February 09, 2022

LeadingAge Calls for Equity and Affordable Housing Emphasis in New Broadband Infrastructure Deployment

BY LeadingAge

On February 4, LeadingAge submitted comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to guide deployment of more than $46 billion in federal broadband infrastructure funds. NTIA stated that additional funds distribution will follow at a future date.

Approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in November 2021, the new funds is not only geared toward “traditional infrastructure,” but also for improved and expanded broadband networks across the country. The federal funds are intended for broadband construction, digital literacy programming, equitable access mapping, internet service adoption projects, and more. 

Funding Distribution

The funds will flow from the federal government level to the state government level via state broadband offices, which will then set up process for local distribution – including for improve internet access in Multifamily residential housing. At the federal level, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Department of Commerce is handling the initial rule-setting and distribution of funds. 

Next steps for NTIA are to create overarching rules for the new funds within six months of the bills enactment, bringing the rule-setting timeframe to mid-May. Then, NTIA will review state spending plans and begin distribution of funding allocations to states for local deployment.

More information about the internet infrastructure funding distribution is available here.

Federal-Level Advocacy

In the comments on rule-setting for the new funds, LeadingAge called on NTIA to implement specific targeting of affordable housing communities serving older adults, to streamline the process and remove barriers to access, and to heavily emphasize equity in the distribution of funds.

Specifically, LeadingAge’s February 4th comments cover six main points:

  • Steering the funding toward Affordable Housing, Aging Services: We recommend that NTIA require state broadband offices to designate a minimum level of the funding allotment to reach affordable housing communities. We also recommended that NTIA develop thresholds or incentives for additional beneficiary targeting, such as for rural households and households headed by an adult aged 62 or older. The funds could also be targeted toward home care and hospice organizations who serve older adults in their homes and can evaluate connectivity needs.
  • Equity Emphasis: NTIA should establish various guardrails, safe harbors, and reporting requirements that heavily emphasize digital equity throughout the state distribution. This includes stakeholder engagement and end user targeting of historically marginalized and underserved communities. For example, states should be required to report on plans for engaging with and distributing funds to non-profits and similar entities already established to work in underserved areas.
  • Whole Property Approach to Internet Infrastructure: Reaching federally-assisted households without internet access is best achieved by outfitting entire multifamily residential properties receiving federal housing assistance for broadband and WIFI access; the whole property approach leverages existing federal investments in infrastructure and is scalable to quickly reach millions of households nationwide. States should be required to report on streamlining components leveraged in their spending plans, including by leveraging whole building infrastructure and enrollment approaches to internet in HUD’s project-based Section 8 and Section 202 housing, and by establishing cost benchmarks or minimum payment standards for subgrantees. 
  • Last Mile Infrastructure Needs: In making funds available to subgrantees installing internet infrastructure throughout multifamily properties, states should encourage resident choice and price competition by preserving the right to neutral cabling, rather than allowing internet service or utility providers to impose exclusive wiring and exclusive marketing agreements on the properties.
  • Reducing Barriers to Funding Access: In order to ensure funding access for smaller and underresourced entities, NTIA should allow state to exempt certain subgrantee applicants from submitting a full proposal or network engineering plan. NTIA could also encourage pre-application technical assistance offered by states.
  • Measuring Success: NTIA should set clear metrics for successful distribution of the funds by states. These distribution targets should clearly emphasize service to both un- and underserved households in terms of connectivity, and should collaborate with FCC to create or update internet access mapping using more accurate measures of connectivity. NTIA should also deem a variety of settings serving low-income older adult households as eligible uses of the funds, including households served by certain home care and hospice or households receiving other federal assistance.

For assistance connecting to state broadband office to make the case for including affordable housing and other aging services providers in state-wide connectivity efforts, including access to customizable talking points, reach out to jbilowich@leadingage.org.