IIJA Funding - Is the End of the Digital Divide in Sight?

By Dori Erann 7 min read

The industry is buzzing with all the talk and speculation around the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) funding for broadband proliferation. $65 Billion is set to be dispersed throughout the country with the goal to finally make true broadband accessible to every American.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been allocated $48.2 Billion of the total IIJA broadband funds and will play a major role in the management and administration of the program. These funds have been split up among six programs to help ensure that the money is reaching the appropriate and most needy communities.

Since the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), managed by the FCC, received a lot of scrutiny from service providers and entities across the nation, there is a lot of hope being placed on NTIA to better manage this program and leverage their past successes with programs like Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), to better reach the unserved and underserved households.

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Getting broadband to each household is extremely important… but why? This may seem like an obvious answer, but there are numerous benefits created by funding programs like the IIJA.

      1. END USER HOUSEHOLD – with broadband connectivity, individuals and families can access better healthcare, entertainment, job & business opportunities, further education, and more
      2. COMMUNITY – getting high-speed connectivity helps the community at large by enabling them to provide better public safety services, health care, business growth, tourist attractions, and more. Each city, county, and state will feel the positive impact of widespread connectivity and can benefit from higher property values, increased job and population growth, higher rates of new business formation, and lower unemployment rates, to name a few.
      3. BUSINESSES EVERYWHERE – There are so many entities involved in the planning and deployment of broadband infrastructure. The funds will trickle down to many businesses and their workforces to support economic growth throughout the nation. The materials, products, consulting, manufacturers, administrators, construction crews, civil engineers, service providers, software developers, utilities, local and state government administration, integrators, resellers, and so on.

 

The six programs have been created to get the most bang out of the buck and address the widest needs and most underserved communities. Here is a synopsis:

      1. Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program: This is, by far, the largest of the programs and will distribute a whopping $42.45 billion of the total funds. Under this program each state (and D.C and P.R.) will receive an initial $100 million to support planning efforts. The participating states and territories ($100 million will be divided equally amongst US territories) will need to submit a 5-year action plan. The remaining funding will be distributed based on several considerations and the highest need (most unserved areas).
      2. Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program: Provides $1 billion for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of middle mile infrastructure. This program is specifically in place to get the Internet backbone closer to unserved/underserved areas and to help make the last-mile connection easier and more affordable.
      3. Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP)Provides $2 billion to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. These funds are in addition to the already existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which has provided $980 million for tribal connectivity.
      4. Digital Equity Act Programs: 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 five 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 via annual grant programs over 5 years to implement digital equity projects. Eligible applicants include specific types of political subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentality of a state; tribal governments; nonprofit entities; community anchor institutions; local educational agencies; and entities that carry out workforce development programs.

 

Since the states are receiving the funds, they will establish their own rules and procedures for awarding subgrants in consultation with NTIA. There are some basic capabilities that will be required to be verified by applicants including financial, technical, operational, and managerial.

The funding can be used for several purposes, including:

      1. Broadband deployment to unserved/underserved areas (Last mile, middle mile, etc).
      2. Connecting eligible community anchor institutions (schools, libraries, hospitals, etc);
      3. Broadband data collection, mapping, and planning
      4. Installing broadband infrastructure or providing reduced-cost broadband in multifamily residential buildings (with priority to poor/unserved households
      5. Broadband adoption (including providing internet-capable devices)
      6. Any other NTIA-approved use.

 

Basically, the order of priority for funds allocation will be to first connect the UNSERVED (those below 25/3 Mbps), then to UNDERSERVED (those below 100/20 Mbps), and then to community ANCHOR institutions (1/1 Gbps).

Making Sense of it All

As with most government programs, the information and rules can be confusing and overwhelming. Some entities have chosen to forgo applying for funding because, while extra money to help get connectivity to their communities would be great, there is a heavy burden on program recipients in terms of applications preparation and ongoing reporting. Not to mention that all the programs require a recipient funds-matching percentage. There are plenty of online sources, and many webinars are being offered – keep an eye out for our webinars aimed to help guide you through these mazes.

Ceragon Role

Ceragon is here to help. We can walk you through some of the basics to help determine which program is right for you and help you identify initial preparations, timelines, and network planning. You are not alone. More importantly, our experts can help you create a network deployment plan that best meets your specific needs – challenging geography, remote or sparse subscribers, keeping operating costs low, meeting customer demands, reliability, high capacity, ongoing optimization, and so much more. Let Ceragon help you formulate your plans and find the solutions that are best suited for you and your community.  

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