NTIA broadband grant program flooded with $2.5B in funding requests

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) warned competition for grants from its Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) will be fierce, revealing it received funding requests seeking billions more than it has to offer.

BIP was established in May using money allocated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which became law in December 2020. Applications for the $288 million program were due by August 17. In a press release this week, NTIA said more than 230 funding requests were submitted during the 90-day application window. All told, they sought more than $2.5 billion for projects covering 49 U.S. states and territories, far exceeding the available grant funding.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement the “intense demand” for support from the program “demonstrates the widespread need for better broadband connectivity in unserved communities.” While the BIP investments “are critical,” she argued “there is more to be done” and said an infrastructure bill currently being weighed by Congress “will expand upon the groundwork being laid by this program.” The aforementioned infrastructure package currently calls for $65 billion to be allocated to improve broadband in the country.

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Due to the large number of applications, NTIA warned the BIP grant award process will be “highly competitive.” It noted it will prioritize proposals which target delivery of broadband service to the greatest number of households in a given service area; bring service to rural areas; are the most cost effective and provide service offering speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps up.

The agency previously stated it expects award totals to range from $5 million to $30 million, which would leave enough money for between nine and 57 projects. NTIA expects to complete its review and selection of winning applications by November 15, with the first funding awards set to go out by November 29.

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For those who lose out on BIP grants, NTIA noted alternative funding may be available through states which choose to dedicate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to broadband initiatives. Several states, including California, Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina, have already moved to allocate ARPA funds for broadband.