A Year One Update on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Investing in Broadband Deployment
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
A Year One Update on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Investing in Broadband Deployment
One aim of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is to ensure that every American has access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service. The law allocates $65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the U.S., create more low-cost broadband service options, subsidize the cost of service for low-income households, and provide funding to address digital equity and inclusion needs. Here we provide an update on the implementation of two programs aimed at extending the reach of broadband networks in the U.S.: the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program and the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program.
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program
The law allocated over $42 billion for broadband deployment grants to the states through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration administers the program which aims to ensure that broadband access extends to every serviceable location in the nation.
A key element in the implementation of the BEAD program is broadband mapping taking place at the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is in the process of updating its current broadband maps with more detailed and precise information on the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services. The FCC's data will determine what locations are "unserved" (that is without any broadband service at all or with broadband service offering speeds below 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream/3 Mbps upstream) and underserved (that is, broadband service offering speeds of less than 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream). Each state will receive at least $100 million. The remaining $37.356 billion will be distributed to states using a formula that calculates a state’s percentage of total unserved locations nationwide. The U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will all get an equal share of $100 million ($25 million each).
Earlier this month, the FCC announced that it will unveil a pre-production draft of new broadband maps on November 18, 2022. The pre-production draft map release is an important first step forward in building more accurate, more granular broadband maps, which are long overdue and mandated by Congress. Historically, the FCC’s maps have been based on broadband availability data collected at just the census block level rather than the location level, which kept unserved locations hidden if they were in partially served census blocks. The draft maps will allow people to search for their address, and review and dispute the services reported by providers at their location.
The release of the draft maps will begin an ongoing, iterative process that will improve the data submitted by broadband internet access service providers by incorporating challenges from individuals and other stakeholders. To further improve the maps, the FCC will accept bulk challenges to the reported availability data from state and Tribal governments and other entities.
As NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said, “The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected." Between November 18, 2022 and January 13, 2023 is the best opportunity for states to submit challenges in time for the FCC to include corrections in the final version of the map that will be used to allocate BEAD funding in the summer of 2023. The NTIA also announced that it plans to announce BEAD allocations, using the most up-to-date version of the FCC maps as a guide, by June 30, 2023.
In addition to potentially challenging the FCC's maps, states and territories are working on Five-Year Action Plans that establish broadband goals and priorities and serve as a comprehensive needs assessment that will inform initial proposals for BEAD funding. Five-Year Action Plans must (a) be informed by collaboration with local, regional, and Tribal entities, as well as unions and worker organizations, (b) detail investment priorities and associated costs, and (c) align planned spending with economic development, community benefit, workforce, telehealth, digital equity, and other related efforts. At a minimum, Five-Year Action Plans must:
- Provide details of the state's or territory's existing broadband program or office, including any activities that the program or office currently conducts, any previous plans or goals for broadband availability, and any prior experience awarding broadband deployment grants.
- Identify the funding that the state or territory currently has available for broadband deployment and other broadband-related activities, including data collection and local planning, and the sources of that funding, including whether the funds are from the state or territory or from the federal government.
- Identify existing efforts funded by the federal government (including the Universal Service Fund), or the state or territory to deploy broadband and close the digital divide.
- Identify the current full-time and part-time employees who will assist in implementing and administering the BEAD Program in the state or territory and the duties assigned to those employees, as well as any existing contracted support, and any planned expansion of employees or contractors.
- Identify known or potential obstacles or barriers to the successful implementation of the BEAD Program and the state or territory’s corresponding plans to address them.
- Include an asset inventory that catalogues broadband adoption, affordability, equity, access, and deployment activities occurring within the state or territory and identifies and provides details regarding any relevant partners, such as community-based organizations and community anchor institutions that may inform broadband deployment and adoption planning.
- Include a description of the state or territory’s external engagement process, demonstrating collaboration with local, regional, and Tribal entities (governmental and nongovernmental) and reflective of the NTIA's local coordination requirements, including outreach to underrepresented communities and unions and worker organizations. The engagement required must be undertaken both during the development of the Five-Year Action Plan itself and following submission of the plan, reflecting ongoing collaboration throughout the BEAD Program.
- Incorporate available federal, state/territory, or local broadband availability and adoption data, including but not limited to Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment data. Other federal broadband data sources include the NTIA Internet Use Survey, the NTIA Indicators of Broadband Need Map, and the American Community Survey.
- Identify local and regional broadband service needs and gaps within the state or territory’s boundaries, including unserved or underserved locations and community anchor institutions without gigabit service, and/or any plans to make these determinations where service availability is unclear.
- Provide a comprehensive, high-level plan for providing reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service throughout the state or territory, including:
- The estimated timeline and cost for universal service,
- The planned utilization of federal, state/territory, and local funding sources,
- Prioritization of areas for federal support,
- Any consideration afforded to the use of public-private partnerships or cooperatives in addressing the needs of residents,
- Strategies to address affordability issues, including but not limited to strategies to increase enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program by eligible households; and
- Strategies to ensure an available and highly skilled workforce (including by subgrantees, contractors, and subcontractors) to minimize project disruptions, including any plans to ensure strong labor standards and protections; and plans to attract, retain, or transition the skilled workforce needed to achieve the plan’s goals, including describing the involvement and partnerships of sub-grantees, contractors, and sub-contractors with existing in-house skills training programs, unions, and worker organizations; community colleges and public school districts; supportive services providers; Registered Apprenticeship programs and other labor-management training programs, or other quality workforce training providers.
- Identify digital equity and inclusion needs, goals, and implementation strategies, including ways in which the state or territory plans to utilize BEAD funding, Digital Equity Act funding and/or other funding streams in concert to remedy inequities and barriers to inclusion. Accordingly, the Five-Year Action Plan should set forth a vision for digital equity, include the results of a needs assessment for underrepresented communities and an asset inventory of ongoing digital equity activities, and detail holistic strategies around affordability, devices, digital skills, technical support, and digital navigation. This requirement may be satisfied by the completion of a State Digital Equity Plan.
- Detail alignment of the Five-Year Action Plan with other existing and planned economic development, telehealth, workforce development, related connectivity efforts, and other Eligible Entity priorities.
- Describe technical assistance and additional capacity needed for the successful implementation of the BEAD Program.
In the coming months, it is crucial that states and territories engage local communities—and for communities to actively participate in articulating their connectivity needs.
The NTIA will evaluate whether local coordination and outreach efforts meet the programmatic requirements, assessing whether plans and activities undertaken ensure:
- full geographic coverage;
- meaningful engagement and outreach to diverse stakeholder groups, labor organizations, and community organizations, including promoting the recruitment of women and other historically marginalized populations for workforce development opportunities and jobs related to BEAD-funded eligible activities;
- utilization of multiple awareness and participation mechanisms and different methods to convey information and outreach;
- transparency of processes, including the documentation and publication of results and outcomes of such coordination and outreach efforts; and
- outreach to and direct engagement of unserved and underserved communities to include historically underrepresented and marginalized groups and/or communities.
These requirements are designed to allow states and territories to tailor their programs for the unique environments within their boundaries. Local communities can contribute to state plans by accessing their own challenges and opportunities. The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society offers tools for that process including:
- Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program: The Accelerate community broadband planning program educates and supports community leadership teams as they create their community’s broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area.
- Pathways to Digital Equity: How Communities Can Reach Their Broadband Goals—and How Philanthropy Can Help: For community leaders striving for digital equity, this guidebook will help communities evaluate and meet specific connectivity needs. We chart three pathways—Access, Adoption, and Use—that together offer a comprehensive approach to guide communities’ digital equity planning and provide structure for implementing effective solutions with the help of philanthropy.
Investing in Middle-Mile Infrastructure
Local networks are important for bringing high-speed internet to communities. But local networks aren't enough. They need to connect to robust, high-capacity national and regional networks. Middle-mile infrastructure makes this possible. By connecting to major networks, local networks can ensure reliable high-speed internet service for even the most remote communities.
Provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provide a new funding mechanism to improve middle-mile infrastructure and make it easier to deliver broadband in currently unserved and underserved areas. Congress allocated $1 billion for competitive grants for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure. The twin purposes are to 1) encourage the expansion and extension of middle-mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the internet, and 2) promote broadband connection resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths that can be designed to prevent single points of failure on a broadband network.
Earlier this year, the NTIA released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) with details for the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The NOFO invited applications proposing creative ways to fill the gaps in our nation’s middle-mile infrastructure and advance our national goals of increasing connectivity, affordability, and equity.
Applications for the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program were due at the end of September. In early October, NTIA announced that over 235 applications were submitted totaling more than $5.5 billion in funding requests. NTIA will evaluate the applications and make awards on a rolling basis no earlier than March 2023.
"Middle mile infrastructure is the connective tissue that links the networks that serve homes and businesses,” said NTIA's Alan Davidson. “NTIA’s Middle Mile Program is a force multiplier for connectivity and will be essential to delivering a cost-efficient Internet for All. The volume of applications we received demonstrates the high demand for increasing middle mile capacity throughout the country.”
For more on the importance of middle-mile networks, see If We Build It, Will They Come? Lessons from Open-Access, Middle-Mile Networks.
More in this Series
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2022. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.
For subscribe/unsubscribe info, please email headlinesATbentonDOTorg