Boosting Broadband Access through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Published: August 17, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisInformation TechnologyInfrastructurePolicy and Legislation

If passed, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will provide $65B to extend and upgrade broadband access nationwide, focusing on connecting unserved and underserved areas.

A week ago, the Senate passed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which will make major investments in the nation’s roads, bridges, power grid, waterways, airports, and broadband.

Along with $20B repurposed from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the infrastructure bill will authorize a total of nearly $65B dedicated to ensuring all Americans have reliable, high-speed internet access. Provisions of the legislation will also help lower prices for internet service by requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost, affordable plan and provide price transparency. The bill also aims to boost competition in areas where adequate access currently does not exist. Also included in the legislation is the Digital Equity Act, which will create a permanent program to help more low-income households access the internet and will end digital redlining.

The legislation will establish the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program within 180 days of the bill signing. Funding will be provided via grants to eligible entities, such as non-profits, public-private partnerships, private companies, utilities, and state and local governments. Grants are not to be used to purchase fiber cable or optical transmission equipment manufactured in China.

Specifically authorized funding includes:

  • $100M initial minimum allocation to each state.
  • $100M initial minimum allocation divided equally among the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • $60M until expended in planning grants to states for the purposes of developing State Digital Equity Plans.
  • $240M in FY 2022 and $300M per year after that through FY 2026 in State Capacity Grants for implementation of State Digital Equity Plans and digital inclusion activities.
  • $250M per year through FY 2026 to establish the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to be administered by the Department of Commerce to support efforts to achieve digital equity, promote digital inclusion activities, and spur greater adoption of broadband among covered populations.
  • $1B for FY 2022 through FY 2026 for grants to enable middle-mile broadband infrastructure.  Middle mile infrastructure is defined as broadband infrastructure which “does not connect directly to an end-user location” and can include leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral exchange facilities, undersea cables, and transport connectivity to data centers. It also includes “wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure” such as microwave capacity and radio tower access.
  • $14.2B for an Affordable Connectivity Program to be administered by the FCC.

The infrastructure bill faces some uncertainty in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend that she wants to advance the infrastructure bill along with a broader $3.5 trillion budget framework, which also passed the Senate last week. Her plan is for the House to pass both pieces of legislation simultaneously as early as next week. However, a group of moderate Democrats wants to advance the infrastructure legislation prior to the budget resolution.