The phrase “Race to the Top” may sound familiar to some readers. It was the name of President Obama’s education initiative during the early years of his administration. Now, the Fiber to the Home Council is pushing for a similar plan to build more gigabit communities.
On Friday, the FCC voted to begin the process of modernizing the Commission’s E-Rate program to bring ultra-high speed broadband to the nation’s bandwidth-strapped schools and libraries. The Fiber to the Home Council Americas (FTTH Council) submitted a complementary proposal to the Commission, challenging it to establish a Gigabit Communities Race to the Top program.
The FTTH Council petition sets forth a competitive program of matching grants of up to $10 million for projects in Tier II and Tier III markets where local governments and community anchor institutions would work with service providers to deploy gigabit networks to serve community anchor institutions and their surrounding neighborhoods.
A similar call for anchor institution based gigbit communities is already out there from the Gigabit Libraries Network, however, that call does not come with any matched funding. Instead it relies on the will of communities and the ability to deploy TV White Space broadband which may be another critical piece in connecting communities. The council says that the program would further advance the goals laid out in the National Broadband Plan and in former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s Gigabit City Challenge.
Many community anchor institutions are eligible to receive funds to support their broadband needs through separate mechanisms—schools and libraries through the E-Rate Program and hospitals and clinics through the Rural Health Care Program. The petition asks the Commission to devote a small portion of existing Universal Service funds to reward communities who address these multiple community connectivity issues holistically, ensuring the most “bang for the buck” by making that planning and deployment more efficient and cost-effective. The Universal Service fund has already seen some overhaul through the FCC’s Connect America initiative, however, those changes have yet to be fully embraced by incumbent providers.
According to the proposal, the FCC would hold annual competitions in which facilities and service providers, working with local governments and community anchor institutions like schools, hospitals and libraries would present proposals to deploy gigabit networks and provide services at discounted rates to anchor institutions and surrounding neighborhoods.
“We are entering into the age of the unlimited bandwidth – finally,” said FTTH Council Americas President Heather Gold. “We passionately believe these networks will lead to the creation of a new generation of transformational applications that will promote more rapid investment in and deployment of ultra-high speed networks across the country. We know because we’ve already seen it in those select areas with all-fiber networks. Now we need to ensure all communities in the U.S. get it.”