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Jan 10 -- The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) sets forth a $65 billion investment into broadband, more than $48 billion of which will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. NTIA is establishing multiple avenues for the public to offer input to inform program design and implementation. These include public virtual listening sessions (Jan 12 and 26, Feb 9 and 23) and the opportunity for stakeholders to electronically submit their views by February 4, 2022. Information on the listening sessions is available at https://www.ntia.doc.gov/federal-register-notice/2021/broadband-grant-programs-public-virtual-listening-sessions
 
This Notice seeks comment on three Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant programs to be administered by NTIA: The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, the Middle-Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program. NTIA intends to release a future request for comment on the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.
 
NTIA seeks public comment on a series of questions regarding the design of each program and more generally. Thirty-six questions are organized in four sections, as follows:

I. General Questions -- Objectives:
 
BRINGING RELIABLE, AFFORDABLE, HIGH-SPEED BROADBAND TO ALL AMERICANS
SUPPORTING STATES, TERRITORIES, AND SUB-GRANTEES TO ACHIEVE THE GOAL
ENSURING THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IS MADE IN AMERICA BY ALL OF AMERICA'S WORKERS

II. Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program

The BEAD Program is a $42.45 billion program for states, territories, the District of Columbia (DC), and Puerto Rico (P.R.) (“states and territories”) to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, equity and adoption projects. Each state, DC, and P.R. will receive an initial allocation of $100 million—and $100 million will be divided equally among the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. NTIA will distribute the remaining funding based on a formula that considers the number of unserved and high-cost locations in the state, based on the updated broadband availability maps to be published by the FCC. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides NTIA with discretion to establish additional eligible uses for the funding.

BEAD program funding will be dispersed in three phases. The first phase allows states and territories to access up to $5 million each to support planning efforts, including building capacity in state broadband offices and to fund outreach and coordination activities with local communities and stakeholders. The second phase requires states and territories to submit an initial broadband plan to NTIA. These plans must be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities and will lay out how each respective state and territory will use the BEAD funding and other funds to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband to all residents. Once NTIA approves the initial plan, states and territories will be able to access additional funds from their BEAD allocation. States and territories will be able to access the remaining funds upon review and approval of a final plan by NTIA.

Objectives:
ENSURING PUBLICLY FUNDED BROADBAND NETWORKS THAT SUSTAIN AND SCALE
ALLOCATION AND USE OF BEAD FUNDS TO ACHIEVE UNIVERSAL, RELIABLE, AFFORDABLE, HIGH-SPEED BROADBAND
ESTABLISHING STRONG PARTNERSHIPS BETWEEN STATE, LOCAL, AND TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS
LOW-COST BROADBAND SERVICE OPTION AND OTHER WAYS TO ADDRESS AFFORDABILITY

III. Implementation of the Digital Equity Act of 2021

The Digital Equity Act dedicated $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 targeted populations, including low-income households, aging populations, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural inhabitants.

As noted above, given the sequence of programs that NTIA is implementing, NTIA intends to release another request for comment (RFC) in the future to address the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Programs. The questions below are specific to the Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, specifically:

STATE DIGITAL EQUITY PLANS
DIGITAL EQUITY COORDINATION REQUIREMENTS

IV. Implementation of Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (MMBI) Grant Program

The MMBI is 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.

FR notice inviting public response to series of questions: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/01/10/2022-00221/infrastructure-investment-and-jobs-act-implementation

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