In ‘Office Hours’ Sessions, NTIA Addresses Questions of Middle Mile Grant Applicants

Sarah Bleau, Middle Mile Program Director at NTIA, reminded attendees that the Middle Mile program is not for last-mile grants.

In ‘Office Hours’ Sessions, NTIA Addresses Questions of Middle Mile Grant Applicants
Earth digger used to dig down cables for broadband connection in rural area

WASHINGTON, September 7, 2022 – With the deadline for the application of Middle Mile grants three weeks away, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has held six of 12 “office hours” question and answer sessions.

Among the questions raised by prospective applicants during these sessions include the use of in-kind contributions, the role of the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 in demonstrating broadband availability and speeds, what role anchor institutions play in middle mile projects, and addressing concerns about the required letter of credit.

In a Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, at 12 Noon ET, Sarah Bleau, middle mile program director at NTIA, will headline a discussion of “Evaluating the Middle Mile Grant Application Process.”

Broadband Breakfast on September 7, 2022 – Assessing the NTIA’s Middle Mile Grant Application Process

With $1 billion in funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Middle Program is among the smaller broadband funding measures offered by the NTIA. But with a September 30 deadline, it is one of the first programs available for award.

Unlike NTIA programs for last-mile broadband, or for state digital equity grants, Middle Mile grants are open to individual companies and institutions that apply. NTIA will receive the applicants directly. NTIA officials have been responding to these questions during “office hours” sessions held on most Tuesdays and Thursdays. See information about the 12 “office hours” sessions.

Role of the FCC’s Form 477

During one “office hours” discussion, NTIA officials addressed how applicants may use evidence of underrepresented and unrepresented people by drawing on broadband data available through the FCC’s Form 477.

The FCC’s Form 477 has been much-criticized and is headed for a revamp. On Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that the agency is aiming for November to release the first draft of its new broadband map.

Rosenworcel, who previously said that the map is expected to emerge this fall, said in a note from the FCC that it has completed the first filing window for submitting “extensive location-by-location data” on broadband availability, after service providers were required by the agency to submit such data by September 1 – the day before the release of the note.

But because that new broadband data won’t be available until after the September 30 Middle Mile grant deadline, “office hours” panelists and presenters addressed how existing broadband data can at least provide basic information about locations and broadband speeds being provided at particular locations.

This can help applicants visualize the availability of broadband. And  speaking at one of the sessions, Alec MacDonell, telecommunications systems specialist at the FCC, highlighted the Urban Rate Survey. It is a report published annually by the FCC compiling data on the fixed voice and broadband service rates being offered to consumers in urban areas.

In addition, MacDonell and others participating in the “office hours” have said that applicants for the middle mile grant program should pay careful attention to the role that anchor institutions – typically universities, schools and libraries – play in planning for an implementing middle mile grants.

Letter of credit and no last-mile funds

During multiple “office hours” sessions over the last three weeks, Sarah Bleau, Middle Mile Program Director at NTIA, reminded attendees that this program is only for middle mile grants. Last-mile projects will not be considered and are not eligible for funds.

Addressing controversies over the required letter of credit, Bleau said that the letter is issued as a guarantee for payments. Financial transactions among two separate parties, usually not taking on any risk in the process.

“It’s not so much protecting the money and so far as helping to determine and do a risk assessment,” Bleau said.

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