The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issues this Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to describe the requirements under which it will award grants in connection with the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program (Program), authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, Division F, Title I, Section 60102, Public Law 117-58, 135 Stat. 429 (November 15, 2021) (Infrastructure Act or Act) also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The BEAD Program provides federal funding for grants to Eligible Entities for broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption activities.
This NOFO presents information relevant to entities eligible for direct receipt of BEAD funding (i.e., States and Territories, referred to in the Infrastructure Act as “Eligible Entities”), as well as entities that may seek subgrants from those Eligible Entities to conduct the numerous activities that are eligible uses for BEAD funding. It is generally organized as follows:
Section I (Program Description) provides an overview of the BEAD Program, including background material related to the Infrastructure Act broadly, as well as an overview of the Program’s procedural framework. It then defines key terms used throughout the NOFO.
Section II (Federal Award Information) provides basic information such as the amounts made available under the BEAD Program, key dates, the circumstances in which the Assistant Secretary may grant extensions, and the treatment of unallocated and unawarded funds.
Section III (Eligibility Information) describes entities eligible for BEAD Program grants (generally, States and Territories of the United States), requirements relating to the provision of matching funds by Eligible Entities and/or other actors, and circumstances that might warrant waiver of the match requirements.
Section IV (Program Sequencing, Structure, and Requirements) provides information regarding the BEAD Program’s structure, describing in detail the nine principal steps in the
Section V (Application and Submission Information) sets out information regarding how Eligible Entities may apply for and use BEAD Program funding, including a link to the online application portal, formatting instructions, certification requirements, submission timelines, and eligible uses for funding. It also provides information regarding certifications that prospective subgrantees must make in order to be eligible for subgrants.
Section VI (Application Review Information) briefly describes the review process that NTIA will undertake in assessing submissions by Eligible Entities in connection with the BEAD Program.1
Section VII (Federal Award Administration Information) explains the process NTIA will employ to approve applications, notify successful and unsuccessful applicants of the process’s results, and various legal obligations applicable to grant recipients (including, but not limited to, those relating to domestic procurement preferences (“Buy American” requirements) and contracting with small and minority businesses, women’s business enterprises, and labor surplus area firms).
Section VIII (Federal Awarding Agency Contacts) provides contact information for individuals to whom interested parties may direct inquiries regarding the BEAD Program.
Section IX (Other Information) details information regarding topics including audit and reporting requirements, mandatory transparency, accountability, and oversight measures, and consequences associated with the unauthorized use of BEAD Program funds.
In recent decades, access to the internet has played a critical and growing role in the ways in which Americans work, learn, receive health care, and participate in democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic crystalized what many have known for a very long time: High-speed internet access is not a luxury, but a necessity, for all Americans, regardless of their age, race, or income, irrespective of where they live, what languages they speak, what resources they have at their disposal, and what specific challenges they may face in their daily lives.
Recognizing broadband’s fundamental role in today’s society and its centrality to our nation’s continued health and prosperity, President Biden has pledged to make sure that every American has access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet. Full participation in our twenty-first century economy requires no less. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. Yet affordable, reliable, high- speed internet access has remained elusive to many for too long, because they live in a location where no service is available, the speed or quality of the service available is unreliable, or the offering available is unaffordable or inadequate. Internet connectivity itself is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for eradicating the digital divide. Many on the wrong side of that divide require equipment, digital skills, financial resources, and more to realize the internet’s full potential. Those who lack these resources face substantial barriers to digital equity, even in places where fast broadband connections are physically available. This digital divide is particularly acute for communities of color, Tribal nations, and lower-income areas and spans both urban and rural areas of the country.
Passed on a bipartisan basis, the Infrastructure Act includes $42.45 billion to create the BEAD Program. The law charges NTIA—the President’s chief advisor on telecommunications and information policy matters, housed within the United States Department of Commerce (DOC)— with administering this program.
This NOFO describes how, in partnership with other federal actors, as well as States, Territories, Tribal nations, cities, towns, counties and other localities, the non-profit sector, academia, unions and worker organizations, and industry, NTIA intends to administer the BEAD Program. This program will lay critical groundwork for widespread access, affordability, equity, and adoption of broadband, create good-paying jobs; grow economic opportunities, including for local workers, provide increased access to healthcare services, enrich educational experiences of students, close long-standing equity gaps, and improve the overall quality of life across America.
The Program’s principal focus will be on deploying broadband service to unserved locations (those without any broadband service at all or with broadband service offering speeds below 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream/3 Mbps upstream) and underserved locations (those without broadband service offering speeds of 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream). Eligible Entities that demonstrate they will be able to ensure service to all unserved and underserved locations will be free to propose plans that use remaining funds in a wide variety of ways, but NTIA underscores its strong preference that Eligible Entities also ensure deployment of gigabit connections to community anchor institutions such as libraries and community centers that lack such connectivity. Eligible Entities can apply any additional funding to pursue eligible access-, adoption-, and equity-related uses, as well as any other uses approved by the Assistant Secretary that support the Program’s goals.
With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user. It also requires all projects to provide a low-cost option to eligible subscribers, requires all states to have plans to address middle-class affordability, and further prioritizes proposals that improve affordability to ensure that networks built using taxpayer dollars are accessible to all Americans. The framework set out below will provide Eligible Entities flexibility to pursue deployments in the manner best suited to their populations – including, for example, the deployment of Wi-Fi service within multi-family buildings.
NTIA envisions and welcomes extensive coordination and cooperation with all relevant stakeholders. States and Territories have an important statutory role in the BEAD process. Localities and groups representing historically excluded communities can and must make their voices heard to ensure that longstanding equity gaps are finally closed. Existing broadband providers and new entrants must communicate well with Federal, State, Territorial, local, and Tribal partners to ensure that deployments proceed as expected and that non-deployment activities are designed and implemented in ways that most benefit the communities they are designed to serve. And, of course, NTIA urges individual stakeholders to engage throughout the process—with NTIA, with State, Territorial, and Tribal Governments, with providers, and with civil society groups—to ensure that this historic investment effectuates the purposes of the Infrastructure Act.
Successful execution of the BEAD Program will require close collaboration between NTIA, as the Program administrator, and the Eligible Entities, which must ensure that affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is accessible at every location within their jurisdictions and that other BEAD Program objectives are achieved. Eligible Entities, in turn, can succeed only by committing to close and ongoing coordination with their political subdivisions, subgrantees, and outside stakeholders, including current and prospective broadband providers, citizens, civil rights- and equity-focused organizations, community-based organizations, civil society and consumer- focused groups, unions and worker organizations, workforce boards, economic development organizations, schools, community colleges, neighborhood and housing associations, and the communities that stand to benefit from these unprecedented investments.
The Assistant Secretary and the staff of NTIA look forward to close communication during all phases of the process described in this NOFO. Broadly speaking, the process contemplated by the Infrastructure Act and this NOFO is as follows:
Letter of Intent
July 18, 2022 is the deadline for an Eligible Entity to submit a Letter of Intent to participate in the Program.
Request for Initial Planning Funds
Either with its Letter of Intent or afterwards, an Eligible Entity that is a State (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) may request up to $5,000,000 in Initial Planning Funds. American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands each may request up to $1,250,000. Each Eligible Entity’s Initial Planning Funds will be drawn from that Eligible Entity’s Minimum Initial Allocation. If the Eligible Entity requests Initial Planning Funds, it must submit an application for Initial Planning Funds by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) August 15, 2022, and a Five-Year Action Plan within 270 days of receipt of Initial Planning Funds.
Notice of Available Amounts
On or after the date on which the Broadband DATA Maps are made public, the Assistant Secretary will notify each Eligible Entity of the estimated amount of funding that NTIA will make available to the Eligible Entity under the Program (Notice of Available Amounts) and invite the submission of an initial grant proposal (Initial Proposal) and a final grant proposal (Final Proposal).
Leading up to submission of the Initial Proposal and throughout the remainder of the process, NTIA will provide support and technical assistance to help ensure that the Eligible Entity’s proposals fully meet the requirements of the Infrastructure Act and the goals of the Program. This technical assistance will include iterative feedback on draft Initial and Final Proposals.
Eligible Entities will have 180 days from receipt of the Notice of Available Amounts to develop and submit an Initial Proposal, which will, among other things, describe the competitive process the Eligible Entity proposes to use to select subgrantees to construct broadband projects. Prior to submission to NTIA, the Initial Proposal must be made available for public comment, and the Initial Proposal must incorporate local coordination feedback for the Assistant Secretary’s review.
After submission of its Initial Proposal and before allocating BEAD funds received for the deployment of broadband networks to subgrantees, an Eligible Entity must conduct a challenge process. Under this process, a unit of local government, nonprofit organization, or broadband service provider can challenge a determination made by the Eligible Entity in the Initial Proposal as to whether a particular location or community anchor institution within the jurisdiction of the Eligible Entity is eligible for the grant funds, including whether a particular location is unserved or underserved, and Eligible Entities must submit any successful challenges to NTIA for review and approval.
Initial Funding Availability
NTIA will review Initial Proposals as expeditiously as possible. Once an Initial Proposal is approved, NTIA will make available to the Eligible Entity not less than 20 percent of the total grant funds allocated to the Eligible Entity.
An Eligible Entity may initiate its competitive subgrantee selection process upon approval of its Initial Proposal and will have up to one year to conduct additional local coordination, complete the selection process, and submit a Final Proposal to NTIA. NTIA will provide support and technical assistance to help ensure that the Final Proposal fully meets the requirements of the Infrastructure Act and the goals of
the Program. The Eligible Entity may, at this point, utilize the funding provided (not less than 20 percent of the Eligible Entity’s total grant funds) to initiate certain eligible activities (see Section IV.B.8) before submission and approval of their Final Proposals.
After the Eligible Entity has selected subgrantees and otherwise executed its approved Initial Proposal, it will submit to NTIA a Final Proposal describing how it complied with that Initial Proposal and the results of its processes. NTIA will award the remaining funds allocated to the Eligible Entity upon approval of the Eligible Entity’s Final Proposal, and Eligible Entities will initiate their subgrants for the remaining 80 percent of funding and any portion of the original 20 percent that the Eligible Entity has not yet awarded as a subgrant. Prior to submission to NTIA the Final Proposal must be made available for public comment.
Ongoing Monitoring, Reporting, and Performance Management
Throughout the BEAD Program, NTIA will conduct ongoing monitoring of an Eligible Entity’s progress against its plans and ensure that the requirements of the Infrastructure Act are met. Eligible Entities will be required to comply with reporting requirements and monitor subgrantee compliance.
NTIA strongly encourages each Eligible Entity participating in the BEAD Program to concurrently participate in the programs established under the Digital Equity Act of 2021, which provides $2.75 billion to further advance federal goals relating to digital equity and digital inclusion. Just as the BEAD Program begins with a Five-Year Action Plan, the Digital Equity Act begins with State Digital Equity Planning Grants, which is the subject of a separate NOFO. Eligible Entities should view this NOFO and the State Digital Equity Planning Grant NOFO holistically as complementary efforts aimed at a singular, unified objective of closing the digital divide.
The Five-Year Action Plan that an Eligible Entity develops for the BEAD Program should therefore incorporate the Eligible Entity’s State Digital Equity Plan, as an Eligible Entity cannot have a Five-Year Action Plan that does not address digital equity. Moreover, Initial Proposals and Final Proposals developed for the BEAD Program should be informed by and be complementary to and closely integrated with the Eligible Entity’s Five-Year Action Plans and State Digital Equity Plans to address the goal of universal broadband access and adoption. So too each Eligible Entity should ensure overlap—or at least substantial interaction—between those tasked with developing the Five-Year Action Plan, Initial Proposal, Final Proposal, and State Digital Equity Plan. For example, Eligible Entities should ensure coordination between BEAD planning teams and State Digital Equity planning teams and should establish a formal and direct communication and collaboration pathway between the teams that remain in place throughout the entire planning process. This will be particularly important to reduce the burden and confusion on community stakeholders when fulfilling the local coordination requirements in this NOFO.
NTIA is committed to working closely with, and providing support and technical assistance to, Eligible Entities to help ensure that the Initial Proposals and Final Proposals fully meet the requirements of the Infrastructure Act and the goals of the Program. NTIA will provide submission templates throughout the process to provide clarity on expectations and reduce the administrative burden on Eligible Entities. When the Final Proposals have been approved and Eligible Entities begin to initiate Program activities, NTIA will work closely with the Eligible Entities to monitor progress, troubleshoot, and provide technical assistance as necessary and appropriate.
The following definitions are applicable to the BEAD Program: