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.

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

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.

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