If you’re an internet provider based in the US, you’ve almost certainly heard about the unprecedented level of attention and funding made available to improve broadband access for millions of consumers. The pandemic has brought with it a historic wave of federal recovery funding for economic stimulus and infrastructure investment, with a tsunami of new broadband funding in the pipeline to the United States, territories, and tribes as well as directly to community and provider projects.
It isn’t a matter of one source of funding, however, there are multiple agencies and initiatives, each providing its own funding as either grants or loans. Just as importantly, each program has its own requirements for eligibility. Navigating this multitude of agencies and requirements is tricky, which is why we’re offering a series of blogs that examine some of the options available.
The chart below summarizes the various programs currently available and coming on stream in the next two years illustrated as a graphic timeline.
In March 2020, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law, the third major legislative initiative to address COVID-19 following the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 that provided emergency supplemental relief of $8.3 billion in fiscal year 2020. The CARES Act provides $2 trillion in funds for state use to address the pandemic. Among its provisions, the act created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) allocating $150 billion for state, local, and tribal government use.
Though targeted to a variety of specific purposes, states, tribes, and communities have significant discretion in program development and funding with many having committed substantial CARES funding to broadband projects and purposes particularly in support of distance learning, telework, and telemedicine. Most states and many communities have made allocations to finance specific broadband initiatives and projects as well as establish broadband infrastructure and digital equity grant programs.
U.S. Treasury rulemaking for Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds stipulates that state broadband investments must be made in areas that are currently unserved or underserved, defined as lacking a wireline connection that reliably delivers minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25/3 Mbps). It encourages them to prioritize projects that achieve last-mile connections to households and businesses. Leftover CARES funds may be used by states to offset matching requirements under some of the new broadband funding programs.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is another act of Congress intended as a response to the economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic. Though targeted to a variety of specific purposes, the states have significant discretion in program development and funding with many having committed substantial amounts to broadband projects and purposes.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes hundreds of billions of dollars that may be used for broadband initiatives. Initiatives can include communities, schools, and public libraries. As of November 2021, nearly half of all states had appropriated some of their ARPA funds for broadband infrastructure grants ranging up to hundreds of millions of dollars. States with such programs will be well staged for refreshing and expanding their broadband grant programs from the large federal block grants to the states in the pipeline.
When deciding on how to use the ARPA funds, the U.S. Treasury urges that states should build broadband infrastructure with high performance, scalable, reliable technologies in mind, specifically those projects that deliver services offering reliable 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload (100/100 Mbps) speeds, unless impracticable due to topography, geography or financial cost.
CARES, FFCRA, and ARPA are just three federal programs with relevance for state, local, and tribal governments looking to improve their broadband infrastructure. There’s a generational $100B in U.S. federal broadband infrastructure and digital equity funding in the pipeline. In our next blog, we’ll dive into other programs, including USDA Community Connect and ReConnect.