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Treasury Department’s Final Rule Uses Less Restrictive Language to Qualify for Broadband Funding

Treasury Department departed from its original proposed rule, granting recipients flexibility on broadband download and upload speeds.

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Photo of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen from May 2015 by Paul Morigi used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2022 – The Treasury Department on Thursday issued its final rule on the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, expanding its rules to allow the use of such funding for broadband infrastructure.

The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds were established through the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021. The stimulus package extended unemployment benefits, provided stimulus checks, offered emergency paid leave, and carved out funding for efforts like housing small businesses, education, and infrastructure.

The Treasury final rule has some notable departures from the original language. In its own words, “The final rule significantly broadens eligible broadband infrastructure investments to address challenges with broadband access, affordability, and reliability.”

One of the most notable changes relates to requirements pertaining to underserved and unserved communities. Broadband projects that qualified for state and local recovery funding originally had to serve communities with an internet connection of under 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, as those communities were considered unserved.

The specificity of this component has been done away with in favor of comprehensive language, stating that communities “with an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment” would qualify for funding.

The bar for this need is considerably lower. “Recipients have flexibility to identify a need for additional broadband infrastructure investment: examples of need include lack of access to a connection that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds, lack of affordable access to broadband service, or lack of reliable broadband service,” the final rule reads.

The final rule also carves out exceptions, however; whereas the interim rule required that all broadband infrastructure projects be built to a 100/100 Mbps symmetrical service, the final rules determined that to be “too restrictive.”

“In the final rule, Treasury also requires that broadband projects must meet a standard of reliably delivering at least 100 Mbps download speeds and upload speeds, or in cases where it is not practicable to do so, reliably delivering at least 100 Mbps download speed and between at least 20 Mbps and 100 Mbps upload speed while being scalable to 100 Mbps upload and download speeds.”

Funding

Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’

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Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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Funding

BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment

Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’

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Photo of John Horrigan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.

“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.

Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.

First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.

“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”

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Funding

States Must Review ISP Capabilities When Awarding Federal Infrastructure Funds

‘[State] decision makers in this program need to be careful about who is the qualified and experienced provider.’

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Photo of Paul Garnett (middle) and Alex Minard (right)

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2022 – States should ensure telecoms trusted with billions in federal infrastructure funds can do the job before giving them the money, according to experts at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation webinar on Tuesday.

“[State] decision makers in this program need to be careful about who is the qualified and experienced provider and who is going to be able to actually deliver,” said Alex Minard, state legislative counsel at the NCTA, Internet and Television Association.

State broadband offices should look at the ISP’s broadband deployment plans and company track records to determine whether the provider has sufficient capacity to complete the project, said Paul Garnett, CEO of the broadband consulting firm the Vernonburg Group.

An ISP’s customer base and experience in broadband deployment can help states determine whether to invest in the company, added Garnett.

Minard added that ISP’s that provide a matching fund demonstrate their desire to work with the state and follow-through with their commitments.

He added that states must consider the costs of the project in regard to available funds, the likelihood of sign-ups from community members, and who will run the cybersecurity of the network in the long term.

State partnerships with ISP’s have been said to be essential for broadband deployment.

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