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Rural Broadband the Star Attraction of $10 Billion Capital Projects Fund

Steve Pastorkovich and Randy Sukow / Sep 22, 2021

A 25-page document the U.S. Treasury Department released this week, “Guidance for the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund” (CPF), provides specifics on how states and territories may tap into $10 billion Congress appropriated earlier this year in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. CPF’s broad goal, according to the statue, is “to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease.”

But close reading of the guidance reveals that building out rural broadband is the program’s highest aim. It hopes to launch broadband projects providing reliable service at 100 Mbps or more downstream and 20 Mbps or more upstream, “scalable to a minimum of 100 Mbps symmetrical.”

The official applicants will be state or tribal governments. (Treasury released a separate guidance for tribal governments.) Internet providers may not apply directly but can work with state or tribal governments as “subrecipients.” Subrecipients may also be counties or other government bodies.

CPF will operate similarly to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program, which also requires applicants to be government entities. CPF, like the NTIA program, “encourages recipients to prioritize projects that involve broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives,” while  encouraging states to prioritize “investments in fiber-optic infrastructure where feasible.”

The biggest difference between the NTIA and Treasury programs: NTIA is working with $288 million, and CPF will assign billions to broadband.

Treasury also released the CPF dollar amounts allocated for each state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The allocations range from nearly $107 million for DC to $540 million for California. The program will fund “capital assets” within a broadband project, such as fiber optic plant, wireless towers, and other broadband network equipment.

Also eligible are community programs, such as broadband adoption programs and digital literacy training. Applicants also may apply funds toward broadband affordability. “Recipients are encouraged to consult with the community as part of the process they undertake to consider affordability and are required to publish the description of their process for considering affordability in their project selection process,” Treasury said.

Treasury plans to open an online application portal for states on Sept. 24. States will then have roughly three months, until Dec. 27, to apply for CPF support through the Treasury portal. States then have up to nine months to file a grant plan, by Sept. 24, 2022, one year after the portal opens. The agency also has opened registration for a CPF webinar at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Sept. 30.

NRTC is available to assist members interested in working with their states to build broadband networks. Contact us at funding@nrtc.coop.
 


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