By Kevin Donnelly, VP of Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives, NMHC
Kevin Donnelly is Vice President, Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives, with responsibility for representing the interests of the multifamily industry before Congress and federal agencies
There has been significant, albeit, slow progress in Washington and throughout the country in establishing program rules and distribution protocols for the historic broadband deployment funding that was included as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In total, $42.5 billion in federal funding will be distributed through state and local broadband offices to bring broadband service to places where it doesn’t exist today or in locations considered underserved (inadequate or obsolete service). Low-income multifamily communities or those with a high percentage of unserved residents were made eligible to receive broadband deployment funding by Congress and the NTIA has reaffirmed this eligibility.
The States Hold the Power...
Each state is now in the process of building out their own individual programs and establishing criteria that build upon federal priorities and requirements. This is a critical next step in ensuring the full and efficient disbursement of these funds. And importantly, how each state chooses to stand up these programs will make or break industry eligibility in that particular state.
As such, NMHC has doubled down on advocacy efforts in this space. Through our work as a founding member of the No Home Left Offline Coalition, NMHC has pressed each Governor and other state officials to maintain the priority set by Congress in ensuring multifamily communities remain eligible. But, with that effort underway, there are several moving pieces that the industry should consider as they map out potential participation in future programs.
...But the FCC Has a Role to Play
While much of the work to get the dollars out the door and broadband actually deployed rests at the state level and will take considerable time, the last federal piece to the puzzle rests with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While the funding is ultimately distributed by NTIA, Congress required that FCC broadband maps be used to determine where deployment is needed in unserved and underserved areas.
Historically, FCC broadband maps have been widely criticized for being inaccurate and ascribing broadband service to areas lacking any. Over the past several years, the FCC has been revamping its process and the urgency surrounding BEAD grant determinations kicked its work into high gear.
The FCC released its first draft of new maps in November. Yet, despite an improvement, the maps are still deeply flawed—especially when it comes to determining service at and within low-income multifamily communities. The new maps consider a building to be served by broadband if a business or leasing office on site has access even if all of the actual apartments are unserved or underserved with obsolete wiring and technology.
Even worse, the challenge process to protest the maps is deeply flawed and could potentially box out multifamily properties and residents from benefiting from this historic funding.
NMHC has joined with other No Home Left Offline Coalition members and state and local stakeholders in pushing back at the FCC over these issues and have asked the FCC to suspend the current challenge process for multifamily properties and develop a process that supports the high priority status given to them by Congress and the NTIA.
Our groups have called for multifamily properties located in high-poverty areas to be automatically designated as unserved unless a broadband provider can prove otherwise. This designation would enable these properties to receive deployment funding under BEAD to install or update broadband infrastructure, install property-wide Wi-Fi or even allow property owners to offer free or reduced cost service to residents.
The Waiting Game
The FCC will need to act quickly to make these important changes and support the priority status given to low-income multifamily properties in the bipartisan infrastructure law.
And while the mapping process and related challenges will take some time to sort out, state officials are busy establishing their BEAD programs to deploy these dollars as quickly as possible. Even with all the progress made, it will likely be late 2023 or 2024 before the funds lead to any deployment.
Owners of un/underserved properties should monitor public notices and communications from the relevant agency or broadband office in the jurisdictions where they have operations for more information on timing. Each will likely have a different application process and eligibility criteria but developing relationships with local officials administering these funds, being able to demonstrate need and move quickly will be absolutely key to ensuring low-income multifamily properties and their residents aren’t left behind.
As these programs are stood up, NMHC will continue to communicate updates to members. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to NMHC VP of Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives Kevin Donnelly with any questions.
- Letter to House Leadership and the House Appropriations Committee on Passage of the ACP Extension Act of 2024
- Letter to Senate Leadership and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Passage of the ACP Extension Act of 2024
- NMHC-NAA Statement for Senate Banking Subcommittee Hearing on AI and Housing
- NMHC-NAA Statement for House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Hearing on Broadband Issues
- No Home Left Offline Coalition Letter to Governor of Alabama Supporting ACP