American Rescue Plan Act Spotlight Series – Part 3

On May 10, 2021, the Department of Treasury released guidelines and detailed information regarding the American Rescue Plan Act’s $350 billion in Local and State Aid. To assist communities who are considering the use of this funding for broadband, Lit Communities’ Grant Services team developed a three-part Spotlight Series to provide additional perspectives on the guidelines. Our final installment explores the varying approaches for communities to consider when utilizing ARPA funding to meet their long-term broadband infrastructure needs.

American Rescue Plan Act

Spotlight Series – Part 3: Utilizing American Rescue Plan Act Funding

Establish a Long-Term Strategy
One of the greatest aspects of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)’s Local and State Aid compared to last year’s CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funding is the amount of time communities have to implement their respective projects. Rather than rushing through critical strategic planning and collaboration phases to meet aggressive deadlines, communities now have the flexibility to utilize the next five years to their advantage. According to the Interim Final Guidelines provided by the Department of Treasury (Department) all Local and State Aid funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024 and projects must be completed by December 31, 2026. With the potential for ARPA funding to create lasting economic impact and resilience, the Department is encouraging local governments to engage with constituents and communities in developing plans for fund utilization. With the ability to implement solutions through the end of 2026, communities can properly conduct necessary planning and feasibility studies to identify needs, establish partnerships and inform specific solutions that can be deployed in varying multi-year approaches as explained throughout this post. 

Combined Opportunities for Efficiency
In terms of fund utilization for infrastructure, both the Act and Interim Final Guidelines specifically allow for water, sewer, and broadband projects. However, when viewed and approached collectively there is a unique opportunity for communities to combine these eligible activities into a single approach for efficiency. As professionals in the broadband and telecommunications industry have encouraged “Dig Once” policies and legislation for years, the ability for communities to jointly approach infrastructure development can yield some tremendous benefits in terms of reducing overall duration, cost, and impacts on the environment. Lastly, combining these activities also presents opportunities to address and integrate cybersecurity needs and catalyze the adoption of related Smart City technologies. 

Projects to Consider for Implementation
When thinking about solutions to address the lack of reliable wireline connections for underserved and unserved residents and businesses, it is important to consider the types of broadband infrastructure projects for assessment, evaluation, and implementation. In order to meet the Department’s requirement to deliver minimum speeds of 100 Mbps download and upload and suggestion to prioritize investments in fiber optic infrastructure where feasible, Lit Communities recommends the following types of projects:

  • Middle Mile backbone infrastructure
  • Last Mile fiber to the premise (FTTP)
  • Wireless (in scalable locations only)

Regarding Smart City activities, through existing eligibility under the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, communities can also integrate cybersecurity, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), water quality monitoring, and flow sensing technologies. 

Project Phasing and Approaches
There are many scenarios that can be explored and considered if your community is investing ARPA funding in one or more types of eligible projects. If your community has already completed pre-construction activities such as planning, feasibility and design, then ARPA funding can take your shovel ready project directly into construction. For communities who haven’t undergone the planning and preliminary phases, it is possible to break your project into phases as shown on the table below: 

Scenarios for American Rescue Plan Act fund utilization

Following any of the scenarios above will result in successful implementation within the Department’s timeframe so it is important to find the right approach that meets your community’s unique needs. By utilizing the five years allowed, communities can cultivate partnerships, align strategies and establish a roadmap of actionable project activities that can be deployed based on priority and need. While it is possible to proceed directly into a project with the first allocation of ARPA funding, having a strategy and plan can ultimately save your community from unforeseen delays, create efficiencies such as Dig Once and provide opportunities to implement Smart City technology. 

Next Steps & Closing
Thank you for joining us over the past several weeks as we highlighted the American Rescue Plan Act’s broadband aspects. Apart from evaluating the utilization of ARPA funding to address your community’s needs, there are several actions you can take today to commence your efforts:

  • Identify a project sponsor(s) and stakeholders for your project
  • Establish partnerships within your community to collaborate and leverage resources
  • Research what broadband coverage data looks like in your community
  • Start collecting verifiable speed test data
  • Evaluate external resources and partners to fill gaps in capacity

If your community is considering the investment of ARPA funding for broadband, Lit’s Community Assessment process can help identify needs, infrastructure gaps and provide an actionable path forward to address connectivity in your community. Through our team’s direct experience working with communities utilizing CARES Act funding, we are confident in our ability to successfully implement your vision and close critical connectivity gaps. 
To speak with our team and learn more, please contact us for additional information.