Bill Summary for H 947 (2021)

Summary date: 

May 12 2021

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2021
House Bill 947 (Public) Filed Tuesday, May 11, 2021
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH THE COMPLETING ACCESS TO BROADBAND PROGRAM, TO CREATE A PROCESS TO ADMINISTER A GROWING RURAL ECONOMIES WITH ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY (G.R.E.A.T.) PROGRAM UTILIZING FEDERAL AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT FUNDS, AND TO MAKE VARIOUS CHANGES TO THE G.R.E.A.T. PROGRAM.
Intro. by Arp, Lambeth, Saine, Johnson.

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Bill summary

Part I.

Enacts GS 143B-1373.2, establishing the Completing Access to Broadband Fund (CAB Fund) in the Department of Information Technology and authorizes the Secretary of DIT to award grants from the CAB Fund to qualifying projects. Specifies that State funds appropriated to the CAB Fund are considered an information technology project. Directs the Broadband Infrastructure Office (Office) to establish procedures that allow statewide participation in the grant program. Provides for counties to request funding in collaboration with the Office for either a defined eligible project area that is mutually identified by the county and the Office, or for a project that was not awarded a grant in the most recent round of grant awards under GS 143B-1373, which establishes and governs the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. Details the bid process and priority for awards, including priority to unserved or underserved areas in counties designated as development tier one or two areas or a rural census tract with total employment below a specified threshold; allows the Office to delegate to a county the bid process to select a provider for the project area that meets state law requirements. Requires the Office to develop and administer any agreement entered into pursuant to the statute.

Establishes project funding parameters, calling for the broadband service provider selected to provide at least 35% of the total estimated project cost; the Office to commit up to 35% of the total estimated project cost from the CAB Fund; and the county providing 30% from unrestricted general funds or federal funds. Caps receipt of funds from the CAB Fund at $2 million for a single project and $5 million in aggregate funding for a county in a single fiscal year. Provides for further adjustments to the funding responsibilities, based on either the CAB Fund monies being insufficient, or the county receiving less than $8 million in federal funds. Requires the broadband service provider selected for a project to contract with the Office; specifies required terms. Provides for separate accounting of funding for projects once agreements are executed. Charges the Office with project oversight and disbursement of funds to the broadband service provider upon project completion. 

Part II.

Enacts GS 143B-1373.1, directing the Office to award grants to eligible broadband service providers for subscriptions to unserved households, with awards of up to $1,000 for each satellite broadband subscription or up to $700 for each fixed wireless subscription that meet or exceed specified broadband speeds, and up to $700 for each satellite broadband subscription or up to $500 for each fixed wireless subscription that are below specified broadband speeds. Sets forth defined terms and details application requirements. Provides for the Secretary of DIT to redact proprietary information in an application. Prohibits awards from exceeding the cost of the broadband provider's equipment costs necessary to provide broadband service to the household that has been provided to a subscriber. Conditions grant eligibility on the household maintaining broadband service with the grantee for at least 24 consecutive months. Limits grants to once per address. Requires the grantee to provide the Office annual documentation to verify eligibility.

Requires the grantee to enter into an agreement, specifying 10 required terms, including a provision that the grantee cannot impose data caps upon any eligible subscription for the term of the agreement. Provides for grant reduction, term reduction, or termination of agreement for the grantee's failure to meet or comply with the agreement; provides for recapturing funds upon termination in instances of data manipulation by the grantee. Requires grantees to certify and provide evidence of compliance with broadband speeds and metrics identified in the application are and will be available through the project area during the term of agreement. Conditions receipt of the grant upon the grantee meeting the terms and conditions of the agreement, subject to verification by the Office. Requires the grantee to offer the proposed advertised broadband speeds and subscription cost identified in the application for the duration of the 24 consecutive months of the agreement, subject to verification by the Office as specified.

Part III.

Amends GS 143B-1373, which establishes and governs the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. Adds rural census tracts located in development tier three areas to the definition of eligible economically distressed county; excludes from the term counties with a total employment of 500,000 or more, as of January 1, 2020. Revises eligible project to eliminate the qualification that no more than an incidental number of households or business (not to exceed 10% of the total households and businesses within the boundaries of the project area) can have terrestrially deployed internet access service with transmission speeds as previously specified. Expands the authorized uses of grant funds to include providing fixed wireless or satellite broadband service pursuant to new GS 143B-1373.1; requires holding monies appropriated to the GREAT Fund for these grants separately. Revises subsection (c), now deeming ineligible project areas comprised of census blocks within which a broadband provider is receiving funds to deploy terrestrial broadband service (was, receiving matching funds to deploy broadband service) within the next 18 months. Permits qualification of a private provider receiving federal (no longer specifying Universal Service or Connect America Phase II funds) or nonfederal funds to deploy terrestrial broadband service for such an area by submitting specified census block data within 60 days of the application period. Specifies that the provisions of subsection (c) do not deem ineligible a project area in an area where a federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grant was awarded to a satellite broadband provider. 

Adds the following to subsection (d) Requires inclusion of a project area map using the State broadband maps maintained by DIT with the application. Details requirements of the maps. Now qualifies the right to submit an application protest under subsection (e) upon the broadband service provider providing data to the Office which sufficiently concludes that any area being challenged have broadband service. Reduces the time within which an application must be made publicly available on DIT's website and available for submitting comments from 30 to 20 days prior to award.

Amends subsection (g), which provides for the Office's scoring of project applications. Now requires the addition of points for projects proposing a partnership (was, involving a partnership). Adds new requirements for a proposed partnership be in writing, provide specific terms and conditions, and be signed and attested by the parties. Authorizes a county or nonprofit to enter into proposed agreements with more than one applicant. Changes the scoring to now provide for one point for a proposed partnership that will make available existing infrastructure that has been installed for the partner's enterprise, nonconsumer broadband purposes, or any other property, buildings, or structures owned by the partner, for a proposed project. Gives one point for a county or nonprofit entity that proposes to provide a financial match. Authorizes counties to use unrestricted general funds or federal funding allocated for the purpose of improving broadband infrastructure for a financial match. Provides for two additional points for a proposed partnership where the county's financial match is comprised entirely from federal American Rescue Plan funds. Specifies that counties are not authorized to provide broadband service. Changes the base speed multipliers, now providing multipliers for symmetrical speeds, and speeds up to 100:10 Mbps (was, 25:3 Mbps. Up to 100:10 Mbps).

Adds new subsection (h1) establishing a scale for the award of additional points based on a county's portion of matching funds for the project entirely from the federal American Rescue Plan, for counties receiving $8 million or more, ranging from 1-5 points, and for a county who receives less than $8 million and providing a portion of a project's matching funds using the entirety of the federal funds the county received, ranging from 6 to 7 points. 

Revises subsection (i) (effective July 1, 2021) regarding application priority based on point scoring. Adds that for projects where the application includes a proposed partnership, requires the agreement to contain a provision requiring certification of the existence of the partnership prior to disbursement of grant funds. Increases the grant cap from $2 million to $4 million, and no more than $8 million of a combination of grant awards involving any single county in a fiscal year. No longer limits counties to one grant per fiscal year for a project in any one economically distressed county. Now provides that if funds remain available after all top scoring projects have been awarded a grant, then the next highest scoring projects may be awarded a grant even if the project is located in a county where a grant has been awarded in that fiscal year provided the total award associated with that county does not exceed $6 million (was, $2 million) in that fiscal year. Now provides that no more than one-half of the funds appropriated to the fund established in subsection (b) of this section must be disbursed for eligible projects located in a development tier two or tier three county (was, tier two only). Provides that if the Office has not received enough grant applications for projects located in a development tier one county to disburse one-half of the funds appropriated to the fund established in subsection (b) of this section as of March 1 of each year, then the Office may allocate any unencumbered funds in the fund for eligible projects located in a development tier two or tier three county (was, tier two only). Deems any project that is applied for and not funded in an award round under the statute is not be eligible for funding under the Completing Access to Broadband program pursuant to GS 143B-1373.2.

Reduces the matching requirements for grant recipients based on application scoring set forth in subsection (j), now ranging from 30% to 50%. Provides for further reduction for grantees receiving a portion of the matching funds from a county where the county portion is partially or entirely comprised of federal American Rescue Plan funding, ranging from 15% to 25%.

More specifically requires DIT to use up to 1% of State funds appropriated each fiscal year to administer the GREAT program.

Part IV.

Appropriates $400 million for 2021-22 from the funds received by the State under the American Rescue Plan Act to the CAB Fund to be used pursuant to new GS 143B-1373.2.

Appropriates $12 million for 2021-22 from the funds received by the State under the American Rescue Plan Act to the GREAT Fund to be used pursuant to new GS 143B-1373.1.

Appropriates $340 million for 2021-22 from the funds received by the State under the American Rescue Plan Act to the GREAT Fund to be used pursuant to GS 143B-1373.

Allows DIT to use up to 1% of the funds appropriated for administration of broadband grant programs receiving American Rescue Plan Act funds in the act, subject to federal guidelines.

Part V.

Directs the Office to use the development tier status in the annual ranking by the Department of Commerce for the 2020 calendar year for grant applications submitted through the 2024-25 fiscal year under GS 143B-1373, GS 143B-1373.1, and GS 143B-1373.2, to offset disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Effective July 1, 2021. 

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