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The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program being administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has attracted more than 280 applications seeking more than $5 billion in funding.

The program, which is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, is open to qualifying eligible Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian applicants. The grant program, which is funded at $980 million, supports broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth and distance learning. The 90-day application period closed on September 1.

Assessment of the applications will be in three stages: Initial Administrative and Eligibility Review of Applications, Merit Review and Programmatic Review. The criteria are in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. No timeline is mentioned in the release.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo suggested that the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is a good start but that it alone won’t erase the digital divide. Doing so, she said in a press release, “will take an even greater investment to help fully connect every person in every community. That is why we need the historic investments proposed by President Biden and included in the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill to build out our nation’s broadband infrastructure and make affordable, accessible Internet a reality for every community across the country.”

The NTIA provided details on what will be funded and other details for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program in February. A report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance cited in the Telecompetitor piece at the time said that only 60% of tribal lands in the lower 48 states had tribal land broadband service.

NTIA broadband funding programs are drawing tremendous interest and should be quite competitive. In August, the NTIA said that its Broadband Infrastructure Program, which budgeted at $288 million, had received 230 applications requesting a total of $2.5 billion.

That program, which also is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, provides grants to partnerships between a state or political subdivision of a state and providers of fixed broadband service. Applications were due August 17.

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