White House Briefing on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Guidebook: Broadband

March 24, 2022

 

Stephanie Sykes, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure Implementation, White House

A few weeks ago, the White House released a guidebook for state and local governments as a resource for stakeholders and is intended as a roadmap, and it contains the most comprehensive information the White House has to date on the more than 375 programs in the bipartisan infrastructure law. President Biden and the entire team here have made it a priority to make sure that we’re giving all the resources that are needed to make sure that this money hits the ground and reaches all corners of this country. Over $100 billion has been announced, allocated, or headed to states Territories, and local governments. There’s been some key plans and offices that have also been announced. The White House has also announced some public notice periods and that covers a lot of different areas, including clean energy, electric vehicles that will be discussed today. high-speed internet grid modernization lead pipes and paint orphan wells, and most recently, a Great Lakes Restoration announcement.

Doug Kinkoph, Associate Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) gave the NTIA ~$48 billion of new funding spread across multiple programs. The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) is a formula program that was allocated ~$42 billion for States and Territories across the country. The formula is based on underserved locations which will be determined by the new FCC maps that will be released later this year. The program’s main objective is to close the availability gap to high-speed broadband. Underserved locations with no access to 25/3 Mbps and communities that have no access to 100/20 Mbps will be the main beneficiaries of the BEAD program. Specific network quality requirements are included in the program which are at least 100/20 Mbps. Eligible entities must ensure that they or a subgrantee provide at least a 25% match unless a waiver is granted. The BEAD program also has a low-cost plan requirement, which requires entities to offer a low-cost plan to eligible subscribers.

The Digital Equity Act creates three sequences of programs to promote digital inclusion. The BIL allocated $2.75 billion to support the closure of the digital divide, promote equity, and digital inclusion. The programs will aim to provide broadband access for veterans, individuals living in households earning or below 150% of the poverty line, elderly people, disabled people, minority groups, and individuals that reside in rural areas. The three programs will split funding, the State Planning Grant Program will receive $60 million, the State Capacity Grant Program will receive $1.44 billion, and the Competitive Grant Program will receive $1.25 billion.

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Technical Amendments will receive $2.0 billion from the BIL, and the grants will be eligible to entities with approved applications. The program will provide new funds and extend expenditures deadlines for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. The amendments to the previous program are as follows, an additional $2 billion for NTIA to distribute to eligible entities will be added to the previously funded programs, time limits will also be relaxed from the original programs, infrastructure grantees will be allowed to expend up to 2.5% of the total project cost, and un-allocated funds will be retained for other tribal broadband programs instead of being reverted to the Treasury.

The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program is a direct competitive grant on a technology-neutral basis and will receive $1 billion from the BIL. The program will encourage the expansion and extension of middle-mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting underserved areas to promote broadband connection resiliency. Eligible entities must agree to prioritize connecting underserved communities, connecting non-contiguous trust lands, or offer wholesale carrier-neutral service at a reasonable rate.

Edyael Casaperalta, Senior Policy Advisor, USDA Rural Utility Service

The BIL invests $65 billion in broadband infrastructure deployment, affordability, and digital inclusion. More specifically, the BIL allocates $2 billion to the USDA for existing programs at the Rural Utilities Service that fund broadband infrastructure in rural communities. The Rural Broadband Loan Program received $74 million, and the ReConnect Program received $1.926 billion. The Rural Broadband Program funds rural broadband infrastructure construction, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of service. Entities eligible for this program must be rural communities with a population of 20,000 or less, 50% of the proposed service area must be underserved, and the awardee must be either a tribe, telecom carrier, nonprofit, or a cooperative.

The ReConnect Program received $1.926 billion from the BIL which will fund rural broadband infrastructure construction, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of service. The funding will be allocated through loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations. There is a 25% match requirement for grants unless a waiver was provided for certain applicants. Entities eligible for this program must be rural communities with a population of 20,000 or less, 50% of the proposed service area must be underserved, and the awardee must be either a tribe, telecom carrier, nonprofit, or a cooperative. ReConnect round 3 closed on March 9th and over $1 billion of funds were made available. Any community that did not have 100/20 Mbps qualified for ReConnect funding. Changes were made to the third round so more underserved communities were able to receive funding. Round 3 also offered a $350 million grant set aside for tribes and socially vulnerable communities. The USDA is evaluating how the tweaks made to round 3 impacted the goals of increasing high-speed broadband in rural and underserved communities and will decide if those changes will be included in the ReConnect rounds that will be funded by the BIL.

Alejandro Roark, Chief, Consumer Bureau, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communication laws and regulations. The FCC regulates communication by radio, television, phone, satellite, cable, and any other tool someone uses to stay connected. The FCC has been tasked with creating accurate maps with granular level data to ensure that the broadband connectivity gap can be closed. The BIL has also instructed the FCC with understanding how legacy infrastructure could have played a part in digital redlining in the broadband market. The FCC created a task force to combat discrimination and the task force will focus on creating rules and policies to combat digital discrimination. The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) received $14.2 billion from the BIL which will aim to connect more eligible households to the internet. The FCC is requesting comments on this program to figure out how to best structure the grant programs focused on outreach to households eligible to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Plan. Comments are also being requested on a potential pilot program that would be focused on increasing the awareness and enrollment of eligible households participating in Federal Public Housing Assistance Programs. All tools relating to the ACP can be found on the FCC’s website.

Q&A:

Sykes asked Kinkoph how small internet service providers can participate in broadband funding programs. Kinkoph said that BEAD is a program that small internet providers should participate in to reach underserved communities across the country. The Middle Mile Program is another program where smaller internet providers will be able to participate.

Sykes asked Casaperalta if there is technical assistance available for tribes and Alaskan Native communities. Casaperalta said that there are webinars and workshops available along with specific workshops for tribal applicants.

Sykes asked Kinkoph how urban areas with no internet will be prioritized in broadband expansion efforts. Kinkoph said that the FCC maps will play a key role in answering this question. Communities that are not connected should have conversations with their states to ensure that they are included in the new FCC maps.

Sykes asked Kinkoph if local projects will require state approval. Kinkoph said that yes because the State will award money through the RFP process so essentially the State will choose the awardee.

Sykes asked Kinkoph what the plan for geographically challenged communities is in the Last Mile Program. Kinkoph said that NTIA has focused its target on the communities with the least amount of service that have 25/3 Mbps or less. Congress has also authorized a 100% grant matching requirement for the communities that are struggling the most.