NTIA Takes First Step to Implement Broadband Infrastructure Programs

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TAKEAWAYS

  • NTIA seeks comments on all aspects of broadband grant programs.
  • Of special concern is addressing goals of delivering broadband service to underserved and unserved areas.
  • NTIA needs substantial guidance in establishing eligibility and performance metrics for the program.

On January 10, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a public notice calling for comments on the implementation of the Broadband Infrastructure Law (BIL). As we discussed previously, the BIL allocated $65 billion for new broadband infrastructure projects across the country.

The BIL established three new grant opportunities: (i) the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, (ii) three State Digital Equity Act programs, and (iii) the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (MMBI) program. An additional $2 billion also was allocated to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program previously established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The BIL requires NTIA to establish the rules for the various programs within six months.

To that end, NTIA is seeking comment on all aspects of the new grant opportunities, including responses to 35 specific questions. Of special concern for NTIA is ensuring that each grant opportunity supports states, territories and the sub-grantees (commercial and noncommercial) in efficiently and effectively deploying broadband access to underserved and unserved areas. Another focus of the grant programs is to create new opportunities for the creation of high-quality jobs for all U.S. workers, along with addressing the disruption of global supply chains by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other issues NTIA seeks guidance on include:

The BEAD Program

  • Guidance on establishing specific service quality features and performance metrics to be used when reviewing state plans.
  • Recommendations on how best to allocate BEAD Program funds, especially in light of the existing commitments of providers and the need for updated FCC broadband service maps.
  • How to ensure the establishment and ongoing engagement between state, local and Tribal government in developing and implementing broadband service.
  • Guidance on the development of eligibility criteria to give effect to the BIL requirement that BEAD funding recipients make available low-cost broadband service options to eligible subscribers.

The State Digital Equity Act programs

  • How to implement the three programs, the main goal of which is to promote the adoption and use of broadband service among the communities that have historically been ignored, including low-income households, aging populations, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural areas.
  • Recognizing states may not have the necessary ability to identify and address these communities, the NTIA seeks broad guidance on how the rules should be developed to ensure that the goals of the programs are met.

The MMBI Grant Program

  • How best to identify middle-mile projects that will have the greatest impact.
  • Of special concern, the implementation of the BIL’s requirement that NTIA evaluate MMBI grant proposals in the context of improving affordability, redundancy and resiliency in existing markets, leveraging existing rights-of-way, assets, infrastructure, and facilitating the development of carrier-neutral interconnection points.

As discussed in our earlier alert, the BEAD program will rely heavily on state agencies that will be responsible for preparing five-year plans to outline their broadband development priorities. It is likely that these state agencies will be tracking comments closely, so all interested parties in the broadband ecosystem should review the Public Notice closely and consider submitting comments.

Comments are due on February 4, 2022. This information collection is running parallel to NTIA’s ongoing public education sessions. NTIA held its first session on December 15, 2021, and has scheduled five more to be run online through February 23, 2022.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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