U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stressed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will not use a one size fits all approach as it distributes billions in broadband funding, but instead will work closely with states to meet their individual needs.
NTIA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, has been tasked with distributing more than $48 billion of the $65 billion allocated for broadband in the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The agency last month began work formulating rules for the grant programs it is overseeing. On Tuesday, Raimondo headed to the Senate to answer questions about how it plans to dole out the funds.
Broadly speaking, Raimondo said the goal is to make the process as painless as possible for state officials. “We cannot be asking governors and mayors and tribal leaders to deal with the alphabet soup of government. We have to make it easy,” she stated. “So, the way we plan to do this is we’re going to have a single point person at NTIA in charge of every state. One person.”
Perhaps the largest program under the NTIA’s purview is Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, which will provide a total of $42.45 billion to the states to fund coverage expansions. Each state is set to receive an initial allocation of $100 million, with the rest to be determined by broadband coverage maps still being developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Raimondo said the FCC has indicated it will have the maps finished by “this summer.” She added she is confident they will be more accurate than previous iterations, noting “in the past they’ve been broad, by census tract. These are down to the household.”
In order to receive BEAD funding, each state must submit a five-year broadband plan that details how it plans to spend the federal money it receives. But Raimondo acknowledged only 36 states have broadband offices and many may not have sufficient staff or expertise to meet this requirement. She promised NTIA would work “hand in glove” with the states to help them.
“We’re aiming towards a May 16 notice of funding opportunity. After that the state has to give us a letter of intent that they want to participate. After that there’s a $5 million planning grant and that will then begin heavy technical assistance [from the NTIA],” Raimondo explained.
All told, Raimondo said the Commerce Department believes the $65 billion in broadband funding will create between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs. To help fill those positions, she said NTIA is allowing states to use their BEAD money to do apprenticeships, job training and recruiting.
“So we are encouraging states when they’re putting together their plan, it’s not just about laying fiber, it’s about what are the workforce needs that you will have and what are the working training and other initiatives that you’re going to invest in in order to meet those needs,” she said.