By: Hailey Farrow, Marketing Manager at CostQuest.
Historic moment for broadband expansion
It’s a historic moment in time for the broadband industry, with an influx of broadband grant opportunities available to expand broadband service and adoption. This is the most federal support anyone has ever seen in the effort to expand broadband service. Therefore, making it an excellent time for states and local entities to use federal broadband funding as capital to serve the most significant number of unserved people with broadband service.
If you’re a state, municipality, tribal government, a service provider, or a partnership of both, a broadband grant opportunity is available for you. Below, we’ve summarized the top broadband funding opportunities currently available to apply for and the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress on November 5th, 2021.
Broadband grants for broadband deployment & digital equity:
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
After a lengthy debate between the Republican and Democratic parties, President Biden’s bi-partisan infrastructure bill has officially been enacted into law on November 15th, 2021. The goal of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is to invest in a “new vision for the environment and surface transportation in America.” In the effort to close the Digital Divide, this Act holds several grant opportunities for States and other eligible organizations to receive funding support to expand necessary broadband infrastructure to provide access to high-speed broadband service.
Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program
Total: $42.5 billion
Eligible entities: States and Territories
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program goal is to support the expansion of broadband service with priority for:
- Expansion of broadband service to rural areas
- Eligible entities that consistently rank below most other eligible entities with respect to broadband access and deployment
Eligible uses of BEAD grants include:
- Unserved service projects and underserved service projects
- Connecting eligible community anchor institutions
- Data collection, broadband mapping, and planning
- Installing internet and Wi-Fi Infrastructure or providing reduced-cost broadband within multi-family residential buildings, with priority given to a residential building under certain conditions (conditions listed in the Act.)
- Broadband adoption, including programs to provide affordable internet-capable devices
After the Commission’s broadband DATA maps are made public, the initial minimum award amounts will be distributed as follows:
- $100,000,000 for each of the 50 U.S. States
- $100,000,000 will be divided equally among, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- The remaining amounts will be awarded on a case-by-case basis using a formula with specific details listed in the Act.
Visit CostQuest’s BEAD Funding Program – NOFO Breakdown for information on the application process for the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment program.
Tribal Connectivity Technical Amendments
Total: $2 billion
Eligible entities: Tribal Government, Tribal College or University, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Community, a Tribal organization, or Native Corporation.
- Originally started under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the Tribale Connectivity Technical Amendments program is offering more grants to expand the access and the adoption of fixed broadband service that provides quality service on Tribal Land and directly enables remote learning, telework, and telehealth
- The Commission is looking for covered broadband projects designed to deploy broadband service to the greatest amount of households in an eligible service area, and for projects that are cost-effective in areas that are the most rural.
Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure
Total: $1 billion
Eligible entities: States, Political Subdivision of a State, Tribal Government, Technology Company, Electric Utility, Utility Cooperative, Public Utility District, Telecommunications Company, Telecommunications Cooperative, Nonprofit Foundation, Nonprofit Cooperation, Nonprofit Institution, Nonprofit Association, Regional Planning Counsel, Native Entity, or Economic Development Authority
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure grant opportunity aims to:
- Encourage the expansion and extensions of middle-mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the internet (referred to as the “last mile”)
- Promote broadband connection resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths that can be designed to prevent signal points of failure on a broadband network
The Assistant Secretary will make grants available on a technology-neutral competitive basis to eligible entities to construct, improve, or acquire middle-mile infrastructure.
In awarding these middle-mile grants, priority will go towards projects that:
- Leverages existing rights of way, assets, and infrastructure to minimize financial, regulatory, and permitting challenges
- Designs the route of the middle mile infrastructure to enable the connection of unserved anchor institutions, including Tribal anchor institutions
- Facilitates the development of carrier-neutral interconnection facilities
- Improves the redundancy and resiliency of existing middle-mile infrastructure
- Reduces regulatory permitting barriers to promote the construction of new middle mile infrastructure
- Facilitates increased broadband resiliency and redundancy of existing middle-mile infrastructure; or
- Provides connectivity to unserved areas and underserved areas within the service territory of the utility and nearby communities
Digital Equity Act Programs
Total: $2.75 Billion
Eligible Entities: Any U.S. State, the District of Columbia & Puerto Rico.
The Digital Equity Act Programs are grant programs that aim to support the closing of the Digital Divide and promote digital equity and inclusion nationwide. The goal of these programs is for “individuals and communities to have the information technology capacity that is needed to fully participate in today’s society and economy of the United States”.
Types of Digital Equity Programs offered:
- State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program: A $60 million grant program for states and territories to develop digital equity plans.
- State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program: A $1.44 billion grant program for states and territories. It will fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of digital equity plans.
- Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program: A $1.25 billion grant program. It will fund annual grant programs for five years to implement digital equity projects.
These Digital Equity Programs prioritize the following populations:
- Individuals living in households earning at or below 150% of the poverty line
- Aging individuals
- Incarcerated individuals
- Individuals with a language barrier
- Individuals with disabilities
- Individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group
- Individuals who primarily reside in rural areas
Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021
Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, is one broadband funding opportunity still available eligible entities can leverage towards their broadband infrastructure.
NTIA will be in charge of distributing the broadband connectivity grants listed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to the eligible entities that apply and are approved.
Amendments to the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program
Total: $1.9 billion
Eligible entities: Providers of Advanced Communication Service
This program was established:
- To reimburse eligible providers of advanced communication services for “costs reasonably incurred in removing, replacing, or disposing of covered communications equipment and services”
- In the effort to address “threats to the security of our nation’s communications networks posed by certain communications equipment providers” and secure the nation’s supply chain
Grants are available for providers of advanced communication services (see definition 2 below) to remove or replace covered communications equipment to protect national security threats to the Commission’s communications supply chain.
- The FCC released a Public Notice announcing they will have a webinar on September 27th, 2021 to go over the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program
- The webinar will provide an overview of the Reimbursement Program, provider eligibility information, and application procedures for participating parties
The American Rescue Plan
Due to COVID-19, The American Rescue Plan has come in to bring economic support to Americans experiencing negative impacts from the pandemic. Under this Plan, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund is offering up broadband grants for teams to use towards expanding broadband infrastructure to directly enable work, education, health monitoring, and remote work options.
The U.S. Treasury is the organization in charge of distributing funding grants listed under the American Rescue Plan.
Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund
Total: $10 billion
Eligible entities: States, Territories, and Tribal Governments
This grant opportunity aims to:
- Contribute to the Administration’s goal of providing every American with the modern infrastructure necessary to access critical services, including a high-quality and affordable broadband internet connection
- Enable investments in capital assets designed to address inequities in access to critical services
- Directly support recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency by strengthening and improving the infrastructure necessary for participation in work, education, and health monitoring that will last beyond the pandemic
Grant Payment Breakdown:
- A minimum of $100 million for each of the 50 States & District of Columbia
- A minimum of $100 million for each U.S. Territory
- A minimum of $100 million to be split into equal shares for each Tribal government, including the State of Hawaii
How to Request Funding:
Eligible states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments will be able to apply for their allocation of the Capital Projects Fund through the Treasury Submission Portal.
Explore more details on the Capital Projects Fund here.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is an FCC Universal Service Fund (USF) program, that aims to ensure that broadband services for rural areas are comparable to those available in urban and suburban areas. RDOF will help accomplish this mission by funding the expansion of rural broadband access through $20.4 billion over ten years, to be distributed in two phases through an FCC-managed reverse auction.
Phase II – Upcoming
The goal of RDOF Phase II is to deploy broadband service to locations in census blocks that are partially served and locations that were not awarded during the Phase I auction.
Total: $11.2 billion
Eligible entities: Eligible Telecommunication Carriers (ETCs)
Grants are available through a reverse auction to certified Eligible Telecommunication Carriers (ETCs).
On March 25, 2022—The Federal Communications Commission announced they’re authorizing “more than $313 million through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to fund new broadband deployments in 19 states bringing service to over 130,000 locations. This is the eighth round of funding in the program, which to date has provided over $5 billion in funding for new deployments in 47 states to bring broadband to over 2.8 million locations.”
Phase II is not yet scheduled, with timing still being discussed by the Commission. The FCC plans to use the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC), formally known as Digital Opportunity Data Collection (DODC), to determine the eligible census blocks for partially served areas.
Likely means Phase II will not be scheduled until after the FCC implements the Broadband Data Collection program and develops a granular National Broadband Map.
- Phase II Not yet scheduled – Will not be scheduled until after the Broadband Data Collection of 2021 is complete
5G Fund – Upcoming
The 5G Fund aims to provide all Americans access to 5G broadband service, especially those living in rural areas where 5G would likely not be deployed.
Total: $9 billion
Eligible entities: ETCs with Spectrum Access + Financial/Technical Capability
- The goal is to ensure everyone can have access to and benefit from 5G connectivity regardless of whether they live in a rural or urban area
- Coverage data submitted through the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) will determine the eligible areas
- Like RDOF Phase II, scheduling is dependent on when the FCC acquires the new coverage data from the BDC
The application window is not yet scheduled. It will not be scheduled until after the Broadband Data Collection of 2021 is complete.
Telecommunications Infrastructure Program
Total: $690 Million
Eligible entities: State Governments, Local Governments, Territorial Governments, Tribal/Native American governments, Alaska Native Controlled Organizations, Native Hawaiian Organizations, For-Profit Organizations (including Internet Service Providers), Non-Profit Organizations, and Electric Utilities/Co-ops
The Telecommunications Infrastructure Program provides financing for the construction, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of telephone service and broadband in rural areas. This program is intended to serve rural areas and towns with a population of 5,000 or less. Grants from this program can be used to finance telecommunications services in rural areas for:
- New Construction
- Acquisitions (the cost of acquisition must be incidental to the cost of improvements)
- Refinancing (the amount requested for refinancing cannot exceed 40% of the loan amount)
Applications for this program are accepted year-round through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At this current point in time, these federal subsidies for broadband deployment are here for a reason. Whether you are from a state, city, or service provider organization, there is a grant opportunity you can leverage to help expand broadband coverage to unserved and underserved locations across the United States and Territories. The common goal among these grants is to provide quality broadband service to the most significant number of people in eligible unserved and underserved areas, especially to those in rural areas. All these federal broadband funding programs are here to ultimately make a significant impact in closing the Digital Divide nationwide.
So, how will your team leverage these broadband grant opportunities?
1. Anchor Community: The term “anchor community” means any area that— (i) except as provided in subparagraph (B), is not more than 15 miles from a historically Black college or university, a Tribal College or University, or a Minority-serving institution; and (ii) has an estimated median annual household income of not more than 250 percent of the poverty line, as that term is defined in section 673(2) of the Community Services Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9902(2))
2. Providers of Advanced Communication Service: The term ‘provider of advanced communications service’—
(A) Means a person who provides advanced communications service to United States customers, and includes —
(i) An accredited public or private noncommercial educational institution, providing facilities-based educational broadband service, as defined in section 27.4 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations, or any successor regulation; and
(ii) Health care providers and libraries providing advanced communications services.
3. Qualifying Broadband Service —The term “qualifying broadband service” means broadband service with—
(A) a download speed of not less than 25 megabits per second
(B) an upload speed of not less than 3 megabits per second
(C) a latency sufficient to support real-time, interactive applications
1 – U.S. Congress. (2020, December 27). H.R.133 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/133/text.
2 – U.S. Congress. (2021, March 11). H.R.1319 – American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1319/text.
3 – Federal Communications Commission. (2021, October 22). Auction 904: Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904.
4 – Congressional Research Service. (2020, August 28). Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: Requirements and Selected Policy Issues. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R46501.pdf.
5 – Federal Communications Commission. (2020, November 24). 5G fund. Retrieved November 02, 2021, from https://www.fcc.gov/5g-fund.
6 – U.S. Congress. (2021, November 5). H.R.3684 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3684/text.
7 – National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Digital Equity Programs. BroadbandUSA. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/resources/grant-programs/digital-equity-programs. Accessed August 4, 2022.
8 – U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2022, February 25) Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans & Loan Guarantees. Rural Development. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/telecommunications-programs/telecommunications-infrastructure-loans-loan-guarantees.