Broadband Infrastructure & IIJA: Funding, Timelines, Model Projects

Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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clock
6 min
broadband
accessibility
internet affordability
connectivity
broadband deployment
digital equity
digital divide
Ellory Monks

Lover of infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: women engineers, Rice University. Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities & 2x mom.

Broadband and high speed internet accessibility enables people to learn and work online. Access to high speed internet has never been more important. Not having access to it effectively excludes a person from many aspects of modern society. 17 million Americans do not have basic broadband, according to the NTIA. Notably, disadvantaged, rural and tribal communities have significantly less access to broadband internet than higher income households.

A large percentage of state and local governments have already identified improving internet access for rural and low income residents to be a foundational prerequisite for much of their strategic plans to build more equitable and inclusive cities.

Almost $65 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will be spent building broadband infrastructure with the goal of expanding high-speed internet access across the country. The broadband funding included in IIJA seeks to expand on investments already made in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and American Rescue Plan (ARP).

This section includes the broadband-focused reauthorized and newly established programs in the Infrastructure Deal, and the relative speed at which local governments can expect to see the money from them. It also includes case studies from state and local governments that have successfully implemented broadband and other high speed internet access projects in their communities that achieve goals relevant to those outlined in the legislation.

Funding Priorities for Broadband included in IIJA

The funding priorities for broadband and high-speed internet access are outlined in the legislation itself. They are outlined below.

The projects most likely to be funded through IIJA will touch on these key broadband priorities:

  1. Deployment
    The newly established Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program gives funding to expanding internet connectivity for communities through data, maps and low-cost infrastructure.
  2. Adoption
    The newly established Digital Equity Act (DEA) funds two grant programs to make broadband available to all citizens. The State Digital Equity Capacity Grants help states develop digital equity plans to support digital inclusion priorities, strategies and initiatives. The Digital Equity Competitive Grant provides workforce IT training and service devices at community institutions.
  3. Connectivity
    The Broadband Connectivity Funds, Digital Equity Competitive Grant and Middle Mile Deployment funds will expand broadband in rural communities and rural locations, helping to solve the digital divide.

While the extensive federal agency rule-making processes are underway, state and local government leaders are starting the preparatory work to best position their communities to receive as much funding as possible to implement transformational broadband infrastructure.

Working together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make broadband available for underserved communities and students.
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Relevant Broadband Programs in IIJA & Speed of Distribution

We know that dedicated federal programs don’t currently exist for broadband expansion – historically, these efforts have existed in pieces and parts under several agencies. This means that the money included in IIJA for broadband and high-speed internet accessibility will be funneled through newly created programs. Creating new federal programs is a significant process that takes time – this is especially true for something like broadband expansion, which will likely require collaboration from several federal agencies.

Ultimately, this means that state and local governments are likely to see federal money for broadband expansion relatively slowly, especially when compared to other funding categories like transportation and water, that will move a large percentage of relevant IIJA funding through reauthorized programs.

IIJA includes three newly established grant programs for broadband that are relevant to state and local governments. How quickly state and local governments will see funding from these broadband infrastructure programs depends on the specific rules and regulations within these newly established competitive grants.

State and local governments will see money from newly established formula programs later than reauthorized programs. Any funding that relies on an entirely new program will take longer than money funneling through a reauthorized program. Newly established formula programs tend to be more straightforward to stand up than newly established competitive grants. The broadband competitive grant programs most relevant to state and local government leaders are:

  • Newly Established Formula Grant
  • Funding Amount: $42.5 Billion
  • Applicants: Any eligible entity that receives funding from a state
  • Notice of Funding Opportunity

After that, state and local governments are likely to see money from newly created competitive grant programs. This money tends to move the slowest.

  • Includes both newly created competitive and formula grants
  • Funding Amount: $2.75 Billion
  • Applicants: Political or agency subdivisions of states, Tribal entities, non-profits, community institutions, educational agencies or workforce development organizations
  • Notice of Funding Opportunity

  • Newly Established Grant Program
  • Funding Amount: $1 Billion
  • Applicants: State, local and tribal governments, industry, non-profits and other associations, partnerships
  • Notice of Funding Opportunity

Of course, this sequencing is a generalization. The exact sequencing of when state and local governments will receive money from the programs above depends on the complexity of the program involved. For example, certain newly established formula funds may require significant data collection to write allocation formulas. When that’s the case, funds through those programs will be slower to arrive.

Model Broadband Infrastructure Projects to Prioritize for IIJA Funding

In this section, we’ve compiled a list of broadband infrastructure case studies from state and local governments who have successfully implemented broadband and other high-speed internet access projects that are consistent with the funding priorities in IIJA.

Our hope is that they 1) inspire state and local government broadband leaders about the impacts and outcomes that can be achieved with the coming influx of federal money, and 2) serve as models for impactful projects to put forward for IIJA funding.

Affordable Internet Service

Income equality impacted broadband access in San Jose, leaving 95,000 residents without home internet access. With the aid of P3 partnerships in implementing a Small Cell Broadband Infrastructure project, the city reduced the digital divide by installing small cell antennas on 4,000 city-owned light poles.

Local Gov Case Study

Addressing the Digital Divide

The City of Chula Vista built on its smart city progress by addressing the digital divide through the creation of a groundbreaking Digital Equity and Inclusion Plan (DEIP). The DEIP is an actionable roadmap to expand access to Internet connectivity, devices, and digital literacy training for all community members.

Local Gov Case Study

Broadband Expansion in Rural Communities and Tribal Nations

Warm Springs Indian Reservation struggled with internet access due to the lack of broadband infrastructure. During the pandemic, the Reservation was unable to cope with the switch to remote work and school. With an influx of CARES funding, the reservation was able to offer residents reliable broadband service and set up free Wi-Fi hubs.

Local Gov Case Study

In addition, these resources are excellent starting places for local broadband leaders who don’t have a lot of experience with digital equity issues and broadband expansion:

  1. Pew Charitable Trusts research shows How States are Expanding Broadband Access. It examined state broadband programs nationwide and identified best practices through conversations with local governments and representatives of state broadband programs.
  2. The National Urban League’s Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion sets broadband goals to help close the digital gaps affecting communities of color: network deployment, connectivity, economic opportunity, and network access to deliver essential services.
  3. National League of Cities’ Digital Equity Playbook helps local government leaders to determine causes of the digital divide in their communities. It provides recommendations to address it, shares stories from local governments and suggests additional resources.
  4. Next Century Cities’ Broadband Toolkit is a compilation of broadband infrastructure and connectivity models for local government broadband leaders. It provides practices for building a community movement, establishing policies and procedures and exploring connectivity and financing options for broadband infrastructure.

We hope these case studies inspire you and demonstrate the scale and type of community impacts that are possible with the broadband investments included in IIJA. If you’d like to see more, browse the broadband case studies in The Atlas case study database.

Next up: Resilient Infrastructure & IIJA: Funding, Timelines, Model Projects.


Author’s Note: Rachel Angulo (Content Marketing Manager at The Atlas) provided writing and research support to this section. Mark Funkhouser (Former Mayor of Kansas City, MO), Shalini Vajjhala (Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center) and Erik Caldwell (Director of Data Strategy at The Atlas and former Deputy Chief Operating Officer at the City of San Diego) generously reviewed this section.

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