The IIJA, also referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is an infrastructure package that was signed into law in November 2021. It contains $1.2 trillion in funding for infrastructure, with $65 billion dollars of that to enhance broadband deployment, access and affordability. $42.45 billion dollars of that money will be allocated through an IIJA a program called Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD).
The primary goal is to make sure every American currently living in an Unserved or Underserved location has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mpbs up.
An Unserved location is one that lacks access to reliable broadband service with at least 25 Mbps x 3 Mbps. An Underserved location is one that has access to service of at least 25 x 3, but less than 100 x 20. In addition, for an area to be considered “served” it must also have latency low enough to support real-time, interactive applications.
States using IIJA funding must first prioritize “Unserved Service Projects”, which would deploy broadband service capable of at least 100 x 20 in areas where 80% of the locations are Unserved. Once all Unserved locations have been addressed, the next priority would be addressing “Underserved Service Projects” where at least 80% of the area are a combination of Underserved or Unserved. After all Unserved and Underserved locations have been addressed and are considered “served”, Community Anchor Institutions lacking 1 Gbps symetrical service can be addressed (Schools, libraries, health centers / hospitals, public safety, public housing).
Most of the broadband funds will be granted to the fifty states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and four U.S. Territories (US Virgin Islands, Guam American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands). These entities will be responsible for distributing the funds in their local areas based on community needs. An initial minimum allocation of $100 million in funding will be available to each state, DC and PR, with $100 million also split equally among the U.S. territories. These entities can use 5% of those funds ($5 million dollars) for planning purposes. The remaining funds will be distributed among the states and territories based on how many unserved locations they have compared to the total number of unserved locations in the country.
This has been an issue in the past, as we have not had broadband availability data that was accurate and granular enough to determine what addresses were serviceable, and what level of service they had. The FCC is responsible for creating a national broadband map that contains data down to the address, whether a location is served, unserved, or underserved. Once this broadband map is finalized, this will determine the number of unserved and underserved locations in each state.
The IIJA includes the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This program provides up to $14.2 billion dollars in subsidies to help defray the cost of broadband for low-income households. Qualifying households can apply for a $30 per month subsidy from participating providers, or $75 for those on qualifying Tribal lands. The Act also requires that any service provider receiving grant money through BEAD also offer a low-cost plan. Details on what would constitute a low-cost plan have not yet been released.
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