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NTIA Says Primary Awards For Middle Mile Grants to Fall Between $5 Million and $100 Million

The long awaited notice of funding opportunity laid out the system for how each applicant program will be scored.

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WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022 – In addition to releasing its rules on the highly anticipated $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, on Friday the National Telecommunications and Information Association also released the rules governing the $1 billion made available by the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program.

Commerce Department’s NTIA Releases Details for Funds Distributed Under IIJA

The NTIA, an arm of the U.S. Commerce Department, released the middle-mile Notice of Funding of Opportunity, and addressed technical expectations, best practices, program priorities, and cost sharing and matching expectations, among myriad other aspects of the middle mile program.

The NTIA wrote that it expects the primary awards to fall between $5 million and $100 million, but added that this is not a fixed range and entities can apply for grants outside that range provided they supply documentation to potentially justify additional spending.

Want to know more about this game-changing document, and the powerful tools it brings to U.S. last mile broadband? Visit Broadband.Money‘s tools and resources, including four themes to watch for in the BEAD NOFO.

In the middle mile NOFO, the NTIA repeatedly deferred to standards established by the Federal Communications Commission when outlining what is considered “reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband.” For applicants to qualify, their programs must undergo a “merit review,” which is divided into two sections: project purpose and benefits, and project sustainability.

Both sections assign specific point values for various features, such as its technical capabilities, and whether it commits to an open-access model and carrier neutral interconnection facilities as part of the project purpose and befits section (60 points), and the reasonableness of the proposed budget and its fiscal sustainability as part of the project sustainability section (40 points)

If the project is able to score at least 80 out of 100 points on the merit review, it will be prioritized for the “programmatic review.”

Amounts of funding and general framework

The agency released the rules for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure and State Digital Equity Act programs on Friday, in addition to the BEAD program.

The IIJA allocated $65 billion in funding for broadband spending, with at least $45 billion allocated to the NTIA through these three programs. The $42.5 billion for BEAD is designed to address last-mile broadband connectivity. The $1 billion for middle mile spending addresses the “secondary highways” — in between data centers and individual homes — that allow our internet to work. The additional $1.5 billion is for states to engage in programs designed to address digital equity.

Definitions for underseved and underserved households

Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, an “unserved”household is defined as a location not capable of receiving broadband internet access at 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC’s current definition of broadband.

IIJA also established a second definition of “underserved” as a location not capable of receiving broadband at 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps.

In the middle mile NOFO, the agency laid out distinct speed requirements for fiber builds that connect to anchor institutions. The NTIA stated that anchor institutions within 1000 feet of middle mile fiber infrastructure must be provided with 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical service.

Additionally, to qualify for a middle mile grant, the applying entity must commit to completing the buildout within five years from when the funding is made available, though entities can request a one-year extension if they are able to demonstrate that their plan is underway or there were extenuating circumstances that prevented the build from being completed.

Without a waiver, entities must be able to demonstrate benchmarks after the second, third, fourth, and fifth years; the project must have 40 percent of its project miles completed by the end of the second year, with 20 percent benchmarks every year thereafter.

In terms of cost matching, middle mile awards cannot exceed 70 percent of the total cost.

If an entity is unable to meet these deadlines, the NOFO also lays out the NTIA’s ability to claw back funds as established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Funding

34 States Submit Letters of Intent to Participate in NTIA’s Main Broadband Program

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announces news on its ‘Internet for All’ web portal for three IIJA programs.

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Photo of Gina Raimondo from CNBC

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The Biden administration announced Wednesday that 34 states and territories signed on to participate in the programs outlined by its “Internet for All” initiative.

The “Internet for All” moniker is the new umbrella web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its three programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: the Broadband Digital Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

These programs are part of the administration’s goals of bridging the digital divide and achieving universal broadband by 2030.

Since NITA announced the IFA on Friday, the following territories and states announced their intention to participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the NTIA’s programs would be critical to allowing Americans to “participate in the modern economy.”

“Generations before us brought electricity to rural America and built the interstate highways,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states are now ‘signing on’ to this initiative to promote Internet access and adoption so that everyone in America has a chance to thrive in the modern economy.”

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Funding

States Should Use Treasury Department’s Broadband Funds to Compliment Infrastructure Bill

Director of the Capital Projects Fund said the fund should be used with infrastructure bill money to close broadband gaps.

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Screenshot of Joseph Wender

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – States should use the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund in conjunction with money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover gaps in broadband service, said the CPF’s director on Wednesday.

With the release by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of funding application guidelines last week, states are focused on how they can access part of the $65 billion offered through the IIJA.

But CPF Director Joseph Wender said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday that the CPF money is available right now to close the gaps in broadband coverage and will be most effective when used as a precursor to IIJA funds that will provide permanent solutions to coverage gaps. He suggested that states view IIJA funds as “complementary” to capital projects.

Screenshot of Joseph Wender

“We expect to make our first awards to those first states in a matter of weeks, potentially days,” said Wender. “The Capital Projects Fund is the tip of the spear in the administration’s goal of closing the digital divide.”

States are responsible to determine with local entities where the money will go, said Wender, provided the individual programs follow all Treasury Department requirements.

The CPF was instituted in March of 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need for communities to access high-speed internet.

It allocates $10 billion to the U.S. Department of Treasury for critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring. It is charged to get the money out to states as soon as possible to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

The money can be used for broadband infrastructure, digital connectivity technologies such as device programs to supply citizens with devices that connect to the internet or public Wi-Fi, and multi-purpose community facilities that are publicly available.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 12 Noon ET – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund and Broadband Infrastructure

The release of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act heightens the importance of inter-agency coordination on broadband projects. In this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, Joseph Wender, director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund will speak with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark about the role of the Treasury Department in broadband infrastructure spending.

Panelists:

  • Joseph Wender, Director, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Joseph Wender currently serves as Director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.  Wender previously served for nearly 13 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senator Ed Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, where he led a team covering a wide range of issues including telecommunications and infrastructure.  Wender also worked as then-Representative Markey’s Legislative Director.  Prior to working for Markey, Wender served as Counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Funding

State Broadband Offices Need to Increase Their Capacity, Improve Data, and Communicate Well

NTIA’s Evan Feinman spoke about what states need to keep in mind as they prepare for BEAD funds.

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Photo of Evan Feinman from AEI

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar event on Tuesday focused on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity. The webinar highlighted three important items to keep in mind as states begin to receive money for broadband planning.

The first, according to Evan Feinman, deputy associate administrator for BEAD, was for states to consider your office’s capacity. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million. Very few states have the human resources required to adequately run a program of this magnitude, he said.

The second is to build up research and data collections of broadband coverage at a state level. The Federal Communications Commission will soon release a new mapping system. It will be necessary, said Feinman, to “engage meaningfully” with these maps using state’s own research and data. Furthermore, states should have the necessary data to engage with internet service providers and the NTIA as they determine who is served and unserved.

Third, states should develop a clear-cut plan for outreach and communication support with stakeholders. Stakeholders include telecom providers, tribal governments, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning step is a great point for stakeholders to become involved in the process, said Feinman. “There is an expectation that lives throughout this program that folks are going to engage really thoroughly and in an outgoing way with their stakeholders.”

See other articles on the NTIA webinars issues in the wake of the Notices of Funding Opportunity on the Broadband.Money community:

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