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A draft of the Senate infrastructure bill shows $40 billion in broadband funding going to individual states to go toward the cost of deploying broadband to unserved or underserved areas. The program would target areas lacking service at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps and would require the deployment of service at speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps. 

The Commerce department would be responsible for overseeing the program, which does not foresee using an auction process to award funding as was done with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, but instead calls for states to make award decisions. It appears that the Senate is leaving the door open for individual states to use an auction process but that process would have to follow priorities established in the act.

The broadband bill draft also includes $2.5 billion for middle-mile networks, as well as funding for digital equity and affordability programs. In this post, we will cover the basic information about the infrastructure programs, including broadband and middle mile. Look for a follow-on post Monday about the other programs.

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Broadband Program

If adopted, the broadband infrastructure program, to be known as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, would rely on broadband availability data gathered through the process established in the Broadband DATA Act. The FCC is in the process of collecting that data from service providers.

The data would be used to determine the percentage of unserved locations nationwide that are located in each state, and funding would be directed to the states proportionately, with no state getting less than $100 million.

In making awards, states would be directed to prioritize unserved service projects, defined as projects involving areas in which no more than 20% of the locations can get service at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. If funding is awarded to cover all unserved locations in the state, the state may then direct funding to connect eligible community anchor institutions, according to the broadband bill draft.

States would not be allowed to exclude cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, private companies, public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility to receive funds. 

States also would be directed to prioritize projects in persistent poverty counties or high-poverty areas, and to prioritize projects that can be completed more quickly or that provide higher speeds. Priority would also be given to projects that would comply with federal labor and employment laws from entities with a demonstrated record of such compliance.

Middle Mile Grants

The purpose of the middle mile grant program would be to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the internet backbone and to promote broadband resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths that can be designed to prevent single points of failure on the network. Underserved areas would be defined as those lacking service at speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps.

The program would have a budget of $500 million for each fiscal year 2022-2026, according to the broadband bill draft. Grant recipients would be required to offer interconnection in perpetuity where technically feasible based on reasonable rates and terms. 

Priority would be given to projects connecting middle mile infrastructure to last mile networks that provide or plan to provide broadband to households in unserved areas. Other priorities would include connecting non-contiguous trust lands and offering wholesale broadband at reasonable rates on a carrier-neutral basis.

Some stakeholders, including the Fiber Broadband Association, had hoped for higher symmetrical target speeds. Nevertheless, FBA issued a statement today in support of the proposed legislation.  

“With speeds well above the FCC’s current broadband standard, along with opportunities for states to support the fastest speeds that grant applicants seek, we think the future will be bright,” FBA said.

The broadband bill draft is available at this link.

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