On June 19, 2020, Next Century Cities (NCC) submitted comments on behalf of our member municipalities in Emmett, Ammon, and Boise to the Idaho Department of Commerce. The letter urges the agency to reassess grant funding eligibility requirements for CARES Act funding allotted for broadband projects in Idaho. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the Center for Rural Strategies, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Public Knowledge joined in support, recognizing that the eligibility criteria for federal funding unfairly excluded municipally supported open-access networks from the pool. 

Open access networks have a successful history in Idaho, beginning with Next Century Cities member, City of Ammon, in 2017. Next Century Cities has long supported the wide breadth of connectivity solutions offered by municipalities and continues to support the open-access movement sweeping across the country. In particular, open access and other municipally supported networks are known to provide some of the fastest and cheapest speeds available in the country. They are uniquely equipped to support connectivity efforts in unserved and underserved areas. 

The letter explains why the Department of Commerce’s decision to exclude municipally owned or operated open access networks from this grant funding opportunity is wrong and short-sighted. It undermines the overarching goal to bring high-speed connectivity within reach for all Idaho residents, especially those in hard to reach areas. 

Key takeaways: 

    • The grant application should be amended to allow opportunities for municipally supported networks to receive CARES Act funding.
    • Remove the restriction that funding cannot be provided to communities with reported availability over 50% and allow for network upgrades. 
    • Increasing the 25/3 speed minimum required for funding will help future-proof new and existing networks. 

The Idaho Department of Commerce issued a three-day public comment period. We hope that they will seriously consider these recommendations before launching this program. Read our entire letter here.

Following the first comment period, the Idaho Department of Commerce made amendments to their original grant application and issued new guidance. After reviewing these updates, our team submitted a second round of comments urging the state to address additional concerns. Read our second letter here.