Beer and Broadband Episode #3: Broadband Funding

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[00:00:00] Nick Dinsmoor: So we are now. We are officially live and in living color, I will, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll go ahead and get started. Welcome to episode three of beer and Broadband from Bonfire. I’m going to turn it over to our hosts with the most Mr. Brian Hollister, to kick us off and start this next conversation about broadband funding.

If you do have questions, please. Throw it into the Q & A, and we will have a Q & A session at the end, or just jump in and we’ll answer the questions as we go. So take it away, Mr. Hollister.

Brian Hollister: All right. Well, thanks everyone for joining episode three of Beer and Broadband, we put this together really to try and bring value to our industry of really just having a candid conversation with other industry leaders and really helping just to share [00:01:00] knowledge and value.

This is not meant to be, you know, any kind of sales presentation whatsoever, but really trying to be authentic and provide value to the industry. Today’s topic has to be about funding. Grant funding. There’s a lot of different scenarios available out there. And we certainly want to provide the value that we can, from our experience in both working in past grants and talk about, of course the futures that are out there.

So we’ve got an incredible panel lined up today. I’ll let each one of them do their, their own introductions. But my name is Brian Hollister and I am the CEO of Bonfire Engineering & Construction. We are headquartered in Denver, Colorado, and support companies, service providers, munies, and helping them to develop broadband.

You know, our why and is what we focus on is we really believe in trying to close the digital divide by providing access to these communities. We know we can make communities stronger. And healthier and more prosperous with broadband. And really what we do is we serve as a hub and spoke for fiber planning, fiber design, and fiber [00:02:00] construction placement.

That’s a little bit about what we do now. Let’s hear from our panel. So we’ve got Brian Worthen, CEO of Mammoth Networks and visionary broadband. We have Teresa Ferguson from the federal broadband engagement. We have Cheryl Henshaw. Cheryl is a CEO of Learn Design Apply and we have Glenn Fishbein. Who was the CEO of Geospatial Engineering and Optimization.

Why don’t we go ahead and get started and go from left to right, right.Brian. How about you get started? You give a little introduction and then we’ll get started in today’s topic.

Brian Worthen: Yeah. We’re talking about broadband funding today. So I’ll take a funding approach to my introduction. Since I’ve been on this before. 2014. Our company decided to borrow $600,000, which seems like any time of money to buy some routers. And that was the first bit of new equipment we’d ever bought everything before that was used. So we put on the big boy pants and we went out and got a loan and that’s the middle part of our story. But we started out as a dial up company in 1994.

And we’ve gone through [00:03:00] every iteration of broadband, DSL, Wireless, Fiber. We have service and over 116 communities. And why I say over is, census designated places, unincorporated places what’s called a populated place. We’re in some of the smallest areas. We’re in Colorado was fiber. So you think about the craziness of that.

So we really enjoy and at the beginning of this while we were doing introductions and prior to us going live, I was furiously working on some grant applications. So, uh, I’m on, I’m on a bit of a high thinking about funding right now because there’s a lot of available.

Cheryl Henshaw: Alright. My name is Cheryl Henshaw.

So I’m the owner and president of a little grit consulting company called Learn Design Apply. So I’ve been in the grants business, always associated with technology for the last 20 years. And we’ve really kind of evolved into the broadband space in our past. We’ve really focused on what I call GEM. Government, Education, Medical type of organizations.

[00:04:00] But the thing that they all have in common is that they acquired this, you know, this highway, right? This network that they deliver information services, education on. So it made perfect sense to kind of expand what we were doing and bring that element of funding into kind of our portfolio of grants. And it’s been a really interesting thing.

And then, with the pandemic, there’s an unprecedented amount of money flying out right now. So it’s really just kind of developing an understanding of what’s out there and who’s qualified and where there elements to put pieces of broadband in with other activities and tie it all together.

Teresa Ferguson: So I’m Teresa Ferguson. I am with the Colorado Broadband Office.

My title is Director of Federal Broadband Engagements, and that’s just my executive director’s funny way of idling the broadband funding bird dog, basically. I have [00:05:00] spent  my entire career advocating for three state public utility commissions on behalf of broadband policy. And I spend the other half of my career building fiber optic broadband infrastructures for school districts across the country.

Under the E-Rate program. So I’ve, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good side of view. I’m just not a policy wonk. I actually went out into the real world and built things. My mom was a school teacher and my dad was a carpenter. I am the product of their lives work.

This is not just a job for me. This is truly a passion. I believe broadband can change people’s lives. We I’ve been screaming into this void for 30 years. Telling people that they needed it. And the silver lining for me, if there is one, you know, small, but on this pandemic, people was finally said; “Oh, this is what you do, Teresa!”

I’m the broadband funding [00:06:00] bird dog.

Nick Dinsmoor: And we’re glad you’re there.

Glenn Fishbein: Well many long years ago when there was only 3G instead of 4G, I got myself stuck in a company called Samsung, which was a contractor for sprint. And while we were watching this amazing roll out of 18,000 cell towers throughout the United States. So I, me and my now one of my partners realize that you can’t manage a project like that off of a single spreadsheet, which is what they were doing.

So we started developing automation tools that were somewhat more suitable towards deployment activities, and finally leverage that provide rapid design studies for communities trying to figure out if they should even try to go for it broadband services. And we’ve been doing that for the last two years.

The smallest community we’ve actually helped into deployment had 46 households, and we’ve done larger ones up to about 20,000.  But the idea of basically being is. We can make an affordable [00:07:00] approach to get them, that they can apply for money under the various programs that are available to them and have the basis by which they can write the grant proposal that somebody like Cheryl’s organization.

Most recently, thanks to COVID. We’ve been a lot busier. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I think it’s really fundamentaly bad and we’ve been stuck and do a lot of education programs whereby suddenly discovered that like in the state of Minnesota, there are 32,000 students. Who have no access to broadband and the odds that I’m opening up in the fall are pretty low.

So now we’re finding ourselves doing emergency networks, which you can go implement later, Brian, after we get it done. Just finding demand is excitingly horrible and very real at this time and the money, as you’re saying is flowing, but a lot of people don’t know how to get to it.

Nick Dinsmoor: So let’s jump right into the, kind of the, the first topic for that this hour, and really it’s understanding [00:08:00] the fundamentals of what types of funding are out there.

Right? So the people that are listening in and have signed up are. Are there service providers? There’s communities. There’s a lot of different audiences, but. I’m looking at an article that was a couple of weeks ago and the title of it was”Rural Broadband Bills are Plenty”.

Here’s a list and it’s quite long. And then I just saw there’s an NCIA report. That’s 125 pages of different funding programs. So I’ll ask the question. Who has the money and how are they trying to get the funding to people, especially as Teresa you mentioned that even Glenn during a pandemic, and again, I agree silver lining people maybe have gotten that giant sledgehammer on the head that, wow, maybe this is important know.

Teresa Ferguson: Well, I’ll jump in on that one because it’s occupying my days.

So who has the money? My boss likes to say between local state and federal. Only the federal aid [00:09:00] federal government can print money. So, you know, who has the money. So you have the FCC, um, they have a number of programs right now, specifically that hopefully Brian was looking at this one today. The short form is due on the rule digital opportunity fund auction that will occur in October of this year.

That is $16 billion dollars that the FCC will auction through a reverse auction and it will provide service to areas that have less than 25/3 mbps in the census blocks that were identified by the FCC. So if you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re service provider, if you file that short form in the proceedings today, all you need to say is the States you want to participate in what the technology is that you will use and provide your technical and managerial competence.

It doesn’t require that you participate in the auction. It just is a placeholder for your participation in that option. So I would highly encourage you, [00:10:00] there’s $16 billion dollars in that program that is available, that will be auctioned in October. And if you don’t get your form in today, you can’t play in the game.

So there’s other ones. And I know Cheryl’s got some ideas on these others, but USDA and EDA both have great programs that you need to be looking at. And there’s, you know, millions of dollars in both of those for deployment of broadband to the home.

Brian Hollister: Teresa. What does the short form do? Cause that’s a critical element. If you do not do that, you cannot participate.

Teresa Ferguson: You guys timed this perfectly. So I add almost for bringing it up. It is today and it’s it’s past, right. It was 6:00 PM Eastern. So we came in, you know, we’re sliding into home after the tag, so.

Nick Dinsmoor: So I guess. I mean, so we’ve talked about RDOF, USDA, like all this funding though.

Obviously, maybe let’s dive in a little bit. Are there [00:11:00] different expectations depending on where the funding’s coming from? Is it geared toward different people? I mean, you mentioned service providers, but is the money truly intended for. Is all this money to intended for service providers or is it intended for other groups?

I think Cheryl will be able to speak to that, but I want it, I want to actually boil this down into three types of funding. There’s reverse auction, which the FCC has been doing pretty well. We, we actually bid in the CAF II auction and they base it on the wireless options or the frequency options. And it actually is really efficient.

So they got the reverse auction where everybody bids down to a level, they was still build it at, with the goal of stretching your money as far as possible. And the FCC has been administrating that. Then there’s programs based on scoring. We’re like reconnect, I think is a points-based or scoring based.

And then there’s some that are just based on merit, like the EDA. And so that you think about all these different types that it boils down to is. Does your project have merit? Right? And then, if there’s [00:12:00] more than one or two people in there, you’ve got to make sure to score well, uh, the reverse auctions, a totally different ballgame.

It’s coming fast and furious, but I I’ve talked to Learn Design Apply before, and I know these guys have a real firm understanding of USDA programs specifically. So Cheryl, that’s you.

Cheryl Henshaw: Yeah. So you, you missed one and Glenn mentioned it before our call the fact that there’s all this careless money flowing out, and those are just allocations. So. You know, States, Organizations. I mean, they’re every kind of variation of peers funding you could think about, but money is flying at people and with these allocations, it’s really just understanding the priorities that they set in their broad priorities.

Trust me, you kind of have to stay within the lines, right. But you can use that funding to help impact education, access to education, which is such a huge issue [00:13:00] right now. Health care services. It really just depends on the program and which variation of CARES you’re talking about. Um, but yeah, an interesting thing that we’ve seen.

There were always programs and I’m not the biggest fan of this. It seemed like they put broadband and so category. So again, I think of broadband is like creating the highway, but, you know, if you ever go to any like, reconnect like the webinars or the seminars that they have, they always have. And from NTIA, who’s a fabulous speaker.

She’s always doing these breakout sessions and it’s about creating community partnerships and gathering your stakeholders and things that I am a big personal fan of. And then when you look at the reconnect application, there’s nothing to do with it. Like not a single point and it just annoys me. But anyway, what we’re seeing now, instead of having the broadband programs be completely siloed, you’re seeing elements of broadband within other programs.

So a really good example is the USDA rural utility services. They have one of my favorite grants that distance [00:14:00] learning and telemedicine grant. Obviously you can’t do distance learning or telemedicine without that broadband capability. Right? So they’ve now said, well, Hey, we’ll allow you to spend up to 20% of the budget, total maximum budget or maximum award, sorry, is a million dollars.

So that’s pretty decent chunk of change for last mile type things. Right? So, you know, terminating fiber into a school building or community center health center, whatever. So you start to layer those things together. You know, an element about the HUD grant or an EDA grant or something places where there are components for broadband.

And now you’re having, in my opinion more impact because it’s not just the broadband, it’s what you’re doing with it. Are you, you know, helping increase workforce opportunities, are you helping, again, enabling distance learning, education, healthcare, those types of things. And in my mind, that’s more impactful to a community then these very siloed programs.

Nick Dinsmoor: So let’s ask that, let’s ask the obvious question, [00:15:00] Cheryl though. Those are all values of broadband, which I would say that everybody in this call has agrees that are valuable, but yeah. Does any one of those things make the likelihood of getting the money any greater ?

Cheryl Henshaw: It depends on the grant. Right? So a lot of the state broadband, and so I know everything originates federal, right? But you do have many, many, many States more than half. Have their own state broadband programs. So those vary from state to state. A lot of them are far more like feasibility programs than actually deliver, you know, building out a broadband network, but the state programs tend to have more of a focus on like economic development and tying those community partnerships in your community stakeholders in, they look at things like signs of community support, not just, you know, form letters, but I mean, we actually worked on a few where people took pictures of like the fish fry that they had, where they rolled out this idea and they had people sign up petition and, you know, do kind of cool things like that? So the state programs are much better about [00:16:00] that than something, again, like Reconnect where, they don’t care. Right? It was even supposed to be about your objective score. So, you know, you got points for things like, you know, the speed of your network or, you know, how many healthcare facilities were served or educational facilities to serve that sort of thing.

Nick Dinsmoor: You’re saying, the state’s about caring and the federal is about speeding?

Cheryl Henshaw: The federal is just all about your score, right? Which I’m not always sure that’s the best approach and it, with round one, it didn’t even come down to your score.

Teresa Ferguson: Well, I have to advocate on behalf of the state too. But the state of Colorado has our own broadband fund.

We actually have two, we have one, a middle mile, which Mammoth has participated in. It provides strategic planning and the actual construction on a 50/50 match, and then we have a last mile grant program. That is a 25/75 split. So the applicant only provides 25%. [00:17:00] And the reason I want to jump in on this point is that I would hold up state broadband funded applications as an example of low cost efficiency. They get it done quick, and they’re deploying high capacity infrastructures. When I compare that to the Connect America Fund. Dollars that went out when I go to the website, the federal website, and I look at the $249 million that came to the state of Colorado, just Colorado, between 2016 and 2019. For the provision of 10/1 mbps service. The state of Colorado’s broadband fund had funded in most cases, fiber to the prem for about $1,300 per pass and the Connect America Fund, I paid almost $3,500 in some cases, in some [00:18:00] instances for 10 megabits down and one megabit up. So those state programs, I would highly advocate that you take a look at your state broadband funds, talk to your state broadband offices and get engaged in those programs because they’re efficient, they’re effective, and they direct the money exactly where you guys are looking to put broadband, where it’s most needed.

Nick Dinsmoor:  The slogan is “States, they get it done”. Is that what you’re translating?

Teresa Ferguson: Yes, they get it done.

Cheryl Henshaw: And they’re helpful, right? I mean, that’s what I found. Those state programs…she just give me all the kudos, but those state broadband offices really, they want you to get funded.

They want to help you through the process. I’ve seen them try to help people get their match money. I mean, they, they really do, kind of go out of their way to try to help people get funded.

Glenn Fishbein: One of the issues we’ve seen with the CARES money, is that the interpretation of how the funds can be spent is not all that clear.

We’ve got examples of a, for example, Kansas thinks they may have up to $500 million to apply to various broadband [00:19:00] programs. Whereas Minnesota thinks they might have maybe 16 million and Minnesota is somewhat larger than Kansas. So this is going to require the state offices to get their legal teams together to tell them what they can and cannot do. We’re not seeing a lot of consistency and there’s no guidance coming out of the legislation. For example, if we look at specific dollars allocated to broadband in the last C.A.R.E.S act. It was a hundred million dollars to reconnect and 25 million to telemedicine, but there are discretionary funds in the billions of dollars that people are attempting to apply to broadband by calling it tele-medicine, education, or whatever. Unfortunately it’s not uniform by state, so that’s something you have to look at clearly on a state by state basis to know if you can play.

Brian Hollister:  What’s a recommendation, I guess, Glenn, for someone, you know, that wants to get started and are not sure kind of where to start and if they especially want to start to look at a program like that, and then if they’re multi-state. Are you saying  that the C.A.R.E.S acts [00:20:00] is actually being implemented differently state by state?

Glenn Fishbein: Yes. If you want broadband funding right now, move to Kansas, don’t move to Minnesota.

Brian Hollister: And I guess what’s the best way to figuring out…should they be reaching out through their state representative? To try to, you know, what’s the quickest path on trying to understand what your state’s doing.

Glenn Fishbein: Every state should have somebody like Teresa sitting there doing the interpretation of federal law and how that applies to the state law.

Now the broadband office probably won’t know who the Teresa is, except in Colorado. That will be there. And that’s what you’ve got to find in the process. The person who does the interpretation of the law tells the governor what he can and cannot get away with. That’s the key to getting the money free.

Teresa Ferguson: And I will point out. Thank you, Glenn, for the pitch there.

Um, the State Broadband Leadership Network, um, that is hosted on the NTI website will provide you with a direct list of the Teresa’s and their phone numbers and their addresses. So please [00:21:00] do get to know your state broadband office because there’s some really dynamic people there that are doing a great job of bird-dogging all of these programs.

And when I think Glen was talking about specifically is the CARES act funding that went to the department of ed and that department, they had got funding, got allocated to governor’s offices and into the departments of ed. And they’re sorting out right now how they’re going to spend that money so start talking to your department of ed offices, your broadband offices, and they can help you in that regard.

Brian Worthen: And I’d like to point out something. There’s a disparity in all this. If you’re a provider that has three employees, Right. And the owner is on a ladder working. That’s going to be hard to, to participate in these programs. And conversely, if you’re a large company, especially with carriers, cause it’s, it’s about speed.

You’re not going to be able to participate in this program. So this is an interesting time because carriers specifically is starting to flow out. South Dakota has already handed theirs out [00:22:00] and the middle tier providers aren’t getting it. Not the small guys, not the large guys, but the middle tier. The ones that are stepping out, they’re borrowing more, they’ve already proven their medal, right? They have established themselves, but this disadvantages, small providers for sure.

Teresa Ferguson: There was 200 million that came in the carriers act for the FCC for the deployment of telemedicine type applications, you know? So you could do those remote consulting and remote behavioral counseling sessions, $200 millions given it’s gone.

The money has already been allocated to healthcare providers throughout the country in less than two months. Record time, 200 million was awarded.

Nick Dinsmoor: Wow.

Cheryl Henshaw: The crazy thing about that. I mean, I have a little teeny weeny company and we don’t pay for it. Google searches or anything like that. Right? Our website is there just for credibility. We trended. Because we realized as soon as they put the information out, they did a really incomplete job. [00:23:00] So FCC does applications, you know, like you submit an application for E right. So I let her use SAC and they view it for accuracy. Did you do what you were supposed to do and then. Hey, we found you. And this. Became a competitive program.

They didn’t put together, you know, good rules. People really didn’t know how to apply because I work with people across the country. We started like hitting those speed bumps and we’d figure it out. And we started putting together a guide and this guy gets circulated all over the US, it was crazy how it happened, but this is pretty common when federal organizations are trying to get money on the street quickly They don’t do a good job with, you know, helping people understand how do I get my hands on it? What are you looking for? Like, what are the rules I should be following. A lot of that didn’t happen with a COVID the FCC money.

Nick Dinsmoor: So, let me go back to a comment that Brian or Mr. Worthen brought up about the disparity. So are, I mean, I guess what you’re saying is there are different people and different [00:24:00] sizes that are more apt to get the funding, so I mean. Who is an ideal, what’s the ideal profile of somebody who can get the money today?

Brian Hollister: I guess one, just to add on to that. What’s the timeframe of the deployment associated with the carriers dollars.

Brian Worthen: So most of the States. I’ll answer the second question first. Most States taken the position that has to be deployed by year end. That’s the way the CARES act is written. And so that’s another.

Nick Dinsmoor:  To clearly know federal people are engineers or know how to develop anything.

Brian Worthen: And, and the hard part is CAF II was already ruled out. And so you got equipment, fiber, materials, wireless equipment going out right now, and contractors are busy. And then you got people readying right now. So any engineer or any, uh, you know, someone that rights grants is busy right now. Right. You know, getting ready for art off.

And so carriers is coming at a really inopportune time. There’s a lack of availability for fiber. There’s a lack of availability for contractors, [00:25:00] equipment. Everything’s backwards because of COVID, uh, manufacturing on certain material is limited. And so, like in our case, we’ve been ordering fiber extra. And I think we talked about that previously.

The fact of the matter is this timeline. And then the fact that there is money available, but you get a hurry up and build it. That’s tough. That’s the toughest part.

Brian Hollister: It’s like these programs are contradicting themselves, right? It’s the federal traditional, our dog? They’re certainly heavy weighting on fiber. And I would obviously say the same for the Colorado Dora Fund as well.

And naturally we certainly believe in fiber here, but then when you think about the carriers act, it’s like you’ve got retool your brain. Glenn and I talk about this a lot. It’s the only way to participate in that side of the house is to get in and go totally wireless. Which could still provide a lot of value, a lot of value in these areas, but it’s like, we’ve got to like put on our wireless hat now.

It’s like, take the fiber hat off for that program, then we’ve got to totally change everything up and rethink everything of how we’re doing it because it’s [00:26:00] speed to market speed. Speed, speed. And you got to hope, you can pull it all together a year in. And I mean, in technically, what is the definition of the money spent?

I mean, is it that they’re all connected? I know you’ve submitted quite a few applications, right? I mean, what is? What’s done?

Brian Worthen: It’s basically to ensure healthcare remains uninterrupted, ensure first responders are uninterrupted, ensure students have access, ensure teachers have access, and so that is interesting because other programs like tele-health. Tele-health is pretty ethereal, right?

What is tele-health? Everybody can write their own application. It can be anything from the iPad to remote sessions, to some software, right? This is very plain and simple. Are services going to be continued through a crisis? Right? And really, if you think about it, everything’s, COVID related right now.

And so it’s just about the messaging. It’s just about how you write that application, but to go back and answer Nick’s [00:27:00] question. A provider that has a relationship at a state level has built relationships with communities is going to be able to get this rolled out. But there again, they’ve gotta be quick because like you said, Brian Hollister, the. This is a wireless play.

Carriers is the wireless, but with a few five mile laterals here and 10 mile laterals there built on fiber, but it’s not a 40 mile, middle mile project.

Glenn Fishbein:  Come to call Land o’Lakes just to have an Indian on their butter bags.

They decided that every one of their broad, every one of their facilities that had broadband cadet put up the WI-FI Hotspot, including our, one of their partners. Now they’ve got a consortium of 55 companies that are working together, kind of put up broadband for education purposes. And the thing that we have been helping them figure out is okay, Where should you go?

What kind of fixed wireless can you do? And can you go into partnership with the local state [00:28:00] to do this as well and bring their facilities another analog. Washington State did a massive deployment of WI-FI hotspots throughout every one of their facilities. Now they’re looking at the same thing. The issue boils down to if you’re, and you don’t have any Hills, and if you can get your hands on fixed wireless and you can do it.

You got big trees, lots of Hills you’re off. You just can’t do it. It can be done with that money by December 31st provided the supply chain issues can be dealt with.

Brian Worthen: What Glenn is pointing out is Kansas as well, suited for this as well.

Nick Dinsmoor: Exactly.

Glenn Fishbein: As Washington State in Colorado.

Teresa Ferguson: Are not.

Brian Hollister: No. On the Eastern side of our state. We’re okay.

Nick Dinsmoor: Let’s jump into for those people that are in it. There was a couple of questions about, you know, didn’t even know about the short form and the people that are trying to learn about this. Obviously, Tracy, you said they could go to the NGIA website learn about all the Teresa’s the other 49 Teresa’s in the country, but how would [00:29:00] someone know if funding one is available for them in a community, or even if they’re the end user?

Uh, you know, we’ve talked in the last beer and broadband episode, a lot about telehealth and the communities. And if somebody says they’re in a bad position, but they clearly need it and want it. How do they know if the funding that’s out there, the obviously the 16 billion plus of these other funds. How do they know if it’s potentially going to go to them?

Brian Hollister: Well, I guess just before you start to, we had an interesting call come in the other day and they kind of knew where they wanted to get to. They wanted to actually help a tribal area get connectivity, and the service provided this ISP just did not know how to get started. It was like, okay, we know what we want to kind of try and do, I’m sure that there might be some specific programs potentially available for tribal or some changes. You know, some options that might be a little bit different. How do we figure out what those are? What programs could be utilized. I mean, they were just like, how did we get started? They’d been a private company [00:30:00] doing all their own private investment, but this is a very hard area to serve.

It’s a small tribe, a hundred people. I mean, they’re in dire need of it. And, and it just, just didn’t know where to get started. What would be the advice to the team?

Teresa Ferguson: Cheryl and I work with these guys all the time. So you work with USDA’s rural utility services state team. They will have specific experts in each of the programs, whether it’s a distance learning and telemedicine grant, or if it’s a community connect grant, they have experts in those areas that are in the region. So that would be my first guidance. You know, if you reach out to your broadband office first, they can probably point you to the state representatives for the USDA.

EDA also has regional representatives. So they are really great. They will literally walk through all of the prerequisites for your app, for the EDA funds that are available. And, and just to get to your point, I think Nick. [00:31:00] How do you find out if money has come to your area? Well, that’s a bit of a black box, honestly, at least in the state of Colorado, our state’s broad band last mile fund, the Colorado broadband fund.

They publish all of the applications and the awards. And you will see where the addresses are for that, those applications that are awarded the USDA and the FCC is little bit more difficult to find out. If I were just an individual, I would call. The winners that you see on the website when the award letters come out, calls the company that is awarded and ask. You know, did you get award money?

That’s the best I can tell you. Cause they don’t, they will not publish the list of addresses. You can go on the Colorado broadband web, our broadband website, the CBOs website, and you can see where funding has been allocated. But I don’t know that every state does that.

Glenn Fishbein: Brian with respect to the tribal areas.

There’s a nonprofit company [00:32:00] based in California called Muralnet. Um, what they do is they specifically support broadband for tribal areas. Right now, the drawing and major push for the 2.5 GHz Spectrum making sure people apply for their licenses. And they actually have a small deployment team that will install the equipment at pretty darn low costs.

And they have sources of money from various BIA programs that they can also add to the pot that are not part of the CARES program whatsoever. So if this tribal, there is at least one good route for people to start getting it off the ground.

Brian Hollister: What was the name of that company again? Glenn.

Glenn Fishbein: M U R A L N E T.

Nick Dinsmoor: So before we kind of switch topics and talk about data, which is, I know something that Cheryl and Glenn obviously know a lot about. I’ll kinda ask the, the elephant in the room question and we’re clearly in an election year, politics.

Brian Hollister: Oh no, you’re not going there. Yeah. Oh boy.

Nick Dinsmoor: I guess I asked you the obvious [00:33:00] question, right?

I mean, I think it is a nonpartisan issue that everybody wants broadband, right. Clearly. But does politics play a role in the availability of funding? And I bring it up because, I mean, there’s obviously there’s a bill in the house currently that hasn’t been passed in the Senate. That is, I think it’s like a hundred billion dollars and more money coming for broadband.

Which again, all of us, I think agree that you know, more money on broadband is a good thing, but what’s your guys’ take on, I mean, how, how does politics play in it? And do we see a shift in the availability of these funds? You know, post November.

Cheryl Henshaw: One. I don’t think anybody would ever admit. Oh yes. You know, the politics plays a big role here and who we’re going to award. Of course it does. Of course it does. But you can do things on your end, as an applicant to just make your representatives aware that you’re applying and engage, you know, your state broadband office engage, you know, your office of rural development. Make sure as many people know as possible, invite them [00:34:00] out to visit you in the area that you plan to serve, and then they can advocate on your behalf.

So. Don’t wait to submit a grant and then, you know, you call a Senator and say, go lobby for me. That’s not the way it works.

Glenn Fishbein: We’ve been dealing with this issue, actually, as a practical matter for the last couple of weeks, we were trying to get a state contract, which we got and the State Telecommunications Association was basically saying, well, no, you don’t need to do speed tests.

And the response that we came back with is. Here, we are just, we are exhibiting. We are showing you two policy issues. One, parts of urban areas that need help, and then parts of rural areas that need help. And the opposition vanished at that point because nobody from either party wants to withhold services to the inner cities or rural areas.

Teresa Ferguson: I can’t support more of what you’re saying. You have to be careful in how you approach this, but honestly, Every one of my applicants to every fund that they go after I advocate from the [00:35:00] beginning. Get your, your Congressman, get your local, your regional councils of government. Go out and get those letters of support.

Submit them, find the little attachment button and put those on your applications. They are literally critical. And many of the programs like USDAs reconnects program, right? They had to provide a governor’s letter of identifying various attributes of the state’s broadband policy and overbuild policy and municipal, you know, or cooperative electric bands.

So I mean, many of the programs, all require some type of political, uh, letter of support or a check mark that it’s not overbuilding, some of the grant would not overbuild someone. So it’s not that it’s political, but they do want to hear from the local and state authorities that the money is going to be used where it should.

Nick Dinsmoor:  You know, I think we all can agree. I mean, we talked about the beginning of the importance of [00:36:00] community, so I mean, Politicians are community representatives. So you need their support.

Brian Hollister: Just add onto that is they’re incredibly helpful. They will guide you, right? They want, they want to see wins, right? This money needs to go out and it’s going to be a huge economic benefit for all these communities.

So they want to help you. So if you, if you haven’t went down that road before and you’re like, Oh gosh, I had to call my state representative and never talked to them before. I would get involved with them because you’d be really surprised how helpful they are.

Nick Dinsmoor: All right. Let’s shift gears and hit. Let’s talk about data.

So obviously Cheryl, you and Teresa and Glenn have all talked and Brian about. You know, what’s needed all these different funds. What data specifically is needed? Let’s say you get politicians recommendation and endorsement, but what data is required to be most successful in getting this funding?

Cheryl Henshaw: That’s on the grant, right? So if you’re talking about a state grant, they may want to look at things like your [00:37:00] demographics, like, you know, poverty, and rurality, and population density and, you know, education levels and unemployment, you know, like a variety of things like that, you know, on some of the big federal programs, it really is. Are you unserved or underserved?

And that is by program and they have very specific definitions, like. You know, art office 25/3 mbps reconnect was 10/1 mbps. The 10/1 mbps requirement was, you know, more than the 90% or at least 90% is unserved our office completely unserved. So you just have to get into the fine details of the grant and make sure that you know what they are and that you’re following them.

Glenn Fishbein: I think one of the biggest issues is the quality of the 477 data from the FCC. We were looking at Kentucky cities 500 and some more cities in Kentucky. By reconnect standards. Two of those cities are eligible for reconnect. Kentucky probably has 30% to 40% of the population that can’t even get a signal.

So the problem that we have been trying to tackle is figuring out [00:38:00] how can we put in. A very public way information that says I am eligible instead of you cannot apply. I think that this is the fundamental issue that is going to go forward over the next couple of years, if the FCC gets it right. And I have no reason to believe they can or even know how that would be great, but a lot of rural America is already completely blocked from grant applications because of the quality of their data.

What we’ve seen coming out of a NTIA and even your wonderful state of Colorado. Um, it’s not exactly what we would consider to be appropriate for the communities that need services and forgive me, Teresa.

Teresa Ferguson: No, no, Glen I’ll fall onto the bus on that one. We beg. All we can do is beg for reported data. We can collect the 477 data that is self-reported typically marketing information. It is not granular level verifiable data. [00:39:00] So the States are basically just held captive to the data that they can possibly get from the FCC’s 477 data collection.

And then we try to do our best at identifying and collecting data that supplements that our GIS team collects data from all the companies that will willingly give it to us twice a year to try to make those maps look better, Glenn, and, and more representative. But I just say, you know, two things to add to that.

Every time I go out into the Western Slope or the Eastern Plains. My constituents chew my backside because my farmers and my ranchers say, why are you agreeing to this 25/3 mbps Teresa as a broadband standard? So when we get back to date and we get that back to that, What I think they need to start looking at Nick and their story.

I think we’re moving that way because of COVID. We’ve got to change the metric of what broadband is, because that is not a use case. People cannot use three up that is not [00:40:00] functional for telemedicine, telework or tele education. Period. But we’re also seeing in many of these grants applications and, and the priorities that are being given is the service a use case space bandwidth solution and are there digital equity or low income, uh, programs that those recipients, those ISPs are offering? Because even if you build it. If people can’t afford it, then you still got the disconnect, so that digital equity is starting to creep into grading metrics on all of these programs. You’ll be seeing that more and more.

So that’s another data point, Nick, that they’ll be putting into these grants award checklists.

Brian Worthen: I think Theresa says something interesting. There they have a GIS team in Colorado. Some States have nothing. They don’t spend money on mapping at all. So Colorado at least has done a job of mapping. And that’s a very difficult terrain to map

[00:41:00] Nick Dinsmoor: States get it done.

Brian Hollister: That’s your new tagline.

Nick Dinsmoor: Colorado, get it done.

Brian Hollister: We just had an issue and Glenn, we worked on it too. Where in Colorado, we realized that. The County gave us a bunch of addresses. Um, they were geocoded it wouldn’t line up on the map and we talked to Glenn about it. And then we ultimately also then went back to the Colorado OIT office and taught their GIS group.

They had the same issue. I was like, wow. There is an issue and we actually tracked it all the way back to Google. Right? So what was helpful in that? Because we actually hadn’t seen that before was that then they helped us validate that it was incorrect and then helped give us the guidance and Learn Design Apply is also helping on this grant too, to really give us the guidance that validated, one, the issue and then told us what to also include into the grant submission we looked at, and then they were also already involved, right? So we had them involved. Cheryl’s team helped [00:42:00] us get involved with them. And in terms of a suggestion, they were very helpful. Glenn also validated the issue. It’s two different people validated.

And then ultimately they knew about it, right. And then said, put this as specific information into the ground. So everyone knew about it. It wasn’t going to get this thing discarded, but we needed to show what was served and unserved. And we needed to pull some business addresses out of it. And this everything wasn’t quite lining up. At first, we thought everything was just off 700 feet to the East, but that was only about 60% of the data.

It was a very odd thing. Right. And we just, we had never seen that before. We didn’t know what to do.

Glenn Fishbein: Funny footnote. This morning, I got a call from one of your folks. Who’s doing some further diagnostics on that issue. And what he discovered is if you put on an address that could be on the street, but isn’t on the street.

Like you’ve got one, two, three, four, five, there’s no one, two, three, four, five on that street. The geocoding is perfect. But if it’s a known house, a real address, the geocoding. It makes sense, but there’s [00:43:00] a little convoluted reasoning why.

Brian Hollister: Well, that sounds like our doctor, Dave must have given you a call.

Brian Worthen: This is the advantage though of the hometown provider. Because they. So, I’ll give you an example. We’re working on some grant applications a day and my brother and I are partners in this business.

And there’s a few of us here that own shares, like it’s a really tight group, but the point is he started in the field for us. Oh, I don’t know, 12 years ago. And so he’s bumped into everybody. He’s been to homes. He’s been to dinners in five, six different counties. And so today we’re talking about an area and he said, Oh, so and so on some land up there.

And I know they have power up there for a stock tank, right. That is huge. When you’re talking about mapping people that are applying for funding for an area that’s not familiar with the area. It is impossible. Right. But knowing who owns a stock tank and who’s going to be a friendly person that we can buy an easement from are reported with the County. Huge.

Teresa Ferguson: Well, it’s local [00:44:00] heroes guys. It’s the local champion. I mean, that’s what we talk about all the time. This problem is going to be solved at the local level. That’s why, um, I don’t know if you guys have seen it or not, but Senator Bennett, just to introduce the bridges act, that’s going to allocate about $30 billion to States directly to be able to address the issues that we know right. Brian and Glenn, we know where broadband is and we have, you know, these chronically unserved areas, but with our state program, we can’t focus money. We have to wait for applications to come in. And so we’re very excited about the Bridges Act because it would give States the ability to solve our own problems.

You know, the government sprint. You’re going to get to put it where it needs to go to work better.

Brian Worthen:  And the question was asked earlier, how does a provider position themselves for this kind of funding. I would contend that if a provider has not positioned themselves for carriers. Carriers is tough, but there’s going [00:45:00] to be two more carriers, act out for carriers, right?

To the point, whether it’s the bridges act or the one before the house, there’s going to be additional funding next year and the year after, until we solve this problem.

Cheryl Henshaw: Well, and I would tell you too, there’s going to be stimulus money. Much like you had with the RF funding and the Obama administration.

I mean, once we get through the pandemic, then we have to get our economy back on his feet and they’re going to invest heavily in infrastructure and broadband is going to be right in the middle of that. So this funding isn’t going away anytime soon.

Nick Dinsmoor:  On the data side is certain data more. I guess what data is giving the submitter the advantage? I mean, is, is someone at that state or federal level. If they, you know, if the data comes from this source, Hey, I got a much more likely chance, or you know, if it’s coming from this source, my chances and looks good. Does the data where it comes from, does it matter?

Brian Worthen: I think that Learn Design Apply. I talked to them about this once and it was really about the story. In fact, I talked to a gentlemen in Bozeman that got money from the NCAA [00:46:00] and he said the same thing. It’s the story. Right. USDA is farmers, right? If you get letters from 15 farms, you’re in with the USDA, that’s the way it works.

Teresa Ferguson: I agree. The RDOF is not going to be like that guys. That’s the crazy, crazy time reverse auction. Let’s see how little money we can spend, but I agree with Brian and Cheryl in your USDA and EDA and the States broadband funds. It’s the story. That’s why I said the local champion. You’ve got to get into the roots and you’ve got to know your community and you bring that story.

And then you’re giving that agency that’s funding you. You’re giving them a win cause they got a story to tell.

Cheryl Henshaw: You know, back to the whole point about. Your local providers being so impactful and instrumental to these projects. If you look at the first big broadband programs that again came out with the Obama stimulus funding.

So many of those programs fail. Those projects did not ever get off the ground. Because [00:47:00] the big giant carriers came in, they got awarded billions of dollars and then they went, Oh, this isn’t profitable. And they abandoned project. Not going to name names here. But you know, it’s not like if you’re invested in your community, you know, if you’re investing in your, your community and you’re, you’re doing something for yourself, your family, your friends, your community members, you have buy in, you care about your projects. Those types of providers are more likely to see these projects through and make sure they’re successful.

Brian Worthen: I agree. And if I was a local provider. Which I am. I’m spending time with my County commissioners, who also know my state legislators and they can make introductions.

And then my state legislator is going to introduce me to my legislative constituents in DC. Right. It’s not that hard to reach through those layers and in an election year, which was brought up earlier, this is a compelling story. Nobody wants to take anything away from students right now. Nobody wants to take anything away from someone on a, uh, a webcam call with their [00:48:00] health provider. This is an important story.

Brian Hollister:  But what about the data guys? I mean, I’m all about stories, right? I mean, I totally agree. A hundred percent, but if you have data with the story. Right? Isn’t that more compelling? I mean, there’s a lot of great storytellers out there, but at the end of the day, everyone likes a little bit of data to back it.

So what types of data out there? I mean, if you’re, if you’re looking at some of the state data that they’re getting from the FCC, which ultimately is being aggregated through, you know, the 477 data, which, you know, certainly a lot of people are not happy with that data. What is a way to work around that?

I mean, I’ve seen grassroots efforts of folks walking door to door and getting folks to do a speed test, taking a picture of it, but certainly there’s other better ways to provide a better statistical analysis or better accuracy level of really where this particular community is at. You know, I mean, this is a, this is a little bit of a softball over to you, Glenn. What do you, what do you think about that?

Glenn Fishbein: Basically [00:49:00] doing as a pure policy wank issue is the cost per installation per household. The lowest cost per household is the winner from that point of view. So the data that tells you how to calculate the cost per household is the data that matters. From my perspective, I will always discourage use of FCC 477 data, except to point out that it’s wrong. The data that matters is that geography, the terrain, the cost of doing trenching and boring.

Whether or not, you’ve got good RF propagation characteristics. So you can model a network cost before you even start. And now you can rank order these, and this now becomes the priority list that you can hand off for those scarce dollars. I mean, there’d be money flowing everywhere, but there isn’t enough.

So you have to basically get the most bang for the buck to serve the most people that you can for the money you have and the data that lets you do that is it the data you care about.

Brian Hollister: So that’s obviously a [00:50:00] huge aspect, but what about also the piece to help. If the 477 data is obviously not showing you what you like to see here and you want to argue it. What’s the best lowest cost scenario to try and gather that data as quickly as possible?

Glenn Fishbein: Well, I don’t want to do a commercial plug here, so tell you what they do.

Brian Hollister: I’m asking you! I’m trying to get them to go here, man.

Glenn Fishbein: We do crowd sourcing. We do it at the township for a thousand dollars a year. We do it out of the County for $5,000 a year, and we have massive discounts for state. Just translates to about 2 cents a household per year. Um, we’ve got one state contract signed, we’ve got another coming. We probably have about 15 counties or townships throughout the USA programs are collecting the data.

There’s statistically significant results, and nobody’s gonna argue with our data. They can’t.

The basic answer is here. We have 95% competence interval. Show me yours.

Nick Dinsmoor: Jerry [00:51:00] McGuire moment, like show me the money. Show me the data. That kind of thing.

Glenn Fishbein: Show me the statistics.

Nick Dinsmoor: Well, guys. I know it’s hard to believe. We’ve actually, it’s been an hour, has flown by easily talking about broadband funding. I want to do one final wrap up question and I think for each of you to answer it, You know, obviously we’re still in a pandemic and, um, you know, there’s a lot of commentary about like, Oh, you know, we’ve gotten through the worst of it, you know, I think you could argue that, you know, the pandemic 2.0 is, you know, once, you know, later on in the year what’s going to happen.

And I think most businesses are thinking not, not in 2021 and 2022. They’re thinking in the next 30 days, 90 days, 120 days. So what’s your advice for, you know, there is a lot of money out there. There’s a lot of passion for people that want to help communities for each of you. What’s the advice you would give around broadband funding.

What can they do to take advantage of things? What are some tangible, next steps, the people listening and the [00:52:00] people that will listen to this later, what can they do?

Glenn Fishbein: This is a tough one. I think again, there’s a, there’s a breadth of. Service providers. And so for someone to enter the broadband arena for funding, it’s the size as matters, right?

So it’s different things for different people, but it is getting out there in an election year, talking to your local officials, understanding where the needs are. And if you’re provider providing service, now, you know where some of the needs are. And so you really tailoring a message around that and understanding too, maybe there’s someone you want to partner with.

Maybe there’s someone that, you know, that there’s public private partnerships. You can partner with the utility right now. Everything’s a little Wild West right now. And those people that like living the Wild West are going to be successful with that

Nick Dinsmoor:  Teresa.

Teresa Ferguson: This is a wide open one I would do. If I were in the shoes of the folks out there is I would look at mine where my strengths are. What is my strength in bringing something [00:53:00] to market, and then with identifying the market that I want to go after, I would look at the locations throughout my communities that I am most connected to, and I would identify the need.

And what we’re seeing that’s the most successful right now is. Filling those gaps in the critical use areas like with the edge students, with, uh, telemedicine, with folks that are working from home. If you have a quick, cost-effective, and robust solution for that immediate pain. You’re going to bubble up in anyone’s funding consideration.

So know your market, know your technology, know what it can do and figure out a creative way to partner. And maybe as Brian has said with other providers in your areas, that don’t seem like a natural fit, but may have rights of way you need, or might have poles that you might need. Be creative and fill those holes right now. And the [00:54:00] money will find you.

Talk to your school districts, talk to your hospitals and talk to your broadband office.


Glenn Fishbein: I would say my worst thing is in the next 30 to 60 days, the school systems are going to take it on the chin. And in terms of what you should do, become a wisp or partner  with a wisp and get those kids back into school even from home. That money is not just federal or state, there are businesses that are donating dollars, resources, time, equipment to support school systems. I don’t know how many hotspots were given away by Verizon and T-Mobile, but tons of them. So for the next 30 to 60 days, that’s what I see the focus has to be, cause the kids are the ones are going to take it worst. And that’s where we have to be today.

Nick Dinsmoor: Cheryl.

Cheryl Henshaw: Try to start any kind of grant conversation around needs. So what are your needs as a, as an organization, right. And really just identifying, you know, what are my pain points now, but [00:55:00] what will they be in the future?

Right. So, you know, a school statistics today they are saying that 40% of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic will never come back. Right. We’re going to have to do workforce retraining thinking down the road and going, what can I do now in the short term then what can I plan towards? Because grants take time.

Some of them are pretty good cycles, right? So. You want to look at a kind of a comprehensive approach and have, you know, a variety. I would say I talked about the funnel, you know, just have a continuum of grants that are going into that funnel because you’ll, you’ll start to see them coming out the bottom and you’ll have money to continue to develop and address all of those short term and long term needs.

Nick Dinsmoor:  And last, but certainly not least Mr. Hollister.

Brian Hollister: Yeah, I think I’m. This whole grant opportunity is really a scenario, but it was really interesting. There’s a lot of different ways to look at it. I mean, and I think Brian and teresa, certainly can comment on, on the project that they did for Middle Mile, but some of that grant got started off with the department of [00:56:00] transportation.

Right. And ultimately turned into a major, both transportation as well as broadband initiative. Right. So these things are just not necessarily. I’m going to go fill out an application and go, if you’re going to start getting, wanting to go down this road, you’ve got to know, you have to spend some time understanding this.

You’ve got to build relationships and you all have your day job in each one of your companies. Right? And this is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy, right? I mean, it sounds easy. Oh, such and such got so much money. This and that. They did a lot of work to get to earn that in most cases. And if you’re going to go down this road, just as Cheryl said, this is something that can continuously benefit you.

Right? You want to understand this market. And there’s one, a lot of value that grants can provide. I would just say, get dedicated and understand also the level of work. And I would also seek out partners. Right. Um, you know, Yep. Both your state representatives clearly have to be involved, but folks like, you know, Cheryl’s team, Glenn’s team, [00:57:00] you know, being able to analyze, I mean, you know, when I met Glenn and learned about what they’ve done, you know, they, they have a tool that analyzes 30 billion parts of data.

It’s almost unheard of, right? But it helps us make decisions quicker. But while that’s, it’s a benefit, there’s still so much work that goes into it. So, so understand that there’s a level dedication that you have to put into it. And there’s a lot of great partners out there that can help you get through it.

But you can’t just outsource this. There’s a lot of work that you gotta put into it to make us successful. And what you’ll learn is a win, in the grant  scenario, will help you figure out how to go take advantage of another win. Right? Um, so don’t just do it for a one time thing. You know, if you want to go down this road, you know, think about how we’re going to continue to support this for years and years, not just this one program. Right?

Nick Dinsmoor: All right, guys. Thanks so much for attending our episode three, cheers to everyone for your participation, your engagement, and obviously a lot of valuable information for everybody that listened in and will listen later. Thank you so much for the [00:58:00] listeners. We’ll continue to host these Beer and Broadband series with continuing topics.

And if you have any questions, we’ll be sending out information to contact all of these lovely faces on the call today. Thanks again, everybody.