:

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Grants to Wisconsin nonprofits, for-profits, public entities, and telephone utility companies to help offset the costs of extending broadband service to rural and underserved areas. Funding is intended for the construction of broadband facilities in areas that have less than two broadband service providers to subscribe to.

There is a disparity between the quality of broadband service available in urban areas and that available in many rural areas of the state at this time. The state is expanding and devoting additional funds to programs intended to bring broadband service to some of the 700,000 people in Wisconsin that currently lack access to broadband service. This disparity is mitigated to some degree by the availability of a 4G mobile service. However, the FCC has found that a fixed broadband service with a speed of 25/3 Mbps and a 4G mobile wireless are not functional substitutes for each other. The higher price, lower speeds and significant data caps that are common with mobile services limit the utility of those options when compared to a wireline alternative.

The key issue here is simply funding. To offer a decent broadband service, the service provider must often either upgrade or bypass existing older telephone facilities. Both of those options are expensive. In urban areas there is usually a sufficient concentration of customers to pay for the cost of those improvements. A broadband service option is now available in nearly all urban census blocks in the state, and most areas have a choice between two or more providers. The unserved areas in urban census blocks often turn out to be adjacent rural areas that have been included in urban census blocks for reasons unrelated to the deployment of telecommunications services.

However, in many rural census blocks, the incumbent local exchange carrier and other telecommunications providers have determined that it is not possible to build an upgraded broadband service financed through monthly rates for service. To address this issue, the state offers Broadband Expansion Grants to providers and local communities to subsidize construction of broadband facilities in rural areas and to reduce the financial risk of the building out the broadband service

The committee shall evaluate and rank the applications based upon the following factors:
- Matching funds. An application will receive higher priority based on the amount and type of matching funds the applicant proposes to invest in its project.
- Public-private partnerships. An application that includes a city, village, town, or county as a participating partner, in partnership with a telecommunication provider or other private organization, shall receive priority.
- Existing broadband service. An application proposing to serve an unserved area shall receive priority. The application of a wireless broadband service provider proposing significant overlap with existing broadband service in addition to service to an unserved area is not entitled to priority under this subsection.
- Project impact. An application that proposes to serve a larger geographic area or a larger number of customers or communities in an area shall receive higher priority than one that serves a comparatively smaller geographic area or a fewer number of potential customers or communities in an area.
- Scalability. An application that demonstrates a commitment to increase the size or scope of its broadband network in the future shall receive priority. An application that discusses possible growth potential, but declines to make a specific commitment regarding future growth of the broadband network, shall receive a lesser priority.
- Economic development. An application that demonstrates the potential to promote job growth or retention, expand the property tax base or improve the overall economic vitality of the municipality or region shall receive priority.
- Affect upon broadband service to adjacent areas. An application that would impair the ability of a broadband service provider or competing broadband service provider to extend broadband service to areas adjacent to the proposed project shall receive a reduction in priority.

In addition to the above factors, the evaluation committee may give weight to the following additional criteria:
- The total number of persons served by a given application when compared to applications of equal priority.
- The degree to which the proposed project will duplicate existing broadband infrastructure.
- The degree to which the proposed project will enhance the ability of individuals to access health care service from home.
- The degree to which the proposed project will enhance the ability of students to access educational opportunities from home.
- The download and upload transmission speeds the application proposes to provide.
- Any one or more of the factors in Wis. Stat. § 196.03(6) that the applicant believes its project would specifically and materially advance for benefit of the public interest with respect to communications facilities. However, applicant should note that the Commission has not made any determination that the criteria in Wis. Stat. § 196.03(6) respecting telecommunications services and facilities are specifically or necessarily applicable to grants for broadband facilities under Wis. Stat. § 196.504

Broadband communications services are offered to subscribers using several alternative technologies. The more popular methods to connect to the internet include:
- Landline switched-access service
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
- Cable Internet
- Fiber-to-the-Home/Premises (FTTH)
- Fixed Wireless
- Mobile Wireless
- Satellite Internet Service

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 142925

Estimated Total Program Funding:

$7,000,000

Term of Contract:

Any Broadband Expansion Grant award approved by the agency will expire automatically and without notice on the last day of the twenty fourth month following the month in which the agency approves the award.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

The statute contains two eligibility requirements that each application must satisfy.
- First, an applicant must be either an organization operated for profit or notprofit, a telecommunications utility, or a public entity that has entered into a partnership with an eligible organization or telecommunications utility.
- Second, the statute authorizes the Commission to make grants to eligible applicants to construct broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. This would eliminate applications proposing to build in areas regarded as served.

With respect to the first eligibility requirement, the Commission has interpreted the requirement that public entities obtain or include a private party in the application to mean more than simply submitting a letter of support at the time of the application. The Commission has accepted a range of approaches, including a formal joint venture agreement or equivalent, a partnership agreement specifically tailored to the broadband grant program, co-applicants on the grant application filing, and a statement from the parties indicating the level of participation each partner will contribute.

A telecommunications utility is eligible to apply for a grant, even if that telecommunications utility is municipally-owned. A municipally-owned telecommunications utility pays the agency’s remainder assessment, telecommunication relay service assessment, telecommunications trade practices assessment and universal service assessment in the same proportion as other telecommunications utilities. The Commission affords a municipally-owned telecommunications utility the same benefits and privileges that come with that status as well.

Certification under state law does not depend upon geography or exchange boundaries. The state certifies a company based upon the telecommunications service the company offers for sale to customers.

The Commission has ruled in three instances that an applicant was ineligible to apply for a grant under this first eligibility requirement. In each instance, the applicant was a public entity that was found to lack a private partner.

The second eligibility requirement concerns the geographic area to which the Commission may award a grant. The purpose of the Broadband Grant program is to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications services in underserved areas of the state. To decide the geographic areas of the state that are currently underserved for purposes of the broadband grant program, the Commission defines the two terms:
- Broadband Service means a communications service providing to end users, at a minimum, two-way data transmission with speeds of at least 25 Mbps for download transmission and 3 Mbps for upload transmission, but does not include a commercial mobile radio service or a broadband service in which a stand-alone satellite provider connects directly to the end user with a satellite connection.
- Underserved Area means an area in the state, delimited by a census block boundary as defined by the US Department of Commerce, that is served by fewer than 2 broadband service providers, or an area that an applicant has demonstrated in its application is underserved notwithstanding the fact that the proposed service area lies within a census block that has been designated as served.

Grant applications that propose to provide broadband service in areas served by two or more broadband service providers that each offer service at a speed of 25/3 or greater will be regarded as ineligible to participate in the grant program.

The Commission has ruled in two instances that an applicant was ineligible to apply for a grant under this second eligibility requirement. In one instance, the applicant argued that the Commission could approve a project that provided a low cost alternative to people in a served area that could not afford the existing broadband options. In the other instance, the applicant proposed to provide a redundant and diverse route for public safety communications that bypassed the existing broadband route. In both instances, the Commission found that the existence of two broadband services in an area, each offering a service of at least 25/3 Mbps, means the area is regarded as served and is not eligible for grant funds.

Funding is not used to subsidize the expenses of a telecommunications provider or the monthly bills of telecommunications customers.

Pre-Application Information:

Timeline:
- April 12, 2018: Date of issue of the application instructions
- June 29, 2018: Last day for submitting questions and requests for clarification
- July 16, 2018: Applications due from applicants
- Jul 17 – Aug 7, 2018: Public comment period
- August 7, 2018: Last day for submitting comments regarding filed grant applications

The applications for a broadband grant must be uploaded to the PSC's Electronic Regulatory Filing System by July 16, 2018. Applicants must submit an electronic PDF copy of all application materials by 4:00 pm (16:00) Central Time.

Applications must be uploaded to ERF by going to the Commission’s website, https://psc.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx ; select ‘ERF Upload;’ then select ‘Upload Document’ from the options on the ERF webpage.

Any questions concerning this application must be submitted in writing via email on or before June 29, 2018, to the PSC State Broadband Office email address with subject line: Broadband Expansion Grant Application Question.

The applicant must contact the application manager, Dennis Klaila, by 4:00 p.m. (16:00) on July 13, 2018, if assistance is needed in submitting an application electronically.

Tentatively, the Commission anticipates announcing its award of Broadband Expansion Grants for Fiscal Year 2019 in September 2018.

For any questions regarding the grant, please contact Dennis Klaila.

Wisconsin Broadband Map:
https://maps.psc.wi.gov/apps/WisconsinBroadbandMap/

Upload Information:
https://psc.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx
http://apps.psc.wi.gov/vs2015/ERF/ERFhome.aspx

Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Application upload portal:
https://apps.psc.wi.gov/vs2015/ERF_upload/default.aspx

Dennis Klaila, Broadband Expansion Grant Program Manager
608-267-9780
dennis.klaila@wisconsin.gov

Angie Dickison, Director, State Broadband Office
Angie.Dickison@wisconsin.gov
(608) 267-9138

PSC State Broadband Office Email: PSCStatebroadbandoffice@wisconsin.gov

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Wisconsin