NTIA began accepting applications to the middle mile funding program this week and has issued 88 pages of guidance for network operators requesting funding.
The program, which was created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the bipartisan infrastructure act) has a budget of $1 billion. The applications portal is ready to accept applications just over a month after NTIA issued a notice of funding opportunity detailing rules for the program.
Middle mile networks are defined as those that “do not connect directly to an end user location and include leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral internet exchange facilities, carrier-neutral submarine cable landing stations, undersea cables, transport connectivity to data centers, special access transport, and similar services,” as well as wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure, including microwave capacity, radio tower access and other services.
NTIA says it expects to make awards for $5 million to $100 million in the middle mile program. Applicants may request higher or lower dollar amounts, but if they do, they must provide a rationale for the unusually high or low funding requests. The funding can only cover 70% of project costs and applicants must detail their other funding sources and amounts.
NTIA Middle Mile Funding Criteria
Funding decisions will be based on a scoring system that includes factors such as whether the provider will offer open access, the extent to which the project will benefit the proposed service area, the comprehensiveness and appropriateness of the proposed technical solution, the applicant’s organizational ability to complete the project and fiscal sustainability beyond the award period.
Applicants are required to submit highly detailed information about proposed projects. Among other things, applicants must submit a detailed timeline, as well as information about climate resiliency, civil rights and nondiscrimination law compliance, type of technology to be used, the competitive landscape, interconnection policy, community anchor institutions, an environmental narrative and more.
The budget information that applicants must submit requires a similar level of detail. Among other things, applicants are asked about matching funds, administrative/legal expenses, engineering costs, construction and equipment costs, inspection fees and contingency costs. Relocation expenses, such as those required to move a network operations center to a new building, also must be detailed. Additionally, applicants must detail expected revenues.
I happen to be writing this the day after I hosted a webinar discussion about Connect Maine’s success in winning funding through the NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Program. The program, which provided funding for public private broadband partnerships, drew requests for 10 times more funding than it had in the budget.
My big takeaway from the discussion was that Connect Maine scrutinized the scoring system and did everything it could to get a high score. For example, Connect Maine selected areas of the state that would rank the highest on the NTIA scoring system, then reached out to those communities and network operators likely to serve those communities about a possible broadband deployment.
The Middle Mile program has a different scoring system, but the same logic should apply: Applicants that take the scoring system seriously should have the greatest success.
The 88-page middle mile program guidance is available at this link.