NTIA Releases Request for Comment on Infrastructure Act Grant Programs

On January 7, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) released a Request for Comment seeking comment on several Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant programs to be administered by the NTIA, including the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (“BEAD”) program, the Middle-Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program.  A future request for comment will be released regarding the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.  Further, NTIA will be conducting a Tribal Consultation to gather input for additional funding appropriated for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

Request for General Comment

Request for Comment generally seeks comment on any matter that commentators believe is important to NTIA’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law implementation efforts.  In addition, NTIA generally seeks comment on:

  • How to best bring reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband to all Americans, including how NTIA’s programs meet this goal, how to ensure all voices and perspectives are heard, how to ensure there is transparency in the way funds are distributed, and how to ensure there is efficient use of Federal funds.
  • How to best support States, Territories, and Sub-Grantees to achieve this goal, including what sorts of technical assistance would be most valuable, how to assess sub-grant award processes, how to ensure all potential sub-recipients have an equal opportunity to partner and compete for funding, how to best account for unique challenges that vary from place to place, and in which circumstances NTIA should consider waiving matching fund requirements.
  • How to best ensure that the Future of America is made in America by all of America’s workers, including what impact supply chain and work force shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will have on NTIA’s deployment network objectives, what policy tools NTIA can leverage to help ensure the funding maximizes job creation, including promoting jobs for women and people of color, and what steps NTIA should take to ensure maximum use of American-made network components and ensure supply chain shortages are addressed in ways that create high quality jobs for all Americans.

BEAD Program

The Request for Comment seeks comment on the BEAD Program, which is a $42.45 billion program for states and territories to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption projects.  Each state, DC, and Puerto Rico will receive an initial allocation of $100 million and the remaining territories will receive $100 million to be divided equally among them.  Specifically the Request for Comment seeks comment on:

  • How to best ensure publically funded broadband networks are sustainable and scalable, including what guidance or requirements NTIA should implement regarding network reliability and availability, how to allocate funding to programs that will offer long term sustainable and affordable service, and speeds, throughput, latencies or other metrics to ensure the infrastructure is usable for the next five, ten, and twenty years.
  • How to ensure that allocation and use of BEAD funds is directed toward achieving universal, reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband, including how NTIA should consider prior buildout commitments not currently reflected in FCC maps because they are not complete, what factors NTIA should consider in determining whether an area is “high-cost”, and what additional uses, if any, NTIA should deem eligible for BEAD funding.
  • How to establish strong partnerships between state, local and Tribal governments through the BEAD program, including what requirements NTIA should establish to ensure local perspectives are critical factors in the design of state plans, what agencies or stakeholder groups should be considered in the development of state plans, and how NTIA can ensure states/territories consult with Tribal governments about how to best meet Tribal members’ needs.
  • How to best meet the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s requirement that BEAD funding recipients offer at least one low-cost broadband service option and other ways to address affordability, including how to define eligible subscriber, what factors NTIA should consider in guiding states in the design of programs to achieve this goal, and how to drive affordability beyond the low-cost option.

Digital Equity Act of 2021

The Request for Comment seeks comment on implementation of the Digital Equity Act of 2021, which is a $2.75 billion program to establish three grant programs that promote digital inclusion and equity to ensure that all individuals and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy.  Specifically, the Request for Comment seeks comment on:

  • The best way to guide states in developing their digital equity plans, including what best practices should be required, what sorts of technical assistance, support, data, or programmatic requirements NTIA should provide, how to ensure this program is complementary to the goals of the BEAD program, how to ensure the program is complementary to the state’s goals, plans and outcomes, and how to develop measurable objectives for the goals of the program.
  • What Digital Equity Coordination requirements should be implemented, including what steps NTIA should take to ensure states consult with groups that represent historically marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, and how to measure and assess whether a state has engaged in adequate coordination with these groups.

Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (“MMBI”) Grant Program

The Request for Comment seeks comment on implementation of the MMBI grant program, which is a $1 billion program for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure.  Specifically, the Request for Comment seeks comment on:

  • How to ensure investments are appropriately targeted to areas where middle-mile service is non-existent or expensive.
  • What requirements NTIA should impose on federally funded middle-mile projects with respect to the placement of splice points and access to splice points.
  • How to best leverage existing middle-mile facilities to accelerate deployment of broadband.
  • And what scalability requirements NTIA should place on middle-mile grant recipients.

Comments are due on or before 5 PM Eastern Time on February 4, 2022.

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