The U.S. government issued guidance detailing how states should use money from a $10 billion Capital Projects Fund created earlier this year and the news is all good for fiber.
Launched as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Capital Projects Fund is designed to help states complete projects “that directly enable work, education and health monitoring.” Broadband deployments have specifically been called out as a priority, with the federal government previously noting these must deliver symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps to be eligible for funding (unless this is “impracticable,” in which case the requirement drops to 100 Mbps up and 20 Mbps down).
Fresh instructions released by the Department of the Treasury explicitly encourage states “to prioritize investments in fiber-optic infrastructure where feasible, as such advanced technology better supports future needs.” Interestingly, the guidelines also urge states to pursue “projects that involve broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, non-profits and co-operatives — providers with less pressure to generate profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
The Department explained costs eligible for funding include the “repair, rehabilitation, construction, improvement and acquisition” of equipment or infrastructure; feasibility studies and other data gathering; personnel costs for staff and consultants required to carry out a project; and ancillary expenses needed to put the capital project to its best use, such as costs required to boost broadband adoption or digital literacy. Costs associated with the acquisition of spectrum licenses and operating expenses are not covered.
As one might expect, the Treasury’s spotlight on fiber technology drew praise from the Fiber Broadband Association. The group said in a statement a focus on fiber will “ensure that communities across the nation will be prepared for the broadband services of today and into the future. All fiber broadband networks are the critical infrastructure to which all Americans must have access if they are to participate fully in our society, economy and civic affairs.”
Though not a competitive grant program, states are required to submit an application and grant plan for the work they want to pursue. Once they have the money in hand, they are then permitted to award funding to local governments, non-profits or private entities such as co-operatives, electric utilities or broadband operators.
The Department of Treasury is set to open its application portal for states on September 24, with funding requests due by December 27. All funds must be expended by December 31, 2026.