NTIA Announces $980 Million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and September 1 Application Deadline

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released its Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (Tribal Program). The Tribal Program will award up to $980 million in grants to eligible Tribal-related entities for the deployment of broadband infrastructure and adoption of broadband service on Tribal Land, and for programs that promote the use of broadband to access remote learning, telework, telehealth resources, or digital inclusion efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. A link to NTIA’s announcement and the application materials is here.

Non-eligible entities, such as WISPs, and telecommunications, cable and satellite carriers, can partner with eligible Tribal entities as subgrantees to assist with the application process and implementation of projects. Such partnerships can strengthen a Tribal entity’s organizational capacity, one of the major criteria NTIA will use to evaluate proposals.

SEPTEMBER 1, 2021 APPLICATION DEADLINE

Applicants must submit complete application packages using only one of the three methods:

  • Grants.gov
  • E-mail
  • Postal mail or courier service

NTIA encourages applicants to use Grants.gov. Applicants may not submit partial or duplicate applications using multiple methods. For applications submitted through Grants.gov or e-mail, the deadline is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on September 1, 2021. Applications submitted by postal mail or courier service must be postmarked (for postal mail) or have evidence of mailing (for courier submissions) no later than 11:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on September 1, 2021.

ELIGIBLE RECIPIENTS

The following entities are eligible to receive grants under the Tribal Program:

  • A Tribal Government (also eligible for Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund)
  • A Tribal College or University
  • Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Community, including Native Hawaiian Education Programs
  • A Tribal Organization
  • An Alaskan Native Corporation

Of the $980 Million, up to $30 Million has already been allocated to the benefit of Native Hawaiians. An additional $500,000 has been allocated to each Federally Recognized Tribe. The general grant allocation ranges expected to be made by NTIA are:

  • $1 Million to $50 Million for Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Projects
  • $50,000 to $2.5 Million for Broadband Adoption and Use Projects

These funding ranges are not required minimums and maximums, but eligible entities requesting funding for projects outside of these ranges must provide a reasonable explanation for the variance in their project size. There are no cost sharing or matching fund requirements. The period of performance for grants issued under this program is one (1) year; however, NTIA may extend the period of performance beyond one year for broadband infrastructure projects.

FUNDING PRIORITIES

Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Projects

  • Eligible entities must prioritize construction of new broadband infrastructure proposals that will serve currently unserved households, based on a Tribe’s self-certification of the status of the proposed service area within Tribal Lands and lands providing services to Tribal Members.
  • Networks must use commercial grade equipment that will meet current needs and be scalable to meet future needs.
  • Applicants may propose technologies that best meet Tribal needs; however, NTIA encourages the submission of project proposals that deploy future-proof infrastructure to the extent feasible.
  • If an applicant is not at the stage where it can submit a broadband construction project proposal, NTIA will accept proposals to conduct planning, engineering, feasibility, or sustainability studies as part of the necessary steps to develop a technological solution for broadband deployment.

Broadband Use and Adoption Projects

  • NTIA encourages the development of programs and other resources that address immediate COVID-19-related concerns, and also build the capacity of Tribes to use broadband to provide ongoing and sustainable benefits to Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian communities.
  • Such efforts include:
  • Promoting broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment, and support to anchor institutions including schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, Tribal colleges, public housing, workforce facilities and other community support organizations.
  • Providing free or reduced-cost broadband service and preventing disconnection of existing broadband service.
  • Building digital skills and work force capacity.
  • Assessing community needs, conducting planning, improving access to, stimulating adoption of, and using broadband services by Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian anchor institutions to deliver telehealth, remote learning, digital inclusion and workforce development programs and entrepreneurship, economic growth, and job creation.
  • Gathering data and conducting evaluation of the digital inclusion and broadband adoption programs funded by the grant to determine their effectiveness and develop best practices to facilitate digital inclusion and broadband adoption on Tribal Lands.

EVALUATION CRITERIA FOR APPLICATIONS

NTIA will review applications for both components of the Tribal Program as follows:

Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Projects

  • Project Purpose and Benefits - Total 45 points
  • Level of Need on the Tribal Land (35 points)
  • Affordability of Services Offered (10 points)
  • Project Viability - Total 30 points
  • Technical Approach and Related Network Planning, Capacity and Performance (20 points)
  • Strength of Applicant’s Organizational Capacity (10 points)
  • Project Budget and Sustainability - Total 25 points
  • Reasonableness of the Budget (10 points)
  • Sustainability of the Project (15 points)

Broadband Use and Adoption Projects

  • Project Purpose and Benefits (Level of Impact on Tribal Land) - Total 45 points
  • Telehealth (10 points)
  • Remote Learning (10 points)
  • Telework (5 points)
  • Entrepreneurship (5 points)
  • Economic Growth (5 points)
  • Job Creation (5 points)
  • Servicing Anchor Institutions (5 points)
  • Project Viability - Total 30 points
  • Operational Approach of the Proposed Project Plan (15 points)
  • Strength of Applicant’s Organizational Capacity (15 points)
  • Project Budget and Sustainability - Total 25 points
  • Reasonableness of the Budget (10 points)
  • Sustainability of the Project (15 points)

For more information about the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, or federal funding for broadband deployment, access or training in general, please contact any attorney in our office.

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