NTIA crafts rules for $48B in broadband funding

The new year has only just begun but the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is wasting no time getting down to business. The agency, which has been tasked with administering a majority of the $65 billion in broadband funding recently allocated by Congress, is asking the public for input on the design of several grant programs through which that money will flow.

In November, Congress set aside a total of $65 billion for broadband as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Of that, $48.2 billion is set to be doled out by the NTIA via the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. The BEAD program is the largest of these, supplying $42.45 billion in funding which will be handed to the states and in turn distributed to providers.

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The infrastructure bill gave NTIA 180 days to establish the BEAD program and come up with funding guidelines. The agency is now working to do just that.

In a public notice issued Friday, it asked stakeholders to share recommendations on program design, policy issues and implementation considerations for BEAD as well as for the middle mile and digital equity planning grants.

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Among other questions, it asked:

  • What types of data it should require funding recipients to collect and maintain to help it assess the programs’ impact, evaluate targets, promote accountability and coordinate with other federal and state programs.
  • How best to ensure funding is used in a way that complements other federal and state broadband programs and how it should treat prior buildout commitments that are not reflected in FCC maps because the projects are not yet complete.
  • How it should assess a state’s grant award process and ensure all potential funding recipients have an equal opportunity to compete for support.
  • What criteria it should establish to assess grant recipients’ plans to ensure that service providers maintain or exceed thresholds for reliability, quality of service, sustainability, upgradability and other required service characteristics.
  • What kinds of technical assistance would be most valuable for it to provide to the states.
  • How to ensure funding is deployed in a way that maximizes the creation of “good paying jobs.”

NTIA’s full list of questions can be found here. Comments are due before 5 pm ET on February 4, 2022.