Broadband providers raise concerns over DCED funding application process

In addition to concern with the application process, providers expressed concern over the application’s prevailing wage requirement

By: - June 1, 2023 5:00 pm

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Broadband service providers across the commonwealth raised concerns to state officials and stakeholders on Thursday about the application process for grants to fund broadband infrastructure projects, which the providers say lacks clarity and is burdensome. 

At a public meeting of Pennsylvania’s Broadband Development Authority, broadband providers expressed their concerns with the application process for broadband infrastructure funding through the federal Capital Projects Fund.

“We’re halfway through the application window and we’re maybe 10% of the way through the process of the application,” Michael Hain, of Nittany Media, Inc., told the panel. “We’re working, again, as strenuously as we can; we do have some specific questions, but it’d be difficult to meet the timeline on it.”

The fund, part of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, is administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury, and allocates $10 billion to states for digital and technological infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion. 

Through the fund, $200 million of Pennsylvania’s federal allocation has been made available to businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, and economic development organizations for broadband infrastructure projects

The authority, a 12-member independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), is charged with developing and implementing a plan to expand broadband internet access to unserved and underserved communities across Pennsylvania.

But members of the Broadband Communications Association of Pennsylvania, an industry group of cable operators, equipment suppliers, programmers from 13 member companies across the commonwealth, said Thursday that it hasn’t been easy to apply for project funding. 

The application process opened May 10 and closes July 10, 2023.

In addition to concern with the application process, providers expressed concern over the application’s prevailing wage requirement. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry determines prevailing wage rates for the construction industry and enforces the rates and classifications for workers across the commonwealth. 

The Department’s prevailing wage requirements do not have classifications specifically for broadband and fiber-optic cable workers, the providers argued. 

“Pennsylvania has, by our analysis, some sort of catch-all classification that is an electric lineman, which is someone who is certified to work in the high voltage, electric space on a pole, which does not necessarily capture the work that is done by a telecommunications lineman,” Todd Eachus, president of the BCAP, said. “The provider community is looking for efficiency and accuracy. But I also think it lends the Commonwealth well to think about what an appropriate wage determination would be.”

Sam Haulman, general manager for Service Electric Cablevision in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, told the authority that the while his company is interested in applying for the funding, it cannot provide an accurate estimate for the labor components of the broadband infrastructure projects because the prevailing wages for contractors and electrical workers do not match the job requirements and duties of telecommunications workers. 

“We are very interested in applying for the funding under the capital projects funds. We do, however, and it’s been stated earlier, have a concern about the prevailing wage requirements,” Haulman said. “We are a union shop through the IBEW and our linemen and our system technicians are certainly qualified to be doing this work. We just want to express the importance of having the appropriate classifications so that we can more accurately estimate our costs.”

In response to the concerns, Board Chairman Uri Monson, asked DCED staff to take down the questions asked about the Capital Project Fund and the application process and provide answers to them on the Frequently Asked Questions section of the website. 

“I will ask the staff to, as quickly as possible, take down the questions that were asked related to the capital projects fund and get those questions and answers up — on the assumption that this group is representative of the many questions that are out there,” Monsoon said. “So I want to make sure that everyone out there considering the fund has equal access to both the questions and the answers.” 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.