17 million Americans lack access to broadband, including residents on 20.9% of Tribal lands and 17.2% of rural land, and lack of access to and adoption of broadband is the focus of ongoing efforts by the Department of Commerce to aid in the deployment of necessary infrastructure to communities with the greatest need. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is committed to supporting the Biden administration, partner agencies, states, Tribes, and industry to effectively expand broadband access and digital inclusion.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 established three grant programs to be implemented by NTIA as part of this commitment: Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants, Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grants, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.
On April 21 and 22, staff from NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program presented an overview of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity grants program, a $1 billion program directed to Tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on Tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. Staff provided details in the interest of preparing prospective applicants with information they need in anticipation of the program’s Notice of Funding Opportunity and rule.
Adam Geisler, National Tribal Government Liaison with the First Responder Network Authority, covered the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants program’s key requirements and provisions, including eligible entities and lands, timelines, and detailed issues raised during NTIA’s three Nation-to-Nation Consultations in February 2021 and input from Tribal Leaders that informed the structure of the program with regard to equitable distribution, reporting, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and cultural resource considerations, and other topics.
Jean Rice, Senior Broadband Program Specialist and NTIA Tribal Liaison with BroadbandUSA, provided examples of infrastructure and digital inclusion projects eligible under the program. Rice emphasized setting community priorities, considering the scalability of a project, building out a business plan, and adhering to certain best practices as key steps in ensuring communities leverage funding from the grant program to build toward long-term access and adoption goals.
Using lessons learned through technical assistance work, including working with communities to build out broadband network and digital inclusion efforts, BroadbandUSA has developed several resources available to prospective applicants for broadband planning purposes. Karen Perry, Senior Policy Analyst with BroadbandUSA, pointed to several of the resources available, including:
- Federal permitting and funding information
- NTIA’s Broadband Planning Roadmap
- State Broadband Leaders Network information
- Digital Inclusion resources
- Data resources (See February 2021 and June 2020 BroadbandUSA webinars)
Perry also covered data resources made available through other agencies and organizations, including census and speed test data, all of which might be utilized to complement community data and aid in planning efforts.
NTIA anticipates accepting applications for the program in Summer 2021, and April’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity webinar was the first in a series focused on NTIA's three new broadband grant programs. Please visit BroadbandUSA’s website for webinar materials, more information about upcoming sessions, and for more information about NTIA’s grant programs, including Notices of Funding Opportunity, as it becomes available.