CBAN's Curtis Dean attended Mountain Connect in Colorado last week and filed this report.
I took a little drive (10 hours) early last week to Keystone Conference Center in Colorado for the annual Mountain Connect conference. This was my third Mountain Connect, and it gets a little bigger and better each year. Organizers cram a lot of great content and networking opportunities into the two-day show. Here are some highlights from the perspective of this Iowa flatlander.
WARNING: Many acronyms ahead!
Certainly the hot topic at 2022 Mountain Connect was the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, affectionately known by all as BEAD. BEAD is part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden late in 2021. BEAD provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Just days before Mountain Connect, the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) released its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to the states and territories outlining the key requirements they will need to follow to administer their share of the funding. Assistant NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson attended Mountain Connect to provide additional perspective on the program to the 600 or so people in attendance, many of whom represented communities and small providers who would love to access BEAD funding to bring broadband to unserved areas. Check out a great article by Sean Gonsolves with the ILSR for a complete summary of Davidson's remarks.
There have been mixed opinions about the NOFO. For example, the Fiber Broadband Association considers it a big win because the rules prioritize fiber development. Other industry analysts are not as enthusiastic as the NOFO may restrict who applies for funding due to required credit guarantees and reporting requirements. Also, the proposed timeline (above) means that money won't be in the hands of providers to build out fiber for at least two years. BEAD will not be a quick fix for the nation's broadband woes.
Jeff Gavlinksi, founder and organizer of Mountain Connect, really knows how to put on a conference. They information sessions were divided into five tracks, each of which had great topics and presenters/speakers. As someone attending solo, choices had to be made, so there was a lot that I personally missed. I envied the organizations and communities that were able to send multiple representatives to absorb multiple tracks of content.
One of the big reasons to attend a show like Mountain Connect is to network with companies that offer the products and services it takes to research, build, and operate a broadband network. There were about 60 or so vendors with displays at Mountain Connect. It was great to see around 8 CBAN Associate Members there and catch up with their latest offerings.
Ah, Colorado in late spring. Just a few days before Mountain Connect began, temperatures in the mountains were summer-like. All that changed a few days before opening day when a major spring snowstorm brought up to 2 feet of snow to the mountains, and around 9-12 inches to the Keystone Resort. The annual golf tournament, scheduled for May 23rd, was a victim of the weather.
Mother Nature wasn't done, however, and she graced attendees with another half-foot of snow on the night of Monday, May 23rd. The walk from the lodging area to the conference center was beautiful, but a little sloppy.
Still, this IS Colorado and even though it was snowy it was never very cold or uncomfortable. And the views were majestic! The best part of the trip, however, had to be the drive through Nebraska. If you've done it you know what I mean.
Broadband Bytes News
Presented by the Community Broadband Action Network and curated by Curtis Dean.