This week the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced a funding opportunity for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure, to expand and extend middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas. The opportunity is open to state and local governments, industries, and non-profits and other associations, including partnerships of two or more entities from within these groups. $980 million will be available under this program, and the agency anticipates awards in the following funding range: $5 million to $100 million. Applications will be accepted until September 30, 2022.
Middle mile infrastructure means any broadband infrastructure that does not connect directly to an end-user location; it is the physical mid-section of the infrastructure required to enable internet connectivity for homes, businesses, and community institutions, and is made up of high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances.
While HAs are not directly eligible to apply for funding, the Notice of Funding Opportunity states that “NTIA will assess all projects that reach Programmatic Review to consider the extent to which those applications meet the criteria listed below and will calculate weighted scores to reflect each project’s likelihood of advancing those goals.” Projects that meet all of the objectives will be given a higher weight, thus improving their chances of being funded by the program.
One of the criteria assessed will be the “applicant’s ability to demonstrate that substantial benefits stemming from funded middle mile infrastructure will accrue to (a) high-poverty counties, 24 (b) persistent poverty counties, 25 and/or (c) a substantial number of end users/households that meet any of the following criteria:
- Household income for the most recently completed calendar year was at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
- Any member of the household meets the qualifications of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans and Survivors Pension benefit, or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children….
Meeting this criterion will enhance an application for middle mile infrastructure funding. It is imperative that HAs in need of middle mile infrastructure partner with eligible applicants with the recognition that the HA and the residents they serve are a value add to the application and improve its chances of being awarded. Thus, HAs should ensure that their needs are adequately addressed in any grant application.