Part of the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure law targets the bold, yet necessary goal of connecting ALL Americans to high-speed Internet. The law sets aside $65 billion to meet this goal and tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) with administering the associated grant programs. Over the past few months, the NTIA sought input from the public on how to design its grants to encourage collaboration between state broadband offices and communities to achieve widespread connectivity. Based on feedback and additional research, the NTIA created and launched the Internet for All Initiative.
The Internet for All Initiative currently has three open grant programs:
- Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program ($42.5 Billion)
- State Digital Equity Act programs ($1.5 Billion)
- Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program ($1.5 Billion)
On Friday, May 13, 2022, the NTIA released the Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) for these three programs. The NOFOs define the work that the states, territories, and tribal governments need to complete, as well as a timeline and list of requirements for receiving funds. The funding available through the Internet for All initiative presents communities with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to achieve connectivity for all, making it critical for cities, municipalities, and other community-based entities to educate themselves on the general funding process and plans at the state level.
Below, we offer a review of the NOFO for the BEAD program and point out the key parts to which communities should pay special attention. Previously we also offered tips on engaging with state broadband offices. Remember that you can locate your state contact at broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov.
The Road to Funding
States, territories, and tribal governments have eagerly awaited NTIA’s funding opportunity notices since the infrastructure law passed six months ago. With these in hand, it’s time to prepare for what comes next!
As a reminder, eligible applicants (states, territories, tribal governments) should receive $100M for broadband from the federal government, with the remaining funds awarded depending on the proportion of unserved and underserved communities in a region. To get started with BEAD Program funding, all eligible applicants must submit a letter of intent (LOI) by July 18, 20022 via an online portal at NTIA.gov. In fact, over 30 states have already taken this step.
Following that, the next key date is August 15, which marks the deadline for submitting supplemental information and requests for initial planning funds. (Requests for initial planning funds can also be submitted with the LOI). Within 270 days of receiving the initial planning funds, applicants need to submit a Five-Year Action Plan. The FCC plans to release Broadband DATA Maps soon and once these are public, each applicant will be notified of how much funding they can receive. With this information, the applicants need to submit an Initial Proposal within 180 days. Stakeholders then get an opportunity to comment and challenge the plans.
Key elements for communities
Local Coordination: The main goals of the new broadband funding are to get Americans connected to the Internet via partnerships and to create sustainable jobs. Within the NOFO documents, the need to coordinate with local stakeholders is heavily emphasized. Throughout the grant process, states, territories, and tribal governments need to hear from and work with local governments, nonprofits, and service providers. Local coordination should be woven throughout the development of the Five-Year Action Plan and the associated documents that will represent them. The input that on-the-ground entities provide will ensure that the funds effectively work to connect the unconnected.
Comment and Challenge to Initial Plans: The BEAD program bakes in a formal comment and challenge process for local stakeholder groups (like local governments, nonprofits, and Internet Service Providers) to offer input. Once each applicant submits their Initial Proposal, the proposal must be made available for public comment. Additionally, local stakeholders can challenge whether a particular location is actually unserved or underserved and whether a location or Community Anchor Institution (CAI) is eligible for grant funds. The successful challenges will go to the NTIA for review and approval.
Digital Equity: The Internet for All Initiative also contains a program to advance digital equity (the State Digital Equity Act program). To mitigate duplication of efforts, and wasted resources, the BEAD Program requires states to incorporate their State Digital Equity Plans within their Five-Year Action Plans. Digital Equity means ensuring that individuals and communities have the necessary information technology services and skills to participate fully in society and the economy. For more on the State Digital Equity Act State Planning Grant Program click here to read more about the program.
Matching Funds: The applicant and/or its subgrantee needs to plan to cover no less than 25% of the project costs associated with broadband deployments that use BEAD grant funds. This matching requirement can be met with funds provided for broadband deployment under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act; the CARES act; the Consolidated Appropriations Act; and/or the American Rescue Plan Act.
Last-Mile Broadband Deployment Priorities: The BEAD program funding prioritizes unserved areas above all else. Next, underserved areas and then eligible CAIs will be prioritized. When a grantee is selecting a subgrantee, it must apply this prioritization scheme as well.
Moreover, the NTIA determined that priority broadband projects are those that use end-end fiber-optic architecture. These projects meet the requirements set up in the bipartisan infrastructure law and can easily scale to meet the evolving needs of households and businesses. Fiber deployments will be prioritized for BEAD funds, although the requirement to connect all residents is paramount, which means some wireless projects will also be considered
A prioritization element encouraged by the NTIA involves the inclusion of open access as a selection criterion for subgrantees. Open Access Networks make it possible for multiple service providers to share infrastructure with the intention of encouraging competition and reducing costs.
The go-to page on all Internet for All Initiative information is InternetForAll.Gov. We recommend a series of upcoming and recorded webinars that can be found there, as well as further details on each of the grant programs.
We also recommend checking out these analysis pieces from our colleagues at NDIA.
- NTIA Releases Requirements for $42.5B of BEAD Funding: Here’s What It Says About Digital Equity
- First Bucket of Digital Equity Act Funds Opens up Today
We know that this can be confusing, so please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or concerns! You can reach us via email at [email protected]. Be sure to follow us on social media as well for further tips and analysis of funding opportunities.