Broadband is an essential component of modern life and a requirement for economic growth, education, health care, and public safety. Maximizing broadband coverage and meaningful use is an imperative for national and individual success. The BroadbandUSA program, housed within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), serves state, local, and tribal governments, industry, and nonprofits that seek to expand broadband connectivity and promote digital inclusion. BroadbandUSA promotes planning and funding efforts through solution-neutral guides and resources, hosting local and regional planning workshops that offer opportunities to convene with broadband stakeholders across the country, the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM), and promoting interagency coordination.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), located within the Department of Commerce, is the Executive Branch agency principally responsible by law for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. These goals are critical to America’s competitiveness in the modern global economy and to addressing many of the nation’s most pressing needs, such as improving education, health care, and public safety. In addition to working with other Executive Branch agencies to develop Administration positions, NTIA represents the Executive Branch in both domestic and international telecommunications and information policy activities. NTIA is also a leading source of research and data on the status of broadband availability and adoption in America.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Overview
On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. This Act includes a significant investment of $65 billion to help close the digital divide and ensure that all Americans have access to reliable, high speed, and affordable broadband. This investment builds upon the funding for broadband deployment provided in the American Rescue Plan, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, the FCC’s Universal Service program, and USDA’s Rural Utilities Service broadband programs. This historic investment will lay critical groundwork for widespread access and affordability of broadband, creating new jobs and economic opportunities, providing increased access to healthcare services, enriching educational experiences of students, and improving overall quality of life for all Americans.
NTIA will implement the following programs:
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program: Appropriates $42.45 billion for states, territories, the District of Columbia (D.C.), and Puerto Rico (P.R.) to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. Each state, D.C., and P.R. will receive an initial allocation of $100 million -- and $100 million will be divided equally among the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- to support planning efforts including building capacity in state broadband offices and outreach and coordination with local communities. States, territories, D.C., and P.R., leveraging initial planning funds that will be made available through the program, will submit a 5-year action plan, which shall be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities. The remaining funding will be distributed based on a formula that considers the number of unserved and high-cost locations in the state, based on the maps to be published by the FCC in 2022. The first priority for funding is for providing broadband to unserved areas (those below 25/3 Mbps), followed by underserved areas (those below 100/20 Mbps), and then serving community anchor institutions (1/1 Gbps).
Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program: Establishes and funds a $1 billion program for the construction, improvement or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure. The purpose of the grant program is to expand and extend middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the internet backbone. Eligible applicants include States, political subdivisions of a State, tribal governments, technology companies, electric utilities, utility cooperatives, public utility districts, telecommunications companies, telecommunications cooperatives, nonprofit foundations, nonprofit corporations, nonprofit institutions, nonprofit associations, regional planning councils, Native entities, or economic development authorities.
Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program: Provides an additional $2 billion to TBCP, a NTIA program previously implemented under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The TBCP directs funding to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
Digital Equity Act Programs: Dedicates $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital inclusion and equity to ensure that all individuals and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. The goal of these programs is to promote the meaningful adoption and use of broadband services across the targeted populations in the Act, including low-income households, aging populations, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural inhabitants.
- State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program: $60 million formula grant program for states and territories to develop digital equity plans.
- State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program: $1.44 billion formula grant program for states and territories distributed via annual grant programs over 5 years to implement digital equity projects and support the implementation of digital equity plans.
- Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program: $1.25 billion discretionary grant program distributed vial annual grant programs over 5 years to implement digital equity projects. Eligible applicants include specific types of political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality of a state; tribal governments; nonprofit entities; community anchor institutions; local educational agencies; and entities that carry out workforce development programs.
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 Overview
2020 year-end omnibus legislation included several broadband and connectivity expansion bills. The following will be implemented by NTIA:
Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives: An office established to focus on collaboration for internet access and promotion of digital skills and digital inclusion at HBCUs, TCUs, MSIs, and their surrounding communities, as well as on investment in infrastructure to expand connectivity and encourage further investment.
Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, through the ACCESS BROADBAND Act: An office tasked with performing certain responsibilities related to broadband access, adoption, and deployment, such as performing public outreach to promote access and adoption of high-speed broadband service and standardizing the process for applying for Federal broadband support. ACCESS BROADBAND also establishes coordination requirements among agencies that offer broadband deployment funding programs, to ensure Federal funds are spent efficiently and effectively.
Broadband Interagency Coordination Act of 2020: Requires the NTIA, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Department of Agriculture to enter into an interagency agreement to coordinate the distribution of Federal funds for broadband programs, to prevent duplication of support and ensure stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 legislation also directed NTIA to implement three new grant programs: the Broadband Infrastructure Program, Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.