Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband-Related Funding: Where are We Now and Where are We Going?
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband-Related Funding: Where are We Now and Where are We Going?

By Liz Shay, Senior Grants Development Consultant


The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), is historic legislation providing substantial amounts of funding towards a variety of infrastructure projects. Much of this funding goes to areas like transportation and clean energy, as well as training in emerging infrastructure-related fields, however, $65 billion is going to broadband programs.

This funding was provided to the Department of Commerce and is being managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). It has been 2.5 years since the enactment of the IIJA legislation so it is important to review where we are in the process of implementing these broadband-related initiatives and what next steps your organization should consider. In the following sections, we will cover the basics of the four relevant umbrella programs and their current status, from most to least implemented.

Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure

The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program was created to meet the IIJA objective to encourage the expansion and extension of middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas and to promote broadband connection resiliency. The $1 billion program opened in June 2022 with a September 2022 deadline. This technology-neutral, competitive program focused on funding entities to construct, improve, or acquire middle mile infrastructure. Preference was given for projects that leveraged existing rights-of-way, enabled connection to unserved anchor institutions, developed carrier-neutral interconnection facilities, and improved resiliency and reduced regulatory and permitting barriers.

In 2023, a total of 39 awards were made under this program, totaling about $980 million in grant funding with a total project cost of almost $1.9 billion. These projects are distributed across the United States, with the majority focused on areas with very high costs to deploying middle mile infrastructure. Awardees are a mixture of government entities, public-private partnerships and cooperative relationships, and communications companies. A map of awards can be found here.

To date, there has been industry interest in an additional round of this program, but no additional funding provided in any appropriation bill from Congress. If you are interested in a middle mile project, consider talking with your Congressperson as well as your state broadband office.

Tribal Connectivity Technical Amendments

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program was established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. IIJA provided an additional $2 billion for the program, which NTIA could use to distribute to eligible entities, including to projects originally proposed under the first round of the program. Along with this additional funding, the IIJA legislation also increased the timeline for applications and implementation of projects and allows for more pre-application costs. Between the original Consolidated Appropriations Act funding and part of the additional funding from IIJA, NTIA awarded almost $1.87 billion to 226 projects under the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program Round 1. A map of those awards can be found here.

Round 2 of the program opened in July 2023 with a deadline in January 2024. Like in the first round, tribal entities can apply for either broadband infrastructure deployment projects or broadband use and adoption projects. Broadband infrastructure deployment projects focus on the construction, improvement, replacement, extension, or acquisition of facilities and telecommunications equipment required to provide qualifying broadband service (including backhaul, middle and last mile networks, and submarine cable landing stations). Broadband use and adoption projects focus on affordable broadband projects, distance learning, telehealth, digital inclusion efforts (including digital equity planning and workforce development activities), and broadband adoption activities. NTIA is prioritizing awards to Federally Recognized Tribes that did not receive an award in Round 1, along with some prioritization amongst project types.

Anticipated funding for Round 2 will exhaust the available funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program, so future rounds of funding are unknown. If you are interested in a project to support your Tribe, consider talking with your Congressperson as well as your state broadband office. If your Tribe has already received funding, coordinate efforts for the implementation process to ensure maximum impact of the funding.

Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Program (BEAD)

BEAD is the flagship broadband program of IIJA, with $42.45 billion appropriated over the course of the program. The goal of the program is to close the availability gap to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband. The program prioritizes connecting unserved locations (no access to at least 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up), underserved locations (no access to at least 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up), and community anchor institutions (without gigabit connections). All 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will receive allocations based on their current coverage (amounts for each entity can be found here).

States and territories have submitted their Initial Proposals about how they will use the funds and NTIA is currently reviewing them for approval (Louisiana is the only state approved as of the time of writing). Once approved, states and territories can request up to 20% of their allocation to start doing certain BEAD activities, such as deploying broadband to areas with (1) at least 80% unserved locations and (2) are in a location in which the percentage of individuals with a household income at or below 150% of the poverty line applicable to a family of the size involved that is higher than the national percentage of such individuals. Simultaneously, states and territories will be working on their Final Proposals, due 12 months after their Initial Proposals are approved.

Currently, states and territories have not yet opened the regranting process, but we expect them to open over the next several months, with dates varying by state. Many broadband offices are already releasing some information about their plans, including their submitted Initial Proposals and at times other details about the eventual regranting process. Keep an eye on your state or territory’s broadband office website for updates about timing. If appropriate, talk with them about your plans and their relevance to the goals of BEAD. Information about individual state broadband offices can be found here.

Digital Equity Act Programs

IIJA appropriated $2.75 billion to digital equity act programs designed to support the closure of the digital divide and to promote equity and digital inclusion. NTIA implemented three programs for these efforts: the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. As of right now, only the State Digital Equity Planning Grant program has made awards. In July 2022, states submitted applications to receive their planning funds. They are utilizing those funds to develop their digital equity plans. Once the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program opens, states will submit their digital equity plans to NTIA for review and approval. States with approved plans will receive funds (amounts based on a formula) to implement those initiatives. In many cases, states will choose to regrant some or all of their State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program awards to organizations within their borders to implement relevant projects. NTIA is closing the public comment period for guidance for this program around the time of publication of this article.

The Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program will allow eligible organizations to apply directly to NTIA to implement efforts to achieve digital equity, promote digital inclusion activities, and spur greater adoption of broadband among underserved populations. Government entities, non-profit organizations, education providers, and others will be able to apply to receive funds. NTIA expects to open this program soon, likely at a similar time to when the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program opens.

If your organization is interested in digital equity efforts, there are some things that you can do now. Contact your state digital equity planning committee and share your plans and how they will impact residents within your state’s borders. A list of contacts to get started can be found here. Most states have already posted their digital equity plans to allow for public comment, so review those plans and discuss with appropriate stakeholders about the relevance of your organization’s efforts to those broader initiatives. If your planned project is likely to have a larger-scale impact, consider developing ideas and partnerships to eventually apply to the Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program.

Steps Your Organization Can Take Now

Regardless of what type of broadband-related project your organization would like to implement, now is a great time to plan for future grant application submissions. Here are a few things your organization can work on now to be ready when solicitations are released:

  1. Familiarize yourself with NTIA: NTIA has many resources about specific programs, as well as helpful information for different types of organizations. Explore their website here.
  2. Get to know your state broadband office: State broadband offices will be managing some of these programs at the state level, so get to know their priorities and talk with them about what you have planned and its relevance to their broader goals. Check out links to individual state pages here.
  3. Understand the population you will impact: Review the demographics of your planned project participants and understand relevant alignment with the priorities of various programs. If you are doing a broadband implementation project, are you impacting unserved and/or underserved locations? If you are doing a digital equity project, are you impacting covered populations?
  4. Form partnerships: For many of the projects that will be submitted to any of these IIJA broadband-related programs, partnerships will be essential to have well-rounded initiatives. Think about the expertise your organization already has and what you need to seek from external partners. Start those conversations now so that everyone is on the same page and initial planning efforts can take place prior to a solicitation being released.
  5. Find a source for your matching funds: Most of these programs require a cost match from the grant recipient. Think about where you may be able to get this match from non-federal sources and ensure that you will have it in place in time for application submission.