Politicians in Washington, D.C. have put the infrastructure issue front and center. While the Biden Administration and Congress have been converging on a solution—and seem to be looking to spend about $65 billion on bridging the broadband deployment and adoptions gaps—it is not certain that legislation will pass. Even if it does, the details about how to close the broadband gaps are still up in the air. How much funding should be allocated for adoption, and how much for deployment? What is an unserved area that would receive support? What infrastructure should be built in these areas? Which government agency should award the funding? What method should the agency use to award support?
What Does Congress Have Up Its Sleeve?
Adoption funding. Of the $65 billion total, about $10 billion will be spent on adoption—possibly to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit (enhanced lifeline) program.
Unserved areas. There is a growing consensus that funding should first be directed to the most unserved areas—those without 25/3 Mbps service—and if funding is left over, it can be used in areas without 100/20 Mbps service.
Network performance. The clash between fiber proponents and those backing other network technologies continues—and the outcome is far from settled. One possible solution would be to adopt the approach in the proposed rules for the state/local block grant funding provided for in the American Rescue Plan Act—100/100 Mbps performance unless it is not practical. However, even this might be too ambitious, so they may settle on a 100/20 Mbps performance benchmark instead.
Lead government agency. Members of Congress favor having either National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)/Rural Utilities Utility Services (RUS) or the states hand out the money, partly because they view the FCC as being less responsive to their directions.
Auctions versus grants. While auctions are much more efficient that grants—and result in many more locations becoming served—members of Congress are concerned that the FCC did not properly run the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, permitting inexperienced providers using technologies not in service commercially to participate. (For more information about RDOF, watch the replay of our popular webinar, “Missed RDOF? Sharpen Your Pencils, There Is More Funding Coming!”) In addition, members of Congress believe they have an opportunity to influence and benefit from grant awards. So, despite the advantages of auctions, awards are most likely to be made through grants.
Calix is here to help you stay on track with government funding. Stay informed by regularly checking the Calix funding webpage. If you are applying for funding, watch the replay of our recent webinar, “Stake Your Claim: NTIA Broadband Funding Applications Due this Summer.”