The Biden-Harris Administration has set an ambitious goal of connecting all Americans to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet. The historic passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) will help us reach that goal. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal allocates $65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the U.S., create more low-cost broadband service options, subsidize the cost of service for low-income households, and provides funding to address the digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities.

This funding could not come at a more critical time. According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans say that the Internet has been essential or important to them during the pandemic. Yet, we know that access to broadband and the internet is not created equal. Tens of millions of Americans lack access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet services, and the problem is worse in minority and rural communities and on tribal lands.

The Department of Commerce will play a pivotal role in rolling out the broadband resources included in this legislation. About $48 billion of that funding is being allocated to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). We stand ready, in coordination with other federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Treasury and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to implement once-in-a-generation broadband funding programs aimed at firmly closing the digital divide by bringing broadband resources directly to the communities that need them most.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal gives NTIA responsibility for the following broadband programs:

$42.45 billion in grants to states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), and territories focused on funding high-speed broadband deployment to households and businesses that currently lack access to such services. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million, and each territory will receive a minimum of $20 million, for broadband expansion and/or affordability. The remaining money will be allocated by need, primarily based on the number of household and business locations in that state or territory that are unserved by highspeed broadband. States will be required to work with broadband providers to ensure that each broadband provider that receives funding offers at least one affordable service plan. The Department of Commerce will work closely with the FCC to determine exactly where the unserved locations are, and with states and territories to fund projects that will help us reach universal broadband access. 

$2 billion for Tribal broadband grants, which is more than double the funding for NTIA’s existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. The Commerce Department’s current $980 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program has received over $5 billion dollars in funding requests for broadband deployment and affordability projects, demonstrating the significant need for funding to expand access to and adoption of broadband service on Tribal lands. Although, other broadband funds provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal can be used on tribal lands, by providing tribal governments with access to $2 billion in dedicated broadband funds, the Act gives tribes the opportunity to determine how best to meet the broadband needs of their own communities.

$2.75 billion to fund Digital Equity.  Digital exclusion carries a high societal and economic cost; reduces economic opportunity, educational achievement, positive health outcomes, social inclusion, and civic engagement; and exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps.  The Digital Equity Act, which was included as a part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal provides NTIA with funding for three grant programs to promote digital inclusion and equity for communities that lack the skills, technologies and support needed to take advantage of broadband connections.  NTIA will provide states with digital equity planning grants.  NTIA will also implement a formula-based state grant program and a competitive grant program with funds available to accelerate the adoption of broadband through digital literacy training, workforce development, devices access programs, and other digital inclusion measures.

$1 billion for middle-mile connections to build a high-speed backbone for communities, businesses, and anchor institutions. Through this new program, NTIA will make grants on a technology-neutral, competitive basis to eligible entities for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure.

The Commerce Department and NTIA are uniquely positioned to implement these programs. Through the State Broadband Leaders Network, NTIA has built relationships with all 50 states, five territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Through its work on the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program, NTIA has engaged almost all of the federally recognized tribes directly or through national, regional, and local Tribal organizations. NTIA has also led the way in implementing other broadband infrastructure, adoption, and digital equity programs, including the existing State and Local Broadband Infrastructure Program and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

With this level of expertise at its disposal, the Commerce Department and NTIA, along with our partners at the FCC, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Treasury, and other federal agencies, the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories, will continue to work to close the digital divide and bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to all Americans.

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Author: Editor
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