On May 13, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) released three Notices of Funding Opportunity (“NOFO”) each initiating a grant program authorized under the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act of 2021 (“IIJA”). All three of these programs, in connection with other federal funding, are directed at supporting broadband infrastructure that can help close the digital divide and bring high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband to all Americans.
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (“BEAD”) Program – Notice of Funding Opportunity
The BEAD Program is the largest of the programs authorized under the IIJA, with over $42 billion in funding. This funding is allocated for all 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico (PR), and all U.S. territories (“Eligible Entities”) to develop broadband grant programs that will distribute the funding to telecommunications companies, utility companies, cooperatives, non-profits, and similar entities that commit to build networks in unserved (those with no access to 25/3 Mbps) and underserved (those with no access to 100/20 Mbps) locations. The states, DC, and PR each are entitled to receive a minimum of $100 million and the U.S. territories are each eligible to receive a minimum of $25 million. After the initial minimum allotment, the remaining BEAD funds will be distributed to Eligible Entities based upon their relative number of unserved locations demonstrated by the forthcoming FCC Broadband DATA Maps. Currently, the FCC and NTIA estimate that the FCC Broadband Maps will be released in November, though this timetable could change.
To participate, an Eligible Entity is required to timely comply with the nine-step process outlined in the NOFO. Eligible Entities that wish to participate in the program are required to submit Letters of Intent by July 18, 2022. As of May 18, 2022, NTIA reported that 34 states had already submitted their Letters of Intent. States that wish to apply for Initial Planning Funds, which can be used to cover administrative costs associated with planning and pre-deployment activities, must submit a complete application for the funds by August 15, 2022. States that elect to receive Initial Planning Funds will be required to submit a Five-Year Action Plan within 270 days of receiving funds. The remaining deadlines in the program will be established once the FCC’s Broadband DATA maps have been released.
State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program – Notice of Funding Opportunity
The Digital Equity Planning Grant Program is the first of three digital equity programs created by the Digital Equity Act, part of the IIJA. The Digital Equity Program will award grants to Eligible Entities and Tribal governments to create plans to promote and support digital equity, digital inclusion activities, and broadband adoption. NTIA strongly encourages Eligible Entities to participate in both the Digital Equity Program and the BEAD Program, particularly because the BEAD Program mandates creation of a Digital Equity Plan by participating Eligible Entities. NTIA anticipates that the Digital Equity Program and the BEAD Program will work in concert to assist Eligible Entities and subgrantees in extending broadband access to all.
Through the Digital Equity Program, NTIA will award up to $53.4 million to states, DC and PR based upon their population, the percentage of that population likely not to have adopted broadband, and the comparative availability and adoption of broadband in the state. $15 million will be made available to Tribal governments, and $3 million will be made available to U.S. territories. The amounts NTIA has allocated for each state and territory are set forth in the NOFO. States have 14 days from the publication of the NOFO to challenge NTIA’s allocation. The amounts allocated to Tribal governments will vary, depending on the number of Tribal applicants, though NTIA expects awards to be between $50,000 and $150,000.
NTIA is now accepting applications for Digital Program Equity funds. To receive funding, states, DC and PR must submit a completed application through NTIA’s Application Portal by July 12, 2022. Territories and Tribes that are interested in participating must simply submit a Letter of Intent to NTIA by July 12, 2022. Entities that timely submit the required documentation will be deemed eligible to receive funding.
Middle Mile Grant Program – Notice of Funding Opportunity
The Middle Mile Grant Program was also created under the IIJA and is allotted $1 billion for grants to construct, improve, or acquire of middle mile infrastructure. The program will complement the BEAD Program by expanding and extending middle mile infrastructure, which will reduce the cost of extending broadband access to areas that are unserved or underserved.
NTIA expects to award grants ranging from $5 million to$100 million for eligible middle mile infrastructure projects. State, local, and Tribal governments, utility companies, technology and telecommunications companies, nonprofits, and other similar types of entities are all eligible to participate in the program, provided they demonstrate they have the financial, technical, and employment qualifications to participate. Prior to submitting an application, non-state and non-Tribal Government applicants are required to coordinate with their State Broadband Office, or equivalent agency, to ensure the proposed application is consistent with the State’s broadband plan. Applications are due to NTIA by September 30, 2022.
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