Last week marks a historic moment for all Americans with the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, that includes an enormous $65B investment for broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and adoption by in-need consumers. While this bill had a multitude of waste that had nothing to do with “infrastructure” it did have funding to address broadband needs in the US. This is the largest single Federal investment in broadband, and it will enable communities across the country to invest in fiber as their critical infrastructure, delivering jobs, economic development, online education, remote healthcare, public safety, smart grid modernization and a path to future services, such as 5G. Jeff Seal helped shape the bill contents and was successful in some of these areas. This investment will not only greatly improve nearly every aspect of our lives today but will help ensure digital equity for generations to come
The clock will now start at NTIA to implement the $42.5 Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD), as they will have 6 months to develop the program guidelines and issue the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). The issuing of the NOFO is contingent on the FCC releasing the updated broadband location mapping as required by infrastructure law and per the Broadband Data Act, which was signed into law last year.
The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act includes:
- Requires the FCC to collect granular service availability data from wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband providers.
- Sets strong parameters for service availability data collected from mobile broadband providers to ensure accuracy.
- Permits the FCC to consider whether to collect verified coverage data from state, local, and tribal governments, as well as from other entities.
- Creates a process for consumers; state, local, and tribal governments; and other groups to challenge FCC maps with their own data and require the FCC to determine how to structure that process without making it overly burdensome on challengers.
- Establishes a crowdsourcing process that will allow the public to participate in data collection.
- Strengthens enforcement against providers that knowingly or recklessly submit materially inaccurate broadband data.
- Requires the FCC to use the newly created maps when making new awards of broadband funding.
- The $65B in broadband infrastructure funding has a number of programs that will be administrated by NTIA, the Rural Utilities Service and the FCC as follows:
- $42.45B BEAD program will be overseen by NTIA which in turn will make grants to the states based on their number of unserved locations to fund broadband network deployment, adoption, and other broadband-related programs.
- $14.2B Affordable Connectivity Program which the FCC will oversee, and which will extend and modify the current Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and provide a $30/month broadband subsidy for low-income and other in-need consumers.
- $2.75B Digital Equity Program overseen by NTIA to ensure that “individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that is needed for full participation in the society and economy of the United States.”
- $2B in additional funding for the RUS ReConnect programs.
- $2B in additional funding for the Tribal Broadband Program, which NTIA oversees, and which will make its first awards shortly.
- $1B for a new middle-mile program overseen by NTIA to build a high-speed backbone for communities, businesses, and anchor institutions.
- $0.6B appropriation for tax exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs), which states, and local governments can use to enhance broadband deployments.
- $100 million is reserved for each of the 50 states.