FTTH Council unveils Gigabit Communities Race to the Top proposal

The Fiber to the Home Council (FTTH Council) this past Tuesday took the wraps off a proposal it hopes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will adopt to help kick start fiber-optic broadband investment in Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets. The Gigabit Communities Race to the Top program, modeled after the Obama Administration’s education-centric Race to the Top program, would see the FCC award matching grants of up to $10 million for as many as 15 projects over the next five years.

The Fiber to the Home Council (FTTH Council) this past Tuesday took the wraps off a proposal it hopes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will adopt to help kick start fiber-optic broadband investment in Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets. The Gigabit Communities Race to the Top program, modeled after the Obama Administration’s education-centric Race to the Top program, would see the FCC award matching grants of up to $10 million for as many as 15 projects over the next five years.

In a press conference July 23, FTTH Council President Heather Burnett Gold noted that funding broadband infrastructure deployment remains a challenge for smaller communities. The organization’s legal counsel, Tom Cohen, noted that the FTTH Council had been in dialog with the FCC about the Gigabit Communities Race to the Top idea since now former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued his Gigabit City Challenge this past January. Genachowski called for every state in the nation to have at least one community with gigabit-speed broadband access by 2015. The new FTTH Council initiative addresses how to fund the realization of Genachowski’s vision.

According to the 56-page Proposal for Rulemaking that the council has submitted, the Gigabit Communities Race to the Top initiative would include the following provisions:

  • The facilities and service providers that submit funding proposals could be either private or public entities.
  • Proposals the FCC selects to receive up to $10 million would have to match those via state and private sources.
  • That FCC money would come from unused resources within the current Connect America Fund programs that target areas serviced by price cap local exchange carriers.
  • The projects offered for funding would have to provide symmetrical gigabit service to anchor community institutions and neighboring areas in a given area. The proposals would have to describe which anchor institutions would be served, the nature of the institutions, the links between anchor institutions would be created, the existing and contemplated level of broadband services in the surrounding communities to be served, and how the project would serve as a catalyst to drive new applications, additional network builds, and community development.

The five-year run of the program would begin next year, the FTTH Council proposes.

Representatives of communities that might benefit from the FTTH Council’s filing quickly lined up behind the idea.

“The Fiber to the Home Council proposal to the Federal Communications Commission would greatly assist communities making investments in high-speed infrastructure. These investments are rapidly becoming key components of local government economic development strategy, as well as increasingly essential to successful community development and civic engagement,” according to Kelli Linville, mayor of the City of Bellingham, WA.

“Connectivity is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. And beyond mere connectivity, competition requires an infrastructure whose speed can keep up with the pace of technology,” added Christopher Setti, assistant city manager for the City of Peoria, IL. “The Fiber to the Home Council’s proposed Race to the Top Program will help communities like Peoria invest in critical gigabit infrastructure, spurring entrepreneurship, economic growth, and civic engagement. We strongly support the FTTH Council’s Race to the Top proposal, and urge the FCC to adopt it.”

But whether the FCC will adopt the proposal, despite the FTTH Council’s previous discussions about it, remains an open question. “We have talked to the FCC and tried to apprise them of what’s in here and how it is consistent with their agenda. They are an independent regulatory agency. I’m sure they will go ahead and do the right thing with it. That’s all we can say right now,” said Cohen. “We just hope they take this opportunity to move it forward.”

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