The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) has announced the application requirements for the $288 million Broadband Infrastructure Program. This program will make awards in the range of $5 million to $30 million for fixed broadband infrastructure expansion critical to closing the rural/urban digital divide. While state and local governments will be involved in the application process, they will not be burdened with the difficult job of constructing a broadband network on their own. Instead, NTIA expects applications to be filed by partnerships between service providers and local community governments. A single service provider will be allowed to participate in more than one application.

These awards will be grants, not loans that need to be repaid. A point system will be used to prioritize applications, which avoids the drawbacks of FCC race-to-the-bottom reverse auctions that fail to ensure that rural residents have access to the same level of technical innovation available in the big cities. The application deadline is August 17, 2021, and successful applicants will have one year to complete their broadband projects.

Given their knowledge of where broadband is unavailable in their local communities, state and local governments will partner with fixed broadband service providers during the application process. Any vendor or service provider that partners with a state or local government will be eligible to apply for funds from the Broadband Infrastructure Program, as participation is not restricted to eligible telecommunications carriers (“ETCs”). Applications will only be considered if they propose the construction of fixed broadband infrastructure in a census block where at least one household or business lacks access to broadband service with a download speed of at least 25 Mbps per second and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps per second.

Grants can be used to pay for the following: up to $50,000 in expenses incurred in preparing the application, construction, facilities acquisitions, long term leases, engineering design, and personnel salaries. The NTIA will consider both last mile and middle mile projects for grants. Networks with higher end user speeds and the potential for incremental future capacity/bandwidth increases to offer higher broadband speeds in the future will be given greater priority.

Should you have any questions concerning NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program or need assistance with your application, please give us a call.