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Preliminary information regarding the $1 billion tribal broadband connectivity program

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the digital divide across Indian Country. The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) has provided tribal broadband funding to help mitigate the impact. The Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is expected to enact a $1 billion tribal broadband connectivity program that is directed to assist tribal governments with broadband deployment and affordability, digital inclusion, remote learning and telehealth.

The following is the preliminary information regarding the $1 billion tribal broadband connectivity program:

Eligible applicants: Tribal governments, tribal colleges and universities, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Community, including native Hawaiian education programs, tribal organizations, and native corporations as defined under Section 3 of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Timeline: NTIA anticipates accepting applications for the tribal broadband connectivity grants in summer 2021. The application deadline will be after the 90-day period beginning on the date the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is announced.

Equitable distribution: The amounts appropriated shall be made available to eligible entities on an equitable basis and not less than 3% of those amounts shall be made available for the benefit of native Hawaiians. More details will be included in the NOFO.

Eligible uses: Section 905(c)(5) stipulates the following eligible uses of grant funds:

  • broadband infrastructure deployment, including support for the establishment of carrier-neutral submarine cable landing stations;
  • affordable broadband programs, including providing free or reduced-cost broadband service, and preventing disconnection of existing broadband service;
  • distance learning;
  • telehealth;
  • digital inclusion efforts; and
  • broadband adoption activities

Eligible service area: A census block in which broadband service is not available at one or more households or businesses in the census block, based on:

  • Information and maps provided by the FCC, or
  • Other info available if the maps are not available
    – NTIA will leverage its National Broadband Availability Map in determining what qualifies as an eligible service area.

Unserved definition:

  • (A) the household lacks access to qualifying broadband service; and
  • (B) no broadband provider has been selected to receive, or is otherwise receiving, federal or state funding subject to enforceable build-out commitments to deploy qualifying broadband service in the specific area where the household is located by dates certain, even if such service is not yet available, provided that the federal or state agency providing the funding has not deemed the service provider to be in default of its build-out obligations under the applicable federal or state program.

Qualifying broadband service Section 905(a)(11) defines this term as broadband service with:

  • a download speed of no less than 25 Mbps;
  • an upload speed of no less than 3 Mbps; and
  • a latency sufficient to support real-time, interactive applications.

Administrative expenses: An eligible entity may use no more than 2% of grant funds received under this subsection for administrative purposes.

Commitment and expenditure deadlines:

  • Commitment: No later than 180 days after receiving grant funds under this subsection, an eligible entity shall commit the funds in accordance with the approved application of the entity.
  • Expenditure: No later than one year after receiving grant funds under this subsection, an eligible entity shall expend the grant funds.

The assistant secretary may extend the one-year award period for an eligible entity that proposes to use the grant funds for construction of broadband infrastructure if the eligible entity certifies that:

  1. the eligible entity has a plan for use of the grant funds;
  2. the construction project is underway; or
  3. extenuating circumstances require an extension of time to allow the project to be completed.

Any grant funds not expended by an eligible entity by the one-year deadline shall be made available to other eligible entities for the purposes provided in this subsection.

  • For new construction of broadband infrastructure, an eligible entity shall prioritize projects that deploy broadband infrastructure to unserved households.
  • Per NTIA, there will be no match requirement.

Read more about the tribal broadband connectivity program.

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Joel M. Laubenstein
Tribal telecom tower infrastructure project
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