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Exclusive Drew Clark Column: Three Other Broadband Funding Programs (Besides the Infrastructure Bill)

It’s worth focusing on other broadband programs run by NTIA, including Tribal Connectivity, and Connecting Minority Communities.



WASHINGTON, August 27, 2021 — Most of the energy around broadband policy has been focused on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would allocate $65 billion in new spending. But with a vote on the measure in the House delayed until by September 27, it’s worth focusing on three other significant broadband programs being administered by the Commerce Department: The Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

On that note, Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration – which is responsible for all three programs – on Wednesday announced the creation of two new broadband offices with the NTIA: The Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, and the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the OICG.

The establishment of OICG fulfills requirements of the ACCESS BROADBAND Act, enacted into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. OICG will be led by NTIA civil servant Douglas Kinkoph, who has led NTIA’s broadband program since 2015 and stayed at the agency throughout the Trump administration.

In addition to running the three programs identified above, the new OICG will also house the agency’s activities operating under the BroadbandUSA moniker.

These were mostly low-budget efforts that provided community outreach, support for state leaders, technical assistance and coordination on federal broadband resources during the lean years – from 2015 until now – when NTIA didn’t have significant resources to run broadband initiatives.

“With this new organizational structure, we are prepared to make significant progress in closing the digital divide through our broadband programs, bringing us closer to President Biden’s goal of connecting all Americans to reliable, affordable high-speed Internet,” NTIA Acting Administrator Evelyn Remaley said in a Wednesday press release.

The Broadband Infrastructure Program

The window for government agencies to submit applications for the Broadband Infrastructure Program closed on August 17, and on Tuesday NTIA said it had received more than 230 applications, for more than $2.5 billion. Only $288 million will be awarded under these BIP grants. The funding was authorized by the 2021 appropriations measure.

Per the terms of the appropriations measure, priority will be given to applications that provide broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible service area, provide broadband service to rural areas, are most cost-effective in providing broadband service; or provide broadband service with a download speed of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of at least 20 Mbps.

Broadband Breakfast Expert Opinion columnist Craig Settles wrote about the three programs on August 8. He noted that “municipalities, nonprofits, or co-ops that own or operate broadband networks are encouraged to participate, but only a public entity can apply for the grant. NTIA added a variation called ‘covered partnerships’ between a state, county or a city and a fixed broadband service. Partnerships can include more than one provider, and providers can be part of more than one partnership.”

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

The Tribal Broadband Program represents another effort designed to improve connectivity in historically under or unserved communities. Also established by the 2021 appropriations bill, the $980-million program will provide grants to expand regular and remote broadband access and adoption by Tribal governments, Tribal organizations, Tribal colleges or universities, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Community, and Native Corporations.

Grant applications are due no later than September 1, 2021.

The NTIA has stated that it expects to award approximately 400 recipients, and recipients can receive up to $50 million in awarded monies.

Like other broadband programs, the Tribal program was motivated in part by the pandemic, and was designed to promote broadband infrastructure deployment and the adoption of distance learning programs, telehealth services, and other broadband adoption activities designed to encourage greater participate in the digital world.

More than half those living on Tribal lands do not have access to broadband compared to eight percent of Americans living elsewhere.

NTIA resources on the Tribal Connectivity Program:

Available Now: Session 5 Webinar Presentation, Transcripts, and Recordings
The presentations, transcripts, and webinar recordings are now available on these webpages:
Session 5a – Held August 11, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 5b – Held August 12, 2021 at 2:30pm ET

Available Soon: Session 6 Webinar Presentation, Transcripts, and Recordings
The presentations, transcripts, and webinar recordings will be available on these webpages by close of business on August 30:
Session 6a – Held August 23, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 6b – Held August 24, 2021 at 2:30pm ET

NTIA has recently published its third set of FAQs regarding the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. This document offers a deeper dive into some of the most commonly asked questions. Subsequent FAQ sets will be published periodically throughout the application window. See the new set of FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 07-28-2021

Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program

The $268 million Connecting Minority Communities was also created by the 2021 appropriations bill, but unlike the other two programs, it builds on work begun at NTIA during the Trump administration in 2018 as part of the Minority Broadband Initiative.

The Minority Broadband Initiative (although not yet with the official title of “office”) worked with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions to find solutions for minority communities to become more connected.

On Wednesday the agency said that the creation of this office codifies the NTIA’s prior work and fulfills the requirements of the Connecting Minority Communities provisions of the appropriations bill.

The goal is to connect the educational and minority-serving institutions to promote initiatives for expanding connectivity for anchor communities, Remaley said, adding that the new office “reflect[s] how broadband expansion and advancing equity in America are critical to our core mission and the Biden Administration’s agenda.”

NTIA released the regulations for the program in June, with the scope, eligibility criteria, and general guidelines. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo explicitly noted that initiatives like the MBI were designed to only play a small part of President Joe Biden’s larger American Jobs Plan, and which she said had been the subject of intense partisan divide.

Applicants can apply to cover the hiring of information technology personnel to ensure a network runs smoothly, to purchasing devices to access networks and to procuring the actual network service they need to access the internet. A notice of funding opportunity for the program was released on August 3, 2021.

NTIA resources on the Minority Broadband Communities Pilot Program:

Available Now: Session 5 Webinar Presentation, Transcripts, and Recordings
The presentations, transcripts, and webinar recordings are now available on these webpages:
Session 5a – Held August 18, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 5b – Held August 19, 2021 at 2:30pm ET

Register Today for Upcoming Webinars on the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program:
Session 6a – September 22, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 6b – September 23, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 7a – October 20, 2021 at 2:30pm ET
Session 7b – October 21, 2021 at 2:30pm ET

NTIA has recently published its second set of FAQs regarding the Connect Minority Communities Pilot Program. This document offers a deeper dive into some of the most commonly asked questions and subsequent FAQ sets will be published periodically throughout the application window. See the new set of FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 08-17-2021

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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North Carolina Releases Final Guidance on $100 Million Pole Replacement Program

Providers may receive up to $10,000 for each utility pole they replace in unserved areas.



Photo of Nate Denny, deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2023 – North Carolina’s broadband office released on Monday final guidance for its $100 million pole replacement program.

The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, will reimburse broadband providers for utility pole replacement costs. Expanding networks can involve attaching equipment to those utility poles. When a pole needs to be replaced to accommodate more equipment, pole owners typically pass the cost on to attachers.

Telecommunications companies have cited this extra cost as a barrier to quick broadband deployments, something utility companies dispute. The two industries have been in conflict on the issue for years, with both continuing to push the FCC to weigh in on a cost sharing regime.

North Carolina’s plan is an effort to smooth over the issue for future broadband expansion efforts, Nate Denny, the state department of information technology’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said in a statement. 

“It addresses a significant barrier to closing the digital divide in remote parts of our state,” he said.

Under the program, broadband providers can apply for 50 percent of the replacement cost for each pole replaced, up to $10,000 per pole. Pole replacement costs in unserved areas after June 1, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement. 

The program will kick off in February 2024 and accept applications from qualified providers.

The FCC has authority in 26 states over the terms of agreements between investor-owned utilities and telecom companies, which does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. The agency is set to vote on updated pole attachment rules at its December meeting.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: National Security and Global Success Depend Upon Prioritizing Telecom Funding

The Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program are both central funding needs for the industry.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

With the government now funded into the new year, it’s time for Congress to take another look at its broader priorities, especially when it comes to the race with China for dominance in next-generation technologies. Whether it’s AI or cloud computing or virtual reality, if the United States is to remain competitive, we need to make secure and effective communications a priority. This means finally connecting all Americans to high-speed broadband and ensuring that our connectivity cannot be undermined by foreign adversaries.

Two popular programs are central to this goal: the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program. Both of these programs have tremendous bipartisan, bicameral support; but both have been underfunded and now risk dying on the vine. Congress has the opportunity to fully fund these programs if it has the will to do so.

Let’s break it down.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides low-income American families and veterans with discounts on Internet service and connectivity equipment, including higher discounts for those living on Tribal lands. With affordable broadband, more Americans can get online and be a part of the digital economy.

The ACP has been wildly successful, connecting over 21 million households to essential broadband they could otherwise not afford. And it continues to garner widespread support, with the vast majority of voters (78%) calling for its extension, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 95% of Democrats.

Congress provided the ACP with $14.2 billion in 2021—but funding is now running low and is projected to be fully exhausted by spring 2024. Governors, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, public interest groups, and Internet service providers are all raising the alarm about its imminent depletion. That’s why the Biden Administration in October called on Congress to replenish the program’s coffers with an additional $6 billion.

A good start, but not the whole story. Our foreign adversaries are well known for their espionage, and while a spy balloon might get the attention, a far more insidious problem lurks in our communications networks: equipment designed and produced by Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE. A bipartisan Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Networks Act to eradicate national security threats such as these, but sufficient funding for the Rip and Replace program has never materialized.

Again, the Biden Administration has stepped up and identified a need for $3.1 billion to fully fund the program as a “key national security priority” in its emergency supplemental funding request. It’s a narrative we can all get on-board with: that broadband falls under the umbrella of national security as a whole. American consumers and institutions both benefit from American-built networks and increased protection at home. But communications providers can’t live up to these needs on their own.

As it stands, the responsibility to get affordable, secure connectivity programs across the finish line rests with Congress. Even with a consensus of support for these two programs, the devil is in the details of how to make the price tags palatable to enough policymakers on Capitol Hill. The key is ensuring that any changes preserve the widespread efficacy of the program that has made it popular so far.

For example, Congress could cut the cost of the ACP by limiting the additional Tribal funding to rural Tribal lands. Any such change should be grounded in an evaluation of existing need in urban areas, but could be an opportunity to ensure funds are being directed to areas of greatest need. And Congress should consider indexing the ACP to inflation. The high inflation of recent years has wreaked havoc on the budgets of consumers—and inflation-proofing the program would ensure that broadband remains affordable for all Americans even should inflation come back.

As for Rip-and-Replace, those of us urging for more funds could concede putting safeguards in place to ensure the money is being used for its intended purpose – the kind of compromise needed to get such policies across the finish line

These are just some ideas as we head into the final funding fight. Not everyone is going to be on the same page on what is and isn’t working best, but shared success starts by recognizing that we all have the same endgame. Congress must ensure that adequate funding for the ACP and Rip and Replace program are included in any year-end spending package. We have an all-too-rare opportunity to win the race for high-tech dominance—we just need to provide the resources.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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NTIA Confirms Licensed-by-Rule May Apply for BEAD Funding

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA on the issue.



Photo of telecom towers by Andrew Hart.

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has moved to confirm some wireless technology will be included in its $42.5 billion broadband grant program. 

The agency clarified it will define fixed wireless broadband provided through “licensed-by-rule” spectrum as reliable. That makes providers using that spectrum eligible for funding if fiber is too expensive, and protects them from overbuilding by other projects under the program.

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA to move on the issue since it released the notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program in 2022.

When the BEAD guidelines were first published, they only marked broadband provided via licensed spectrum – frequency bands designated by the Federal Communications Commission for use by a single provider – as reliable broadband. 

That meant areas receiving broadband through only unlicensed spectrum – bands set aside for shared use – would be open for BEAD-funded projects from other providers. This is still the case under the clarified rules.

The original guidelines would also put systems like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in a gray zone. The CBRS uses a tiered license system, with government users, priority license holders, and general users sharing 150 megahertz of spectrum. Each tier gets preference over the one below it, meaning a general access user cannot, for example, interfere with a government system.

Some broadband providers use that spectrum on a general access basis to provide internet service. They were initially marked in the FCC’s broadband data with the same code as fully licensed spectrum, 71. But when the FCC added in January a new technology code specific to licensed-by-rule spectrum, 72, it became unclear how the technology would be treated by the BEAD program.

The NTIA cleared up any confusion on November 9, issuing an updated version of its FAQs specifying the new technology code would be treated as reliable broadband, and thus both eligible for BEAD dollars and protected from overbuilding. 

The agencies did not go so far as to comment on the merits of the technology, though, saying in its new FAQ section that it would treat licensed-by-rule as reliable because it was originally classified under 71, with fully licensed spectrum.

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