Business Broadband Improvement Districts Application for Assistance VTA

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1 Business Broadband Improvement Districts Application for Assistance VTA Vermont Telecommunications Authority 100 State Street Suite 342 Montpelier, VT Tel Fax July 23, 2013

2 Table of Contents OVERVIEW BACKGROUND LEGISLATION DEFINITIONS BUSINESS DISTRICT AND UNDERSERVED Business Districts Underserved WHO MAY PROPOSE AN UNDERSERVED BUSINESS DISTRICT FOR BUSINESS BROADBAND IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT DESIGNATION? THE APPLICATION RESPONSE FORM DISTRICT DESIGNATION PROCESS PROCESS DETAILS RESPONSIBILITIES OF DESIGNATED DISTRICTS BACKGROUND - POTENTIAL ASSISTANCE FOR DESIGNATED DISTRICTS PROCESS TYPES OF ASSISTANCE Technical Assistance Financial Assistance Amount of Funds Available CRITERIA FOR FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE OPPORTUNITIES CRITERIA FOR COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND ECONOMIC IMPACT OTHER PROJECT IMPACT CRITERIA POTENTIAL METHODS FOR IMPROVING SERVICES IN DESIGNATED DISTRICTS FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO BROADBAND SERVICE PROVIDERS DEVELOPMENT OF CARRIER-NEUTRAL INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO BROADBAND USERS SPECIAL PROCEDURE FOR WI-FI ZONES OR HOTSPOTS DEFINITION OF WI-FI ZONES OR HOTSPOTS * ADDITIONAL CRITERION FOR DISTRICTS SEEKING A WI-FI ZONE/HOTSPOT ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES FOR RECIPIENTS OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR A WI-FI ZONE OR HOTSPOT RESPONSE INFORMATION SINGLE POINT OF CONTACT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS REVISIONS TO NOTICE PROPOSAL DEADLINE SUMMARY OF SCHEDULE PROPOSAL ACCEPTANCE COSTS OF PREPARATION OTHER RESPONSE INFORMATION PROPRIETARY INFORMATION/CONFIDENTIALITY APPENDIX 1: APPLICATION RESPONSE FORM VTA - Broadband Business Improvement Districts Application for Assistance

3 VTA - Broadband Business Improvement Districts Application for Assistance

4 Overview The purpose of this Application for Assistance (hereafter referred to as Application ) is to define and designate Business Broadband Improvement Districts (hereafter referred to as Districts ) eligible to receive support from the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) to improve available broadband Internet services. Municipalities, business-oriented local groups, and/or regional organizations may initiate the process by proposing a District. Section 1.3 discusses organizations that qualify to complete this Application. This Application is part of a multi-step program of work. The first stages will designate Districts; subsequent stages will involve assisting designated Districts. Roles The VTA is managing this Application and the overall program of work. The Agency of Administration will review Districts recommended by the VTA and will designate the Districts eligible to receive Assistance. 1 Background 1.1. Legislation The VTAs Backroads Broadband Program was established through funding provided in Act 78 of the 2010 legislative session and, pursuant to criteria established in 30 V.S.A. Sec (as created by Act 78 and subsequently amended by Act 53 of 2011), is to be used: a. to make broadband services available to Target Communities where such services are currently unavailable, or b. to upgrade services in underserved business districts, as determined by the Secretary of Administration. The following types of assistance are authorized: the construction of physical broadband infrastructure, to be owned by the VTA, or programs that provide financial incentives to service providers or customers. Pursuant to its purpose, powers, and duties, established in 30 V.S.A. Sec. 8062, the VTA provides technical and such other support as the Secretary of Administration deems necessary. Page 1

5 1.2. Definitions Business District and Underserved Two key definitions are required to understand designated Districts. The first is the definition of a business district as used for this initiative and the second includes criteria to define an underserved business district. To qualify as a designated District, both definitions must be met Business Districts For the purposes of this Application, a business district must include one or more of the following: A downtown, village, or town center where local commercial activity and/or public services are concentrated; An industrial or office park, or district; An employer of significance to the local economy; An area of tourism activity of significance to the local economy; or Any area of a town containing three or more small or home-based businesses with a demonstrated intent to purchase upgraded Internet service once available. Districts may be within a single municipality or more than one adjacent municipalities Underserved For the purposes of this Application, a business district may be considered underserved if one or more of the following conditions are true throughout: Broadband Speed a. Business-class Internet services generally marketed and sold to small offices/home offices are not available at speeds equal to or greater than 10 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload; or b. Internet services generally marketed and sold to enterprise or institutional customers are not available for rates of $10/month/Mbps or less when purchasing services with symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps or greater 1. Wireless Broadband Access c. The district does not have a Wi-Fi zone or hotspot available to the public. 1 Capable of supporting speeds of 100 Mbps or greater in both the upstream and downstream directions. Page 2

6 4G-LTE Mobile Broadband Services d. The lack of 4G-LTE mobile broadband Internet access from any carrier may be considered by the VTA in determining the degree to which a business district is underserved. However, a business district may not be defined as underserved based solely on the lack of 4G-LTE Who May Propose an Underserved Business District for Business Broadband Improvement District Designation? The following are eligible to apply: a. A municipality or a group of municipalities responding jointly (See Exclusions below for details about specific municipal departments); or b. Any local or regional organization whose application is endorsed by the municipality or municipalities within which the proposed District lies (except as otherwise excluded below). For the purposes of this Application, a municipality shall mean an incorporated city, town, or village within the State of Vermont. Note: Respondents do not need to know or propose the means of improving Internet infrastructure and services. Exclusions The following types of organizations are not eligible to propose Districts: Broadband Internet service providers. Responses from service providers will be sought by the VTA at a later stage, once Districts are designated. 3 Note to Municipalities: A broadband service provider controlled or operated by a municipality or municipalities is not eligible to propose a District. However, other parts of that municipality s or those municipalities government may still respond. 2 4G-LTE mobile broadband services are important business broadband services. However, due to the nature of wireless signal propagation, which may vary within a local area, the VTA expects that it would be difficult to respondents targeted for this Application to accurately assess the availability of these services throughout a proposed district. Furthermore, LTE coverage from a variety of cellular carriers is currently under a period of significant build-out and expansion, and may be expected to change significantly over the period of review. Finally, the availability of cellular services are being addressed by other VTA initiatives. 3 See Sections 3.2 & 5.1. Page 3

7 Local or Regional Chambers of Commerce, Regional Planning Commissions or Regional Economic Development Corporations. While these organizations may provide support and assistance in preparing responses to the Application, the VTA intends to solicit comment and feedback from these types of organizations as part of the review process. Therefore, they may not submit an Application directly. Note to Municipalities: Municipal planning or economic development departments or commissions may apply. A single business or an organization controlled by a single business. Note: Although individual businesses may not apply, they are encouraged to submit letters of support for Applications The Application Response Form The application form includes evaluation criteria for designated Districts. It can be found online: 2. District Designation Process 2.1. Process Details Municipalities, and/or local or regional organizations/groups will propose Districts that meet definitions in Section 1.2 by submitting an Application Response Form. If the organization submitting the Application is not a municipality, then a letter of support from the municipality must be included with the Form. The VTA will review all Applications and evaluate how well each meets the definitions of Business District and Underserved. The VTA intends to recommend all qualifying Districts to the Agency of Administration. These qualifying Districts will be reviewed by the Agency of Administration and it will designate Districts eligible for assistance Responsibilities of Designated Districts All successful Applicants for District designation will be expected to provide followup support in these ways: Respond to VTA requests for additional information regarding the District; Act as a communications liaison between the VTA and potential users of upgraded broadband Internet services in the District; and Page 4

8 If requested, organize and convene at least one meeting in the District between the VTA and potential users to discuss identified needs for upgraded broadband Internet infrastructure and services. THIS COMPLETES INFORMATION ABOUT DESIGNATION AS A BUSINESS BROADBAND IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT. What follows is: Information about Technical Assistance that will be available to all Districts designated by the Agency of Administration; as well as Financial Assistance that may be available to improve broadband Internet service for those Districts that meet required criteria. 3. Background - Potential Assistance for Designated Districts 3.1. Process Once Business Broadband Improvement Districts are designated, the VTA will undertake additional phases of the program of work: a. Through conversations with communities, as needed, the VTA will work to identify broadband Internet needs of designated Districts in greater detail; b. The VTA will seek to identify solutions to improve Internet infrastructure and services in those Districts; and c. When appropriate, the VTA will offer financial assistance to improve Internet service within budgeted funding limits to selected Districts that meet criteria Types of Assistance Assistance will take a variety of forms Technical Assistance To the extent possible, the VTA intends, at a minimum, to offer some amount of technical assistance for all designated Districts. Technical assistance may consist of the VTA doing the following: Engaging in conversations with key members of designated Districts to gather additional information. Technical assistance for all designated Districts will consist of the VTA doing the following: Aggregating information collected through the Application; Page 5

9 Issuing a subsequent Request for Information (RFI) to broadband Internet service providers soliciting commitments to improve or expand the requested broadband services within these Districts. Through the RFI process, the VTA may find that one or more Districts will not require the VTAs financial assistance in order to achieve goals of improving broadband infrastructure and services Financial Assistance The VTA will review criteria listed in Section 4 for each designated District and intends to offer financial assistance to a selection of Districts where criteria are met and there is significant need. Please note: Designation does qualify the District for one or more of the types of Technical assistance described above; Designation as a District does not guarantee resulting improved broadband Internet service for its businesses; and While some or all Districts may receive the benefit of financial assistance to improve broadband infrastructure and services, funding is not generally intended to flow directly to respondents to the Application, with some exceptions Amount of Funds Available Funds appropriated for the Backroads Broadband Program 4 may be used either to expand broadband Internet service in unserved Target Communities, which include individual locations of homes and businesses, or to upgrade broadband service in underserved business districts (Business Broadband Improvement Districts). The VTA is currently prioritizing funding to expanding service in unserved Target Communities (not the subject of this Application). These efforts toward Target Communities fill in gaps in available service still remaining after evaluating initiatives by private sector, federal, and other state funding projects. To the extent there are remaining Backroads Broadband funds available after addressing all unserved Target Communities, these funds will be used to support upgrading services in Districts, which is the subject of this Application. The VTA expects that not less than $1 million will be available for this purpose, and may be up to $2 million. 5 4 See Section The amount and manner of funds disbursed will vary depending on the forms of financial assistance provided. Page 6

10 4. Criteria for Financial Assistance Opportunities Funds available under the Backroads Broadband program can be used three ways by the VTA. Financial assistance to improve broadband Internet services may combine more than one of the following: to provide financial incentives to broadband service providers, to provide financial incentives to broadband service consumers, or to directly develop infrastructure. Financial assistance will be considered for Districts in which plans by Internet service providers to expand or upgrade service do not exist or will not meet their needs. If available funds are not sufficient to address needs identified by all designated Districts, the VTA will apply the following criteria in selecting those to receive financial assistance. Note: In order to execute this work within the resources available to the VTA, it also intends to identify the municipalities, organizations or groups with whom it can work in a collaborative way. People within these entities will be relied on to articulate needs and provide information about designated Districts for improved broadband Internet service Criteria for Community Support and Economic Impact Narrative responses regarding these criteria are not required for the Application, but Districts designated by the Agency of Administration will be given a timelimited opportunity to provide this information. It will be central to the VTAs evaluation of Districts for Financial Assistance and respondents are encouraged to include these narratives in the Application Response Form, if possible. Demonstrated level of local support. Are potential users of upgraded broadband service in the District willing to provide letters of intent or other forms of commitment to subscribe to upgraded Internet services? Does the Application include letters of support from businesses, economic development organizations and other organizations? Level of willingness by District/Municipal members to participate in the program. Is the request supported by a well-organized entity or volunteer group? Are there people within the District willing and able to respond to requests by the VTA for information about the District? Is there an established means of communicating among members of the District? Are there broadband Internet users who will assist in the development, assessment, and implementation of projects to assist the District? Page 7

11 Opportunities for matching funding. Has the municipality or municipalities or businesses that comprise the District pledged funding to help support development of a proposed Internet service infrastructure improvement? Has a broadband Internet service provider pledged to contribute to the cost? Are there opportunities for other federal, state, or private grants? Economic impact. Are the broadband improvements sought likely to help grow or sustain the local economy? Are District businesses willing to state that improvements sought are necessary to create or retain jobs? Reinforcing or leveraging other initiatives related to economic development. Will other economic development efforts in the area or region be made more effective through improvement of broadband Internet services in the District? 4.2. Other Project Impact Criteria Those submitting an Application Response Form are not expected to be the primary source of information related to Other Project Impact Criteria, but may be asked to provide the VTA with any information they have available. The magnitude of the need. How great is the difference between the identified need and services currently available? The feasibility and cost-effectiveness of improvement options. Is it technically and economically possible within available funding levels to fund infrastructure and service improvements to meet the needs identified? Long-term strategic opportunities. Is there an opportunity to meet long-term needs, not merely make short-term improvements? Ability to leverage other initiatives in the region related to telecommunications. Are there other telecommunications initiatives in the area that can be leveraged by VTA efforts to improve broadband Internet services? Distribution of funds. Geographic distribution around the state will be considered. Opportunities to meet multiple telecommunications objectives. Can a proposed project support improvement of both broadband Internet and cellular services? Page 8

12 5. Potential Methods For Improving Services In Designated Districts Examples of potential solutions follow, but are for illustration only. Although the mixture of financial assistance is still fluid at this stage, respondents should expect some key constraints on the form of assistance ultimately provided, in order to provide opportunities for multiple broadband service providers. Details are included under the appropriate categories below Financial Assistance to Broadband Service Providers VTA financial assistance to a broadband service provider may commonly take the form of a grant to construct new or upgrade existing facilities in its network in order to improve broadband Internet service in the District. This includes the following constraint: Financial incentives provided directly to a broadband service provider will require a competitive solicitation open to proposals from multiple broadband service providers, to be evaluated according to a stated set of criteria. Note: Applicants should not respond with a specific request to provide financial assistance to a single broadband service provider Development of Carrier-Neutral Infrastructure Assistance may also take the form of a VTA infrastructure construction project to be used by service providers in the expansion of their services. Examples of existing VTA projects are: Dark fiber optic lines under construction will be lit by multiple Internet service providers upon completion. (To learn more about VTA's fiber projects, go to Wireless telecommunications towers, with space provided for radio equipment of wireless service providers. The constraint on this assistance takes the following form: Direct development by the VTA of infrastructure for commercial broadband service must result in infrastructure which is open to use by multiple service providers. Although the VTA must expect that at least one broadband Internet service provider will use infrastructure it has developed, VTA does not intend to develop infrastructure which can only benefit a single service provider. 6 6 Use by multiple service provider immediately upon construction is not required; only that the infrastructure developed provide no unreasonable barriers to use by multiple providers. Page 9

13 5.3. Financial Assistance to Broadband Users Financial assistance to broadband users may take a variety of forms, including but not necessarily limited to the following examples: Assistance with customer contributions or other non-recurring charges for the construction of new or improved fiber or cable lines to customer premises. Assistance with the cost of customer premises equipment or service drops when such costs must be paid by the customer, are necessary to receive the improved broadband services, and present a significant barrier to delivery of improved services. Limited-time financial assistance with recurring service charges for consumers who sign up for improved Internet service when it becomes available in order to spur more rapid adoption of improved services and generate a critical mass of paying customers. 6. Special Procedure for Wi-Fi Zones or Hotspots 6.1 Definition of Wi-Fi Zones or Hotspots * A Wi-Fi hotspot provides a local area of wireless broadband access to users of laptops, digital tablets and/or smartphones. A number of overlapping hot spots create a Wi-Fi zone. Free publicly available Wi-Fi zones or hotspots provide an increasingly important service to customers along a retail street, clients in a professional building or business facility, tourists, and students. In addition, members of the general public may benefit from Internet access at local institutions such as libraries, health care facilities, schools, or government buildings. Wi-Fi zones and hotspots also provide broadband Internet access to local residents who do not as yet have service at home. VTA intends to allocate up to $200,000 of available Backroads Broadband funding for the expansion and development of Wi-Fi zones and hotspots in Districts. The e- Vermont Community Broadband Project has published a toolkit about establishing a Wi-Fi zone or hotspot that applicants may wish to review before submitting a response to this Application.7 An Applicant must complete an additional section of the Application Response Form if seeking to establish a Wi-Fi Zone or Hotspot. 6.2 Additional Criterion for Districts Seeking a Wi-Fi Zone/Hotspot In addition to other criteria, respondents seeking assistance in establishing a Wi-Fi zone or hotspot will be evaluated according to the following criterion: 7 See and Page 10

14 Sustainability. Is there a local entity with the ability to sustain the operation of the Wi-Fi zone or hotspot for at least a three-year period? 6.3 Additional Responsibilities for Recipients of Financial Assistance for a Wi-Fi Zone or Hotspot Requesting financial assistant to develop a Wi-Fi zone or hotspot in a District requires a commitment by the respondent to identify who will operate it and who will fund operating expenses. Although the request may include funding for necessary equipment, installation and configuration, it cannot include ongoing operating expenses (including the Internet connection supporting the hotspot or zone.) 7. Response Information 7.1 Single Point of Contact All communications concerning this Application are to be sent by to Telephone Number: (802) Fax Number: (802) Website: 7.2 Questions and Answers Questions must be submitted to on or before August 19, All questions and their answers will be posted in the Question and Answers file under NGF VTA on the VTA List of Published Requests, at by August 26, Revisions to Notice If the VTA determines that it is necessary to revise any part of this Notice, or if additional data is necessary to clarify any of its provisions, a supplement will be posted to the VTA website. The VTA reserves the right to amend the Notice at any time. 7.4 Proposal Deadline Proposals must be submitted in either PDF or Microsoft Word format via to on or before 4:30 p.m. on September 18, Early responses are encouraged and will be processed by the VTA to the extent feasible prior to the close of the application period. Page 11

15 7.5 Summary of Schedule July 22, 2013 Application for Assistance Issued August 19, 2013 Questions about the Application Response Form are Due August 26, 2013 Q&A Responses Posted September 18, 2013 Application Response Forms Due 7.6 Proposal Acceptance The VTA reserves the right to accept or reject any or all proposals, in whole or in part, as deemed to be in the best interest of the State of Vermont. The VTA may elect to negotiate with multiple entities prior to making final decisions. 7.7 Costs of Preparation The respondent shall be solely responsible for all expenses incurred in the preparation of a response to this Notice and shall be responsible for all expenses associated with any presentations or demonstrations associated with this request and/or any proposals made. 7.8 Other Response Information Unless otherwise specified in this Notice, all communications, responses, and documentation must be in English, and all cost proposals or figures in U.S. currency. All responses must be submitted in accordance with the specific terms of this Notice. The VTA may provide reasonable accommodations, including providing material in an alternative format, for qualified respondents with disabilities or other hardships. Respondents requiring accommodations shall submit requests in writing, with supporting documentation justifying the accommodations, to the VTA. The VTA reserves the right to grant or reject any request for accommodations. 7.9 Proprietary Information/Confidentiality The VTA is a quasi-governmental entity. Therefore, the VTA must comply with applicable disclosure laws8, which laws exempt from making public proprietary information that specifically includes (i) records relating specifically to negotiation of contracts, and (ii) trade secrets, including any formulae, plan, pattern, process, tool, mechanism, compound, procedure, production data, or compilation of information which is not patented, which is known only to certain individuals within a commercial concern, and which gives its user or owner an opportunity to obtain 8 Please see 1 Vermont Statutes Annotated Page 12

16 business advantage over competitors who do not know it or use it. Accordingly, where information reasonably meets the definition of as proprietary, and is identified as proprietary by respondents, the VTA will make commercially reasonable efforts to protect such information from public inspection and copying. Respondents are requested to identify by section of the response information that is proprietary, including a brief justification of the proprietary nature of the information. Page 13

17 Appendix 1: Application Response Form. The Form can be found at Page 14

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