Internet For All! – NTIA Releases Notices of Funding Opportunities for Broadband Infrastructure Programs | Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

Interested parties should review each program’s requirements and the application-related information provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

TAKEAWAYS

  • BEAD program – Interested parties should begin identifying and engaging with state agencies immediately.
  • Middle Mile program – Applications for funding of new construction projects due by September 30, 2022.
  • Digital Equity Act program – Applications for DE planning grants due July 12, 2022.

On May 13, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for each of the three new Broadband Infrastructure Programs authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA). As we discussed previously here and here, the IIJA allocated $65 billion for new broadband infrastructure projects across the country.

The IIJA established three new grant opportunities: (i) the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, (ii) the State Digital Equity programs, and (iii) the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (MMBI) program. In January 2022, NTIA sought comment on all aspects of the new grant opportunities, and, in turn, received 561 comments from the public.

The release of the three NOFOs starts the clock for each program, some of which have very short deadlines for submitting applications to participate. In particular, designated state agencies seeking to participate in the Digital Equity programs must submit an application by July 12, 2022, and by July 18, 2022, if they seek to participate in the BEAD program. The application window for the MMBI program will open on June 21, 2022, and close on September 30, 2022.

Interested parties should review closely each program’s requirements and the application-related information provided by the NTIA. Below are a few noteworthy aspects of the programs to consider when collaborating with government agencies and other stakeholders.

The BEAD Program

  • $42.45 billion in funding for new high-speed internet access projects to serve unserved locations (no access to 25/3 Mbps) and underserved locations (no access to 100/20 Mbps).
  • Responsibility placed on states and territories to develop five-year action plans to allocate state funding for projects to meet internet access goals.
  • States must submit Letter of Intent to participate in the program by July 18, 2022, and a request to draw on $5 million Initial Planning funds to develop the Initial Proposal.
  • The Initial Proposal must be released for public comment by local stakeholders for review and process for challenging whether specified areas are unserved/underserved.
  • Federal funding for programs will be limited to 75% of project costs; the remaining 25% of the project costs must be provided by subgrantees (i.e., commercial entities, utility companies, regional planning or government organizations).
  • The State Five-Year plans must require the provisioning of low-cost broadband service plans for eligible subscribers.
  • The State Five-Year plans also must incorporate Digital Equity goals into overall efforts.

The State Digital Equity Act programs

  • Overall funding of $2.75 billion for states, territories and tribal governments to develop and implement Digital Equity plans.
  • Initial tranche of $60 million for states, territories and tribal government to planning costs associated with drafting of the Digital Equity plans.
  • NTIA strongly urged applicants to prepare Digital Equity plans with shared objectives articulated in the BEAD program above. As noted above, a successful BEAD applicant will be required to take Digital Equity into account in its planning and implementation.
  • Future NOFO will address the release of $2.65 billion for implementation of (i) government-led annual grant programs to fund Digital Equity projects and Digital Equity plans, and (ii) a competitive program that will be open to the public.

The MMBI Grant Program

  • Only program where industry and nonprofit organizations may apply directly for funding.
  • Funding can be used for construction, design, personnel costs and other related costs associated with funding proposal.
  • Proposals will be scored based on several criteria, including the allocation of points for (i) new service to unserved or underserved areas, (ii) increased affordability of access to service in already-served markets; (iii) commitments to provide non-discriminatory interconnection in perpetuity; (iv) provision of service to “anchor” institutions; and (v) serving the community’s needs.
  • Expected funding range of $5,000,000 to $100,000,000 per project.
  • Federal funding cannot exceed 70% of the total project cost.

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