Welcome to TLP’s inaugural edition of its Broadband Infrastructure Grant Update where we will highlight and provide updates on the status of significant federal funding opportunities related to broadband infrastructure.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) has opened the application window for its Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program (“Program”). Applications are due to NTIA on or before September 30, 2022. The Program was allocated $1 billion through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. Grants from this Program will be used for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure, aimed at expanding and extending such infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting areas that are unserved or underserved to the internet backbone. State, local, and Tribal governments, utility companies, telecommunications companies, nonprofits, and other similar types of entities are all eligible to participate in the Program, provided they meet the required financial, technical, and employment qualifications. Though NTIA has initiated a series of programs that will provide broadband funding to various entities, the Middle Mile Program is currently the only program through NTIA where private corporations, cooperatives, and similar entities my apply directly to NTIA for funds.
As noted above, applications are due by September 30, 2022. Applications must be submitted through NTIA’s Application Portal at https://grants.ntia.gov/ and must contain all required standard forms and certifications, a detailed budget, a budge narrative, a detailed project narrative, a negotiated indirect cost rate agreement, and any materials the applicant will rely upon to demonstrate its eligibility criteria (e.g. a letter of credit, audited financial statements, resumes of employees, etc.), at minimum. Prior to submitting an application, non-state and non-Tribal government applicants are required to coordinate and consult with their State Broadband Office, or similar agency in the jurisdiction where the applicant plans to build their project, to ensure the applicant’s proposal is consistent with the State’s broadband plan and priorities. As noted above, the application window is currently open and NTIA encourages interested parties to begin preparing their application early, as doing so will be a time intensive process.
NTIA expects to make awards ranging from $5 million to $100 million, prioritizing applications for projects that meet at least two of the following criteria:
- Adopts fiscally sustainable middle mile strategies as described in NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (“NOFO”).
- Commits to offering non-discriminatory interconnection to terrestrial and wireless last mile broadband providers and any other party making a bona fide request.
- Identifies specific terrestrial and wireless last mile broadband providers that have (i) expressed written interest in interconnecting with middle mile infrastructure planned to be deployed by the eligible entity; and (ii) demonstrated sustainable business plans or adequate funding sources with respect to such interconnection described in (i).
- Identifies supplemental investments or in-kind support (such as waived franchise or permitting fees) that will accelerate the completion of the planned project.
- Demonstrates that the middle mile infrastructure will benefit national security interests of the US and the Department of Defense in accordance with considerations described in the NOFO.
Applicants are required to match at least 30% of their proposed projects’ total cost, thus, NTIA’s awards will not exceed 70% of the proposed project cost. NTIA will only entertain waivers of the matching requirement if it is necessary for (a) the effective delivery and administration of middle mile grants to Tribal governments or (b) the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure on trust land.
After the application window closes, NTIA will first review applications to determine if the applicant meets the minimum eligibility qualifications. Next, NTIA will have at least three objective reviewers review the applications on the merits, awarding points on a scale of 0-100 for how well a proposed project serves the Program’s purpose, how well it will benefit the public, and the project’s sustainability. NTIA anticipates it will complete its review and begin releasing approved awards by February 16, 2023, and that the start date for approved awards will be no earlier than March 1, 2023. Successful applicants will be required to meet progressive buildout deadlines, and ensure that the entire network is built and lit by the end of the fifth year.
For more information or assistance with broadband funding opportunities, please contact us.