Saturday, November 6, 2021
Enhancing the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will facilitate more work to improve broadband service on Tribal lands. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 established a $1 billion grant program at U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program provides grants to expand access to and adoption of broadband service on Tribal Lands or programs that promote the use of broadband to access remote learning, telework, or telehealth. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offers enhancements to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program so it can better aid in the delivery of broadband to some of the areas with the worst connectivity in the country.
How Does the New Law Impact the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act extends the timeline on the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program so that it is more than a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing grantees more time to deploy broadband networks and help more people get online. Specifically, grantees now have 18 months (instead of 6 months) to commit funds to an approved project—and they now have 4 years instead of one to expend all their grant funding. NTIA may also extend the four-year deadline for a grantee that can demonstrate the need for more time.
The amendments also reserve all federal funds allocated to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Unused funds will now be made available to other Tribal broadband projects rather than reverting back to the U.S. Treasury.
Last year, Congress restricted awardees from using more than two percent of their awards for administrative purposes. That’s still true after the new revisions, but Congress now allows grantees working on broadband infrastructure construction to use up to 2.5 percent of the total project cost for planning, feasibility, and sustainability studies.
Not to bury the lede, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also adds $2 billion to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. With the new funding, NTIA is allowed to fully fund any grants that did not receive full funding in its first round of awards. NTIA will also likely have subsequent rounds of grants.
In June 2021, the NTIA issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity with detailed information about the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. For a summary of what grants can be used for, who is eligible for funding, and how the NTIA evaluates grant applications, see the Benton Institute’s summary, $1 Billion for Broadband Infrastructure on Tribal Lands.
NTIA expects to complete its review, selection of successful applicants, and first-round award processing by November 29, 2021. NTIA expects the earliest start date for awards to be December 13, 2021.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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