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Treasury Sheds Light on Rescue Plan’s Broadband Funding

Steve Pastorkovich and Randy Sukow / May 11, 2021

The U.S. Treasury this week is sharing information that state, territorial, metropolitan city, county, and tribal governments can use to obtain funding through The American Rescue Plan, which the President signed into law in March 2021. In the weeks since its passage, these government entities have been waiting for guidance on more than $300 billion in COVID-19 emergency relief to a wide variety of potential projects in the plan’s “State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds” section.

The Act specifically mentions broadband infrastructure projects among the potential uses for the funds.

The notice Treasury released summarizes the plan’s funding objectives and provides detailed information on how state and local governments may apply for funding. It also breaks down exactly how much money Congress allocated for each level of government.
   

The Rescue Plan rules specify broadband funding should go to unserved and underserved areas, defined as areas lacking service speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The rules otherwise give applicants flexibility to designate the areas it will cover.
    
While speeds of 25/3 Mbps define eligibility for funding, the government strongly suggests that communities design much faster networks. “Using these funds, recipients generally should build broadband infrastructure with modern technologies in mind, specifically those projects that deliver services offering reliable 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload speeds, unless impracticable due to topography, geography, or financial cost,” according to the plan’s interim rules. “In addition, recipients are encouraged to pursue fiber optic investments.”

The interim rules also ask applicants to integrate “affordability options” into their infrastructure construction designs. One way to achieve that, the Treasury says, is “to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives – providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.” (Emphasis ours.)

The American Rescue Plan is one of many federal funding activities that potentially include relief through state or local governments. NRECA, NTCA and other organizations have advised rural broadband providers to contact local governments to investigate participating these programs.

However, applicants for Rescue Plan funds must be certain to properly coordinate that support with support from other programs. “Payments from the Fiscal Recovery Funds are subject to pre-existing limitations provided in other Federal statutes and regulations and may not be used as non-Federal match for other Federal programs whose statute or regulations bar the use of Federal funds to meet matching requirements,” the interim rules say.

NRTC is offering all members a “Federal, State and Local Broadband Funding Update” webinar at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on May 18. A panel will provide updates on the American Rescue Plan and similar broadband funding initiatives.
 


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