BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Jordana Barton-Garcia, a senior policy fellow at Connect Humanity, wants to make sure the Rio Grande Valley gets its fair share of broadband funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

“Of the many communities that need their share of the nation’s $65 billion federal broadband investment, none need it more than those in persistent poverty regions,” Barton-Garcia, said.

Barton-Garcia, an advisor to the cities of Pharr and Brownsville an all things broadband, has written to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council to make sure the council of government is well-positioned to secure IIJA funding. At the end of her 11-page letter, Barton-Garcia made two recommendations. are well-positioned to secure IIJA funding.

Here are the recommendations:

Recommendation 1:

The LRGVDC should file a request with the NTIA to waive reliance on the FCC’s maps due to the counties of the RGV and Texas-Mexico Border region persistent poverty status. They should additionally file for a waiver to NTIA’s “no overbuilding” infrastructure rule in considering the award of broadband grants to the entire Rio Grande Valley region to foster competition and secure the necessary speed and capacity of networks to implement the tele-health objectives for the region and other economic benefits. Further, the NTIA should adapt the grant process applicable to Tribal Lands in targeting broadband investment to the Rio Grande Valley region. Without granting these waivers, the NTIA will not be able to fulfill the mandate from Congress to give special consideration to persistent poverty regions, such as the Rio Grande Valley/Texas Border region, in terms of broadband investment. The LRGVDC may want to engage an experienced administrative law attorney to file such waiver request and follow-up the written filing with face-to-face meetings with appropriate NTIA personnel to press the case for the appropriate treatment of the Rio Grande Valley region as a persistent poverty region. Perhaps a national digital inclusion organization, such as Connect Humanity, can be asked to support the waiver on behalf of the persistent poverty regions

Recommendation 2:

The LRGVDC should file a letter with the FCC and NTIA supporting the extension requested by Texas Comptroller Hegar and share local broadband infrastructure access data. It is equally important to share subscription, community survey, and other data on the digital divide directly with the NTIA, which is the federal agency with the legal mandate to establish the rules to administer broadband funds efficiently and equitably under the IIJA, including the targeting of persistent poverty regions for broadband investment. The RGV can participate in the map challenge even if they are granted a waiver. The new FCC maps—that are presented as the source to understand the digital divide in the country—are important to make as accurate as possible and will take some time. Otherwise, they are smoke and mirrors and perpetuate the inaccuracies in previous FCC Form 477 data/maps. Stakeholders could also communicate with the FCC that they should title the map accurately. A more accurate title of the FCC National Broadband Map could be: “Incumbent ISP Reports on Broadband Infrastructure Availability, Regardless of Type of Infrastructure, Quality of Connection, Actual Subscriptions, or Cost of Service.”

FCC stands for Federal Communications Commission. NTIA stands for National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Barton-Garcia’s letter was also sent to the Valley’s congressional delegation, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.

“Of the many communities that need their share of the nation’s $65 billion federal broadband investment, none need it more than those in persistent poverty regions, Barton-Garcia, wrote, in a recent block for Connect Humanity. 

Here is a blog Barton-Garcia has just penned for Connect Humanity:

Ensuring federal broadband investments reach high poverty communities

IIJA, digital equity, and recommendations for the Rio Grande Valley

By Jordana Barton-Garcia

January 19, 2023

Of the many communities that need their share of the nation’s $65 billion federal broadband investment, none need it more than those in persistent poverty regions.

These regions — including the Mississippi Delta, Central Appalachia, the Texas-Mexico Border, and Tribal Nations — are areas where, for three decades, at least 20 percent of the population have lived below the federal poverty line. Investments in these communities are essential to create economic opportunities and alleviate the digital inequities that reinforce centuries of entrenched inequality.

That is why, when passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to target persistent poverty regions for broadband investment.

Concerns have been growing about the ability of the NTIA to allocate the funding effectively and at pace. One of the top concerns is that the allocation of funds relies on new FCC broadband availability maps, which, as Christopher Mitchell has written, are riddled with inaccuracies.

These raise serious questions about the NTIA’s ability to fulfill its responsibility to target persistent poverty regions. To illustrate, the FCC map suggests that Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia are 100 percent covered with 25/3 Mbps service, which would mean these states don’t qualify as ‘unserved’ and will, therefore, likely be shortchanged when it comes to funding.

I recently joined community stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) on behalf of Connect Humanity to discuss these issues and define a strategy to address the significant misrepresentation of “served” areas of the Texas-Mexico Border persistent poverty region.

These discussions led to recommendations for the Rio Grande Valley’s elected officials and stakeholders, including:

  • The Rio Grande Valley should support the Texas Comptroller’s petition to extend the time period to challenge the FCC National Broadband Map from January 13, 2023 to March 14, 2023 to allow for adequate time to submit data in the challenge process.
  • Given the Rio Grande Valley’s designation as a Persistent Poverty Region, RGV officials should request that NTIA waive reliance on the new FCC map to determine the funding eligibility for the region. In addition, the NTIA should authorize an exemption to the ‘overbuild’ clause to allow for investment in 100/100 Mbps symmetrical service where applicable. This exemption is critical to obtain minimum speeds required for tele-health services, which is part of the region’s digital equity plans and vital to the economic and social well-being of the residents of the Texas-Mexico Border.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read Jordana Barton Garcia’s letter to LRGVDC.

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