The recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) represents the largest investment in broadband deployment and adoption in U.S. history, with billions of dollars available across multiple new programs. The new programs further various goals, with some directed at spurring broadband network construction and improvement while others aim to make broadband service more affordable and easier to use. The new programs are subject to tight implementation timetables, with both the White House and federal agencies already taking steps to determine the policies and procedures governing funding distribution. However, broadband service providers and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to file comments and other advocacy on many of the programs’ “nuts and bolts” before adoption.
An in-depth look at the new broadband service provider funding opportunities under the IIJA can be found here, including more detail on (1) how much money will be available under each program; (2) how each program will work; and (3) what are the next steps in implementing each program. The key provisions include:
- State Broadband Deployment Grant Program ($42.45 billion): States will receive grants to speed the deployment and improvement of broadband networks. Each state’s total grant will be determined by the number of unserved locations in their jurisdiction, with each state receiving at least $100 million. States will be permitted to award subgrants to broadband service providers, who will be subject to quality-of-service requirements and must provide at least one “low-cost” service option as defined in each state.
- Affordable Connectivity Program ($14.2 billion): This will replace the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program established by the FCC last year to provide discounted broadband service and connected devices to qualifying low-income households (e.g., those that participate in Lifeline, Medicaid, and other government assistance programs). Participating broadband service providers generally will be able to receive up to $30/month for providing discounted service and as much as $100 for each discounted device. Participating broadband service providers must allow qualifying individuals to apply the discount to any plan the providers offer to the public.
- Digital Equity Grant Program ($2.75 billion): States will develop and implement “digital equity plans” to improve broadband access, affordability, and adoption among underserved populations. States may award subgrants under the program to broadband service providers, and certain providers will be able to apply for competitive grants to fund their own digital equity projects. While the program is focused on digital literacy and other broadband inclusion goals, funding also will be available for the deployment of fixed and wireless broadband services.
- Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program ($1 billion): Broadband providers and others will compete for grants to construct, improve, and acquire middle mile infrastructure. Successful applicants will need to prioritize connecting middle mile infrastructure to last mile networks that provide broadband service to households in unserved areas and offer wholesale broadband service at reasonable rates on a carrier-neutral basis. The program will favor proposals that leverage existing rights-of-way, assets and infrastructure, and facilitate the development of interconnection facilities.
- Additional Program Funding: In addition to the new programs above, the IIJA contains appropriations for existing broadband programs, including $2 billion to support tribal broadband connectivity and another $2 billion for loans and grants to construct and improve facilities providing rural broadband service.