NTIA Unveils Revised Guidelines for $42.5 Billion BEAD Program

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In a significant development, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released updated guidelines for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. The revised framework, known as Uniform Guidance, outlines rules and requirements for federal financial assistance awards and subawards, aiming to enhance the efficiency of the grant management process.

Soliciting public input on adjustments to the Uniform Guidance for the BEAD program, the NTIA received feedback from state broadband offices and industry stakeholders urging alignment with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s grant requirements.

The NTIA responded by introducing four key changes to the BEAD grant program guidance. Notably, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will now have flexibility in utilizing program income from BEAD-funded projects without restrictions, a departure from previous limitations. Additionally, states are no longer obligated to track the program income of subrecipients.

To streamline processes and reduce administrative costs, the NTIA is permitting stakeholders to leverage fixed amount subgrants in broadband infrastructure projects. This move is significant, considering the restrictions associated with fixed amount awards under the standard Uniform Guidance.

Furthermore, the NTIA’s guidance allows subrecipients to issue fixed amount awards without additional approval, provided the majority of the award is directed towards a broadband infrastructure project. Importantly, this can be done irrespective of whether the value of the sub-award exceeds $250,000.

The updated guidelines also grant ISPs the autonomy to upgrade equipment in their BEAD-funded networks without prior NTIA approval. However, a 10-year federal interest period will apply to BEAD-funded networks after construction, covering all real property or equipment acquired or improved through a subgrant for broadband infrastructure projects.

While the NTIA’s BEAD grant rules differ from the Treasury’s grant program requirements, industry response has been generally positive. Organizations such as NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, and ACA Connects have commended the NTIA’s efforts to strike a balance between accountability and flexibility, anticipating increased participation and more efficient utilization of federal funds in the broadband deployment process.

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