Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act late on Friday, November 5, 2021. The legislation appropriates more than $1 trillion to fund national infrastructure projects, including approximately $65 billion specifically for broadband infrastructure and related programs over the next five years. The bill now heads to the White House for signing. Rural broadband providers will benefit from several of the Act’s programs. This e-Lert summarizes the key broadband provisions for rural broadband providers.
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program
The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will distribute $42.45 billion to the states based on the number of unserved locations in each state, with an initial minimum allocation of $100 million for each state. The remainder of the funds will be distributed based on each state’s unserved locations, defined as those lacking 25Mbps / 3Mbps. Private companies, cooperatives, and public-private partnerships will be eligible to receive grant funds through each state. Grants can be used for unserved (25/3Mbps) and underserved (less than 100/20Mbps) projects; connecting anchor institutions; data collection, broadband mapping and planning; installing CPE to eligible multi-family residential buildings; providing affordable internet-capable devices; and other uses determined by NTIA. Except for high-cost areas, grant funds may cover a maximum of 75% of the project costs, but grantees may use funds from the four previously passed COVID-19 response laws to meet the remaining 25%. Funded projects must deliver 100/20 Mbps within four years and must offer at least one low-cost broadband service option.
Middle-Mile Infrastructure Grant Program
Congress appropriated $1 billion to NTIA for a competitive middle-mile grant program to connect unserved and underserved last mile areas to the Internet backbone. Rural carriers are among the entities eligible for this program, which encourages public/private partnerships and may fund up to 70% of the middle-mile project costs. NTIA must release its notice of funding within the next six months.
Affordable Connectivity Program
Congress extended and modified the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), now called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), with $14.2 billion to the FCC. The Act decreases the non-tribal monthly household benefit from $50 to $30.
Congress appropriated $2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sep. 30, 2022, to Rural Utilities Service’s existing the ReConnect program for broadband grants, loans and grant/loan combinations. ReConnect requires broadband speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps.
Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
Congress appropriated $2 billion to the existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for 2021-2022 fiscal year and to remain available until expended.
Appalachian Region High-Speed Broadband Deployment Initiative
Congress appropriated $1 billion over five years to the Appalachian Regional Commission for High-Speed Broadband Deployment and Regional Energy Hub initiatives. Congress directs that at least 65% of the funds be used for the broadband initiative. The Regional Commission must coordinate its grants with the FCC, NTIA, and the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to avoid duplication of federal funding programs.
Digital Equity Programs
Congress appropriated $1.5 billion over five years to promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by states related to broadband adoption. States must develop a State Digital Equity Plan and submit it with its application for grant funds. The Commerce Department will also create the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to award $1.25 billion over five years to support those efforts.
Other Notable Items
Beyond the various grant programs contained in the legislation, Congress directed the FCC to take action in three broadband-related administrative programs:
- $10 million to the FCC for a Broadband Deployment Locations Map. This program is funded separately from the FCC’s broadband DATA maps but will incorporate broadband service availability reported by those maps.
- The FCC is directed to examine and make recommendations on how it should achieve universal service goals for broadband and submit to Congress its report in 270 days after the Act’s enactment.
- Congress also directs the FCC to develop rules for consumer labels for broadband service no later than one year of enactment. After the FCC develops the rules, broadband providers must use broadband consumer labels when giving information to customers regarding broadband internet access service plans.
In addition, the legislation includes funds for improving the nation’s electric grid through smart grid and boost its security. The Rural and Municipal Utility Advance Cybersecurity Grant and Technical Assistance Program will provide $250 million for grants to help rural and municipal utilities deploy advanced cybersecurity technologies for electric utility systems and increase participation in threat sharing programs. As well, $3 billion will go towards a Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program to fund up to 50% of qualifying smart grid investments.
If you have questions or concerns about the Infrastructure Act or would like JSI’s help in planning your participation in these new opportunities, please contact us by clicking the button below.