The new year is off to a fast start on broadband, as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued its long-awaited Request for Comment on key funding programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). As explained in our last analysis, the IIJA represents the largest investment in broadband deployment and adoption in U.S. history, with billions of dollars available across multiple new programs. The Request for Comment seeks input on three of these programs: (1) the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program; (2) the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program; and (3) the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. These programs will provide over $43 billion in funding to support broadband deployment in unserved/underserved areas, build broadband network backbone infrastructure, and promote broadband adoption, respectively.
The comment deadline is February 4, 2022. NTIA will use the comments to develop Notices of Funding Opportunity for each program establishing the procedures, timeframes, and requirements for requesting and using broadband grant money. As a result, the comment period is critical for broadband service providers and other industry stakeholders to provide recommendations on the programs’ “nuts and bolts” before final implementation.
The Request for Comment is very broad, asking for input on “any matter” related to the programs’ implementation. That said, NTIA is particularly interested in:
- Encouraging program participation by a variety of service providers;
- Oversight of state/territory competitive subgrant programs with service providers;
- Service provider performance, affordability, and other quality-of-service benchmarks and whether such benchmarks should scale over time to keep pace with consumer needs;
- Determining low-cost broadband service options from service providers receiving funding and improving overall service affordability;
- Avoiding duplication of funding and overbuilding through other federal/state broadband programs;
- Broadband deployment constraints imposed by current labor shortages and supply chain issues;
- Technical assistance needed for states/service providers to successfully implement the programs; and
- Program matching funds, data collection, and recordkeeping requirements.
An in-depth analysis of the broadband programs covered by the Request for Comment can be found here. If you have any questions or need assistance in the broadband space – including the IIJA programs – please contact the author.