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6 Sep 2022

U.S. Broadband Infrastructure Funding explained

Do you know your BEAD from your RDOF?  Or the Middle Mile Program from Reconnect Round 4?  If not, this explainer is for you.  Akin to the rush to build the railroads 150 years ago which opened up America, operators across the country are laying the fiber access networks which will connect everything, everywhere.  The big story is the one-time investment the government is making to ensure this network doesn’t miss anyone.  A total of $97 billion has been pledged for operators to build networks where connectivity either doesn’t exist or where speeds are under the minimum 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload threshold that the U.S. government has targeted for all American homes to reach by 2027. So how is this money being allocated and by whom? This explainer tells all.  

There are over a hundred different federal programs that touch funding opportunities related to broadband. These programs provide funding for everything from rural healthcare, rural community broadband planning, digital equity, to distance learning, broadband for schools, funding for devices, workforce training and infrastructure for the building of broadband networks.  

The largest funding opportunities for broadband infrastructure, however, are found in a handful of programs that are largely funded through legislation passed by Congress as part of the U.S recovery response to the pandemic. These programs will distribute approximately $97 billion of funding for broadband infrastructure over the next three to five years.

Acronym Key

ARPA: American Rescue Plan Act
BEAD: Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program funded by IIJA  
CPF: Capital Projects Fund funded by ARPA
FCC: Federal Communications Commission  
IIJA: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
NTIA: National Telecommunications & Information Administration under Department of Commerce
RDOF: Rural Digital Opportunities Fund
USDA: United States Department of Agriculture 

U.S. primary broadband infrastructure programs

U.S. primary broadband infrastructure programs

Funding Program

Federal Agency

Amount

Role of States

Timing of Funding Release

RDOF

FCC

$20 Billion

N/A

Round 1 In process

Middle Mile Program

NTIA

$1 Billion

Eligible Applicant

Expected by February of 2023

Tribal Broadband Connectivity

NTIA

$1.98 Billion

N/A

2021 – until funds expended

BEAD

NTIA

$42.5 Billion

Recipient

2021 - 2025

CPF

Treasury

$10 Billion

Recipient

2022-2023

ARPA

Treasury

$20 Billion

Recipient

Current and ongoing

Reconnect Round 4

USDA

$1.15 Billion

Eligible Applicant

Applications Due Nov. 2, 2022

Total

$97 Billion

FCC mapping  

Before we delve into the details of these programs, it’s necessary to understand the role that the FCC is playing regarding the collection of broadband data for the development of new broadband availability maps.  These new maps – also known as – “the fabric” will be the single point of truth for determining funding eligibility for certain programs including the BEAD program.

In March of 2020, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act which requires the FCC to establish a process to collect granular data from broadband providers in order to generate publicly available coverage maps of a common dataset that include all the residential and business locations across the United States. The new maps will replace and phase out a bi-annual service provider broadband availability reporting process that is mostly commonly referred to as “477 data”. The 477 refers to the FCC Form 477 that providers have been using since 2000 to submit coverage data based on census blocks to the FCC.  

The new fabric is in development right now. Service providers must submit location specific coverage data by September 1, 2022. Following an internal audit and verification phase, the FCC will publish the maps for public review which will also kick off a challenge period. While we don’t know the exact initial publication date for the maps, the FCC has indicated that it would be sometime in the fall of 2022.

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FCC programs

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) - $20 billion  

The RDOF program otherwise known as Auction 904 is a reverse auction whereby the FCC awards census blocks to providers based on the lowest bids submitted. The FCC is authorized to spend up to $20 billion of funding through multiple rounds of auctions. The FCC is still in the process of authorizing funding to Round 1 winners. Link to additional information here: Auction 904: Rural Digital Opportunity Fund | Federal Communications Commission (fcc.gov)

NTIA programs

NTIA will be responsible for the distribution of approximately $45 billion of infrastructure funding through three distinct programs. 

Middle Mile Program (MMP)- $1 billion  

The MMP is currently in process and will be administered directly from NTIA. The purpose of the program is to “encourage the expansion and extension of middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas.” (See Middle Mile NOFO page 5). Eligible applications include all types of entities and partnerships including states, tribes, local governments, providers, nonprofits, and others. Applications are due by September 3. Link to additional information here: Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program | BroadbandUSA (doc.gov)

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP)- $1.98 billion

The TBCP is currently in process and will be administered directly from NTIA. Eligible entities are tribal governments. The TBCP provides funding for broadband infrastructure deployment on tribal lands as well as for projects that include but are not limited to promote adoption and use of broadband services such as distance learning, telehealth, and digital inclusion efforts. The IIJA allocated additional funding to the program which NTIA has just made available. Link to additional information here: Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program | BroadbandUSA (doc.gov)

The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) - $42.5 billion  

BEAD will be administered by NTIA but funded and passed through the states. States will make funds available to subrecipients, through grant programs wherein all types of entities and partnerships including states, tribes, local governments, providers, nonprofits, and others will be eligible to apply.  

The BEAD program has multiple layers of complexity. First, the amount of money that will be allocated to each state will depend on how many unserved locations exist in each state pursuant to the new FCC mapping fabric. At some point in the mapping process, NTIA and the FCC will jointly determine that the data is ready for the allocation process to commence. The timing of this “Allocation Date” is unknown. However, it is expected to be after the first challenge process is complete in roughly the late spring of 2023. 

The “Allocation Date” is also the trigger for the states to begin their process of submitting plans to the NTIA in order to receive funding. Here is a high-level overview of the State planning processes.

  • Action Plan. States that request planning money from NTIA must submit a five-year Action Plan 270 days after receipt of the funds. This process will take place first and before the Allocation Date. States are expected to receive planning money ($5 million per state) in September 2022.
  • Initial Proposal. All states must prepare and submit an initial Proposal to NTIA after the Allocation Date occurs. States have six months to complete the Initial Proposal. Once it is submitted to NTIA, the Initial Proposal will be published for a public review and challenge process. Once NTIA approves a state’s Initial Proposal – NTIA will release 20 percent of the funding that is allocated to that State.
  • Final Proposal. States have a year to prepare and submit a Final Proposal. Once a state’s Final proposal is approved, NTIA will release the remaining 80 percent of the funding to that state.

Note: Any delays to the publication of the new fabric and/or the delays with the challenge process will push the Allocation Date back even further. Additionally, the BEAD program carries significant requirements for the states and for subrecipients/applicants. Link to additional information here:  Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program | BroadbandUSA (doc.gov)

Treasury Programs

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) - $20 billion  

Over $350 billion of funding was pushed out to the states in 2021. Broadband infrastructure investment is an allowable purpose of these funds. Almost $20 billion of these funds are being used by localities for broadband projects and by states to fund state-run broadband grant programs. These programs are ongoing. 

Capital Projects Fund (CPF) - $10 billion  

Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, CPF allocates $10 billion by a formula allocation to the states for projects related to the pandemic response. A key focus of the program is on broadband infrastructure, but funds can also be utilized for other broadband purposes. Treasury must approve a state’s plan before releasing CPF funds to that state. All state plans must be submitted to Treasury by September 24, 2002. Link to additional information here: Capital Projects Fund | U.S. Department of the Treasury

USDA Programs

ReConnect Round 4 - $1.15 billion

The Rural Development Broadband Reconnect Program is directly administered by USDA. The program has different combinations of grants and grant/loans available. ReConnect Round 4 will begin accepting applications on September 6, 2022, with all applications due by November 2, 2022. Future rounds of ReConnect are dependent on funding availability. Link to additional information here: Biden-Harris Administration to Begin Accepting Applications on September 6 for USDA ReConnect Program Round 4 Funding | USDA

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