WASHINGTON — On Friday, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $45-billion broadband-investment program created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) is intended to fund deployment of robust, affordable broadband infrastructure in largely rural areas of the country that have yet to see deployment of adequate high-speed internet service.
Congress gave states the power to determine which projects to fund, but the NTIA must approve those state decisions. Today’s guidance forms the framework for this grant process. The NOFO prioritizes deployment of scalable fiber-optic infrastructure to meet the future connectivity needs of rural families and businesses — and to provide “backhaul” for high-capacity mobile networks too.
The NOFO implements Congress’ mandate to fund projects that are the most cost-effective and affordable to end-users. The bipartisan infrastructure act explicitly requires BEAD grantees to offer a low-cost option to eligible internet subscribers. The NOFO provides a flexible and forward-looking approach for states and broadband providers to fulfill this requirement on a case-by-case basis, with participation in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program's $30-per-month subsidy program as one potential building block for doing so.
The NOFO also strongly encourages states that restrict communities from deploying their own broadband networks to waive those restrictions and to encourage both public-sector entities and corporate ISPs to participate.
Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:
“Today's funding notice takes an important step toward fulfilling Congress’ plan to finally close the rural broadband-deployment divide — and makes it more likely that those new high-speed internet services will be more affordable.
“The NTIA recognized that deployment of future-proof fiber infrastructure is the best way to maximize this public investment, but wisely built in flexibility for states to respond to market realities in areas where fiber deployment might be cost-prohibitive.
“The NTIA also sent a strong message to states that restrict municipal broadband deployment, encouraging them to waive those restrictions. Letting communities in need of better options determine their own path forward is a big part of guaranteeing internet for all.
“As the bipartisan infrastructure act requires, the NOFO adopted a flexible approach to ensuring that grantees will charge affordable prices for internet service subsidized by this historic public investment. The NTIA’s decision to make affordability a primary criterion in the overall grant process — while harmonizing this deployment program with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program created in the same statute — is exactly the right way to go.”