Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas.
When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.
Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule.
After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks.
Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May.
As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.
Summary and TL;DR
The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys...Read more