Grant programs for broadband access: Understanding the basics

Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, local government organizations can take advantage of several grant programs for broadband access

With a focused objective on making broadband accessible to all, especially the underserved and unserved, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes an investment of $65 billion to help close the digital divide. This is an excellent opportunity for local government organizations to pursue grant programs to enhance community member access to reliable and affordable broadband.

For those exploring broadband programs and funding, it’s essential to understand how broadband works and what goes into the launch of a successful network. Following are some broadband 101 basics as well as a breakdown of grant programs through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Network Engineering

Now is a great time for local government organizations to pursue grants to fund broadband access.
Now is a great time for local government organizations to pursue grants to fund broadband access. (Getty Images)

The different components of a broadband internet network include:

  • The global network architecture that forms the foundation of a network. This component allows data to flow seamlessly over the three different types of network architecture to enable internet service providers.
  • The infrastructure elements that allow for internet service. This component is the physical layer of material needed to enable connectivity, such as fiber optics, copper cables, utility poles, towers, antennas, power equipment and fiber conduit.
  • The business models available to owners, operators and providers offer various arrangements. These include vertical integration, infrastructure sharing and open access.
  • The technologies that provide end users with high-speed broadband. These include several options for people depending on their varying need and use of the network. Each available option differs regarding speed, latency and reliability. The technologies available include:
  • Fiber-optic cable
  • Hybrid fiber coaxial
  • Digital subscriber line
  • Fixed wireless access
  • TV white space
  • Low earth orbit
  • Geosynchronous equatorial orbit

Network Economics

Network economics refers to the elements that benefit from the network effect of broadband. Following are key components:

  • Underserved and unserved areas may have one of more of the following characteristics: 1) low population density locations, 2) rural and remote locations, and 3) difficult geography locations.
  • Costs typically fall into two categories: capital expenditure and operational expenditure. The former is the dollar cost to build the network asset and the latter is the day-to-day ongoing cost to run and maintain a network to provide services.
  • Revenues are divided into two business models and are influenced by several key factors. The first is the retail model, which typically serves individuals and organizations who pay recurring subscription fees to receive inter services. The second is wholesale services, which are typically other broadband providers who pay monthly wholesale or transit fees for the lease of an amount of network capacity.
  • Provider implications are defined by the network’s post-deployment success, whereby it remains financially viable once the network is operational and the provider is offering services.
  • Starting considerations for introducing broadband include estimated costs, estimated revenues, cost minimization strategies and expected impact, key assumptions and how they were calculated, and revenue optimization strategies and expected impact.

Broadband Grants to Track

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will implement the following grant programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act:

  • Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment ProgramAppropriates $42.45 billion for states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to use for broadband deployment, mapping and adoption projects.
  • Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure ProgramEstablishes and funds 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.
  • Tribal Broadband Connectivity ProgramProvides an additional $2 billion to this program, previously implemented under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The TBCP directs funding to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability and digital inclusion.
  • Digital Equity Act Programs: Dedicates $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital inclusion. The goal of these programs is to promote the meaningful adoption and use of broadband services across the targeted populations, which include low-income households, aging populations, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier, racial and ethnic minorities, and rural inhabitants. Grants under this program include:
  • 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 vial annual grant programs over five years to implement digital equity projects.

NTIA also manages three broadband grant programs funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021:

  • Broadband Infrastructure Program: A $288 million broadband deployment program directed to partnerships between a state, or one or more political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service. The partnerships should support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas.
  • Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program: A $980 million program directed to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability and digital inclusion.
  • Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program: A $268 million grant program directed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions for the purchase of broadband internet access service and eligible equipment or to hire and train information technology personnel.

An abundance of funding options is available for broadband deployment projects. Now is a great time for your organization to consider whether broadband infrastructure is needed in your community. If so, pursuing a grant to fund the project is a great way to go.

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