The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), enacted in November, sets aside $65 billion to help communities build and operate broadband networks. The task of writing rules to distribute that unprecedented jumped ahead this morning as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) published proposed implementation rules for the various programs created by the bill. NRTC members will take particular interest in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, which covers both network deployment and broadband mapping projects.
NTIA is not giving the public much time to consider the proposals. It has set a Feb. 4 deadline for comments on the proposals.
Under the statute, all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia will receive $100 million in initial BEAD funding for broadband projects and the remaining U.S. territories will get equal portions of another $100 million. The law also requires states and territories to submit an “an initial broadband plan” before collecting most of the initial funding. After the initial allocation, states and territories will have the opportunity to apply for additional funds.
NTIA in this morning’s notice asks about the importance of “network reliability and availability, cybersecurity, resiliency, latency, or other service quality features and metrics” when reviewing state broadband plans. The agency also asks which speed and latency metrics it should require for each plan and whether it should require plans to cover five, ten or 20 years of future development.
In many cases, rural communities will have already begun broadband deployment or planning using other funding sources. NTIA asks how it should “treat prior buildout commitments that are not reflected in the updated FCC maps because the projects themselves are not yet complete. What risks should be mitigated in considering these areas as ‘served’ in the goal to connect all Americans to reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband?”
The document also asks for public input on how state, local and tribal governments should structure broadband partnerships. NRTC is holding a webinar on broadband partnerships on Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. A panel of telco and electric members with broadband partnership experience will provide a first-hand perspective. Registration is still open.
Besides the BEAD program, the NTIA notice also asks for comments on the smaller Middle-Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program (building fiber connections from communities to internet access points) and the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program (training and technology provision for low-income households).