H947: The G.R.E.A.T. Broadband Expansion Act. Latest Version


House
Passed 1st Reading
Committee
Rules
Passed 3rd Reading
Senate
Passed 1st Reading
Rules



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.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

 

part i. Completing access to broadband program

SECTION 1.1.  Article 15 of Chapter 143B of the General Statutes is amended by adding a new section to read:

§ 143B‑1373.1.  Completing Access to Broadband program.

(a)        As used in this section, the following definitions apply:

(1)        Broadband service. – Terrestrially deployed internet access service with transmission speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and at least three megabits per second upload (25:3).

(2)        Department. – The Department of Information Technology.

(3)        Eligible area. – An area that is unserved or underserved in a county. A county that has utilized federal funding for broadband infrastructure projects on or after May 1, 2021, is not eligible.

(4)        Office. – The Broadband Infrastructure Office within the Department of Information Technology.

(5)        Project area. – An eligible area that is jointly determined by a requesting county and the Broadband Infrastructure Office within the Department of Information Technology as requiring project funding under this section to further complete the deployment of broadband service in the county.

(6)        Unserved or underserved. – A location within a county that has no deployment of broadband service or that has internet access service that does not meet the definition of broadband service. Areas where a private provider has been designated to receive funds through other State‑ or federally funded programs designed specifically for broadband deployment shall be considered served if such funding is intended to result in construction of broadband in the area within 18 months or for the duration of the federal funding program for that area, or if the funding recipient is otherwise in good standing with the funding agency's regulations governing the funding program.

(b)        The Completing Access to Broadband Fund (CAB Fund) is established as a special revenue fund in the Department of Information Technology. The Secretary may award grants from the CAB Fund projects meeting the criteria established under this section. State funds appropriated to this Fund shall be considered an information technology project within the meaning of G.S. 143C‑1‑2. The Office shall establish procedures in accordance with this section that allow every county in the State to participate in the Completing Access to Broadband program. Monies awarded from the CAB Fund shall be used for infrastructure and infrastructure costs, as those terms are defined in G.S. 143B‑1373(a). The State shall not be obligated for funds committed for project costs from the CAB Fund in excess of those sums appropriated by the General Assembly to the CAB Fund.

(c)        In collaboration with the Broadband Infrastructure Office, a county may request funding under this section 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 G.S. 143B‑1373. All identified projects shall be subject to the bid process requirements in this subsection. In selecting project areas to receive funding, the Office shall give priority to eligible areas that a county has requested funding for based upon utilizing the Office's Community Broadband Planning Playbook and those counties that meet the criteria established in subsection (e) of this section. The Department shall utilize its authority under Part 4 of this Article to develop competitive bid processes for the procurement of the construction, installation, and operation of broadband infrastructure. Notwithstanding Article 8 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes, or any other provision of law to the contrary, the Department may delegate to a county the authority to select a provider for the project area in accordance with Part 4 of this Article. The Department shall reserve the authority to approve the selection of a county pursuant to this subsection. Unless the county has bid processes acceptable to the Office, the Office shall utilize customizable forms and procedures developed by the Department for the purposes of this subsection. Selections made pursuant to this subsection are not subject to the Department's administrative review authority under Article 3A of Chapter 150B of the General Statutes or the Department's administrative rules regarding information technology bid protests and contested case procedures. Selection of project areas shall be subject to the protections provided in G.S. 143B‑1373(c). In conjunction with the bid process, a proposed project area shall be posted on the Department's website for a period of at least 10 days. Upon submission of credible evidence, a broadband service provider may request a project scope adjustment to the Office in accordance with G.S. 143B‑1373(e). Upon a finding that the evidence submitted by the broadband service provider is credible, the Office shall work with the county to amend the scope of the project. The Office shall develop and administer any agreement entered into pursuant to this section. Nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to grant authority for a county to own, operate, or otherwise control broadband infrastructure contracted for under this section.

(d)       A broadband service provider selected for a project under this section may provide up to thirty percent (30%) of the total estimated project cost. The Office may commit up to thirty‑five percent (35%) of the total estimated project cost from monies in the CAB Fund. The county requesting the project shall be responsible for at least thirty‑five percent (35%) of the total estimated project cost and shall utilize federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds or nonrestricted general funds for that purpose. In the event CAB Fund monies are insufficient to fund a project, a county may increase its share of the total estimated project cost, or the Office may adjust the scope of the project to meet the level of available funding. No county may receive more than four million dollars ($4,000,000) in aggregate funding from the CAB Fund in any single fiscal year.

(e)        Notwithstanding the project cost responsibility allocations in subsection (d) of this section, for a county receiving from the federal government less than an aggregate of eight million dollars ($8,000,000) in federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds, a broadband service provider selected for a project shall provide not less than fifteen percent (15%) of the total estimated project cost. If a broadband service provider provides more than fifteen percent (15%) of the total estimated project cost, the State and county cost responsibilities shall be equally apportioned. The following cost responsibility allocations for counties meeting the requirements of this subsection and the State apply:

Direct Federal Funds Received               County Responsibility              State Responsibility

$250,000, up to $4,000,000                              5%, minimum                              Up to 80%

$4,000,000, up to $8,000,000                           10%, minimum                            Up to 75%

(f)        A broadband service provider selected for a project under this section shall enter into an agreement with the Office that shall include the project description, time lines, benchmarks, proposed broadband speeds, and any other information and documentation the Office deems necessary. All proposed broadband speeds must meet or exceed the federal guidelines for use of American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds. Upon execution of an agreement, the county shall provide its portion of the total estimated project costs to the Office to be combined with CAB Funds awarded for the project and placed in a separate project account. The Office shall provide project oversight and, upon completion of established benchmarks in the project agreement, the Office shall disburse funds from the project account to the broadband service provider. The forfeiture provisions in G.S. 143B‑1373(l) shall apply to agreements entered into under this section.

 

part ii. G.R.e.a.t. American rescue plan act fund administration

SECTION 2.1.  From the funds appropriated in Part IV of this act, and in accordance with applicable federal guidelines, the Department of Information Technology shall administer broadband infrastructure grants through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology grant program. Grant applications shall be submitted and grant funds shall be awarded pursuant to G.S. 143B‑1373, with the exception of the following:

(1)        The definition of eligible economically distressed county in G.S. 143B‑1373(a) shall mean a county designated as a development tier one or tier two area, as defined in G.S. 143B‑437.08, or a rural census tract, as defined in G.S. 143B‑472.127(a)(2), located in any other county. For the purposes of this subdivision, the tier designation that is in effect as of the beginning of a fiscal year shall be applied for all grants awarded for that fiscal year. With the exception of funds expended under this section or under G.S. 143B‑1373.1, a county that has utilized federal funding for broadband infrastructure on or after May 1, 2021, shall be ineligible.

(2)        The definition of eligible project in G.S. 143B‑1373(a) shall be a discrete and specific project located in an unserved economically distressed area seeking to provide broadband service to homes, businesses, and community anchor points not currently served. Eligible projects do not include middle mile, backhaul, and other similar projects not directed at broadband service‑to‑end users. If a contiguous project area crosses from one eligible county into one or more eligible adjacent counties, for the purposes of this section, the project shall be deemed to be located in the county where the greatest number of unserved households are proposed to be served.

(3)        The financial contribution restrictions for partnerships in G.S. 143B‑1373(a)(11a) are removed.

(4)        The definition of unserved area in G.S. 143B‑1373(a) shall be a designated geographic area that is presently without access to broadband service, as defined in G.S. 143B‑1373(a), or where internet access service does not meet the definition of broadband service. Areas where a private provider has been designated to receive funds through other State‑ or federally funded programs designed specifically for broadband deployment shall be considered served if such funding is intended to result in construction of broadband in the area within 18 months or for the duration of the federal funding program for that area or if the funding recipient is otherwise in good standing with the funding agency's regulations governing the funding program.

(5)        The provisions of G.S. 143B‑1373(c) are replaced with the following:

A private provider receiving State or federal funds to deploy broadband service in unserved areas may qualify such area for protection by submitting a listing of the census blocks, or portions thereof, comprising the State‑ or federally funded project areas in a manner prescribed by the Office. The Office shall only utilize this data to update maps of census blocks to reflect these census blocks, or portions thereof, as being served. Failure on the part of a provider to submit the listing of census blocks by the cutoff date shall result in those areas being eligible for inclusion under the G.R.E.A.T. grant program during subsequent program years. The Office shall use the census block data provided only for mapping of unserved areas. A project area shall remain protected for a period of 18 months from the submission of the listing information required under this subdivision; provided, however, a private provider that has received protection for a project area shall submit written documentation by April 30 of the year following the program year that broadband deployment has begun, been completed, or is otherwise in good standing, in the census blocks, or portions thereof, that have been deemed ineligible by the Office under this subsection. Upon submission of documentation satisfactory to the Office, a protected project area shall remain protected until project completion. A project area where a private provider has forfeited or otherwise defaulted on an agreement in connection with receipt of funds to deploy broadband service shall be eligible for inclusion in this program in subsequent program years. Information provided to the Office pursuant to this subdivision is not a public record, as that term is defined in G.S. 132‑1.

(6)        The provisions of G.S. 143B‑1373(d1) are replaced with the following:

An application submitted pursuant to this section shall include a project area map that provides location‑specific data in a format required by the Office. A provider submitting an application pursuant to this section shall bear the burden of proof that the proposed area to be served can, in fact, be served using the proposed technology. The burden of proof may be satisfied by the submission of data, maps, and any other information satisfactory to the Office, demonstrating that the area and number of prospective broadband recipients proposed to be served can be provided the minimum upload and download speeds indicated in the application.

(7)        The provisions in G.S. 143B‑1373(e) are replaced with the following:

Applications shall be made publicly available by posting on the website of the Department of Information Technology for a period of at least 20 days prior to award. During the 20‑day period, any interested party may submit comments to the Secretary concerning any pending application. A broadband service provider currently providing broadband service in a project area proposed in an application may submit a protest of any application on the grounds the proposed project covers an area that is a protected area under subsection (c) of this section or that the proposed project area contains ten percent (10%) or more of total households with access to broadband service as defined in this section. Protests shall be submitted in writing, accompanied by all credible and relevant supporting documentation, including specific addresses, and detailed mapping demonstrating that the protesting broadband provider has installed infrastructure sufficient to provide broadband service to the specific addresses provided in the protest, along with an attestation that broadband service is available to the exterior of the structure at the specific addresses indicated. The protest shall be considered by the Office in connection with the review of the application. Upon submission of evidence satisfactory to the Office that the proposed project area includes a protected area or prospective broadband recipients that are presently served, as measured using a methodology satisfactory to the Office, the Office may work with an applicant to amend an application to reduce the number of unserved prospective broadband recipients in the project area to reflect an accurate level of current broadband service. The Office may revise application scores in accordance with amended applications; however, the Office may reject any amended application resulting in a lower application score to the extent that the lower score would have impacted the ranking of the application in the initial scoring process. For applications with filed protests, the Secretary shall issue a written decision to the protesting party at least 15 days prior to the approval of that application. Following a protest that is granted for a portion of the application, the Office may release to an applicant the locations or areas declared ineligible. The information released to the applicant is not a public record, as that term is defined under G.S. 132‑1, and shall remain confidential. Any provider submitting a protest shall verify that the information in the protest is accurate and that the protest is submitted in good faith. The Office may deny any protest or application that contains inaccurate information.

As a means of resolving a protest, the Office may utilize speed tests to determine if the protested area or individual households or businesses currently have access to broadband service as defined in this section. The Department shall publish the speed test methodology it uses to assess speed levels pursuant to this section. All decisions regarding the speed test to be utilized and the manner by which the speed tests are applied shall be made by the Secretary or the Secretary's designee.

(8)        The partnership scoring provision in G.S. 143B‑1373(g)(1) is replaced with the following:

Projects proposing a partnership shall be given points in their application score. A proposed partnership shall (i) be in writing, (ii) provide the specific terms and conditions of the partnership, and (iii) be signed and attested to by the parties. A county or nonprofit may enter into proposed agreements with more than one applicant. For the purposes of scoring under this subdivision, one point shall be given 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 under this section. A county or nonprofit entity that proposes to provide a financial match shall be given one point. Notwithstanding Article 8 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes, or any provision of law to the contrary, a county may use unrestricted general funds or federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑1) funds allocated to it for the purpose of improving broadband infrastructure for a financial match. An applicant shall receive two additional points for a proposed partnership where the county's financial match is comprised entirely from federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds intended for broadband infrastructure. Nothing in this subdivision shall be deemed to authorize a county to provide broadband service. For projects where the application includes a proposed partnership, the agreement shall contain a provision requiring a certification of the existence of the partnership prior to disbursement of grant funds.

(9)        The scoring model measures contained in G.S. 143B‑1373(g)(5) are replaced with the following:

a.         For projects proposed in the Piedmont or Coastal Plain Regions:

Est. Cost per

Household/Business                                                             Points

Up to $3,500                                                                              9

$3,500, up to $5,000                                                                  8

$5,000, up to $6,000                                                                  7

$6,000 and over                                                                         0

b.         For projects located in the Mountain Region:

Est. Cost per

Household/Business                                                             Points

Up to $4,500                                                                              9

$4,500, up to $6,000                                                                  8

$6,000, up to $7,000                                                                  7

$7,000 and over                                                                         0

(10)      The base speed multiplier provided in G.S. 143B‑1373(g)(6) shall be administered as follows:

Minimum Download:

Minimum Upload                                           Score Multiplier

100:20 Mbps. or greater.                                             1.00

100 Mbps., symmetrical                                              2.00

Greater than 100:100 Mbps.                                       3.00

An applicant proposing minimum download and minimum upload speeds of less than 100 Mbps., symmetrical, shall provide an attestation to the Office that, upon project completion, the completed infrastructure will be scalable to a minimum of 100 Mbps. download and 100 Mbps. upload on or before December 31, 2026, subject to the return of all federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds received under this section and all of the grant forfeiture provisions in G.S. 143B‑1373(l).

(11)      Additional points shall be awarded to counties providing a portion of a project's matching funds entirely from federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds the county received directly from the federal government. For counties that received an aggregate of eight million dollars ($8,000,000) or more directly from the federal government, the following points shall be added to the application score:

County Match                                                                             Points

$1,000,000, up to $2,000,000                                                          1

$2,000,000, up to $4,000,000                                                          2

$4,000,000, up to $6,000,000                                                          3

$6,000,000, up to $8,000,000                                                          4

$8,000,000, or greater                                                                      5

For counties that (i) received less than an aggregate of eight million dollars ($8,000,000) directly from the federal government from the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) and (ii) are providing a portion of a project's matching funds using the entirety of the federal funds the county received, together with any other unrestricted general fund monies, if needed, the following points shall be added to the application score:

County Match                                                                             Points

$250,000, up to $6,000,000                                                             6

$6,000,000, up to $8,000,000                                                          7

(12)      The grant limitation amounts in G.S. 143B‑1373(i) are changed as follows:

A single grant award shall not exceed four million dollars ($4,000,000). No combination of grant awards involving any single county may exceed eight million dollars ($8,000,000) in a fiscal year. Any project that is applied for and not funded in an award round under this section shall be eligible for funding under the Completing Access to Broadband program pursuant to G.S. 143B‑1373.1.

(13)      The provisions of G.S. 143B‑1373(j) are replaced with the following:

Grant recipients are required to provide matching funds based upon the application scoring pursuant to this section in the following minimum amounts:

Score                                                                                 Matching Requirement

12.0 points or less                                                                           50%

Greater than 12.0 points, but less than 17.5 points                        45%

17.5 points, up to 22.0 points                                                         40%

Greater than 22.0 points                                                                 30%

Up to fifty percent (50%) of matching funds paid by the grant recipient may be comprised of third‑party funding including funds from other grant programs or federal funds, to the extent applicable rules permit. A grant recipient receiving a portion of matching funds from a county, where the county portion of matching funds is partially comprised of federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funding, may have the grant recipient's portion of the matching requirement imposed under this subdivision reduced to a maximum of twenty‑five percent (25%). A grant recipient receiving a portion of matching funds from a county, where the county portion of matching funds is entirely comprised of federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funding, may have the grant recipient's portion of the matching requirement imposed under this subdivision reduced to a maximum of fifteen percent (15%).

SECTION 2.2.  The Department of Information Technology shall utilize a portion of the administrative funds authorized in Section 4.2 of this act for legal and appraisal services needed to assist the Department of Administration in administering the provisions of G.S. 146‑29.2(b1). The Department of Administration shall utilize all available resources to prioritize the review and disposition of requests for collocation, installation, and operation of equipment for broadband providers receiving grants under this Part.

 

part IIi. Various changes to the g.r.e.a.t. program

SECTION 3.1.  G.S. 143B‑1373 reads as rewritten:

§ 143B‑1373.  Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program.

(a)        As used in this section, the following definitions apply:



(5)        Eligible economically distressed county. area. – A county designated as a development tier one or tier two area, as defined in G.S. 143B‑473.08.G.S. 143B‑437.08, or a rural census tract, as defined in G.S. 143B‑472.127(a)(2), located in any other county.

(6)        Eligible project. – An eligible project is a discrete and specific project located in an unserved economically distressed area of an economically distressed county seeking to provide broadband service to homes, businesses, and community anchor points not currently served. Eligible projects do not include middle mile, backhaul, and other similar projects not directed at broadband service to end users. If a contiguous project area crosses from one eligible county into one or more eligible adjacent counties, for the purposes of this section, the project shall be deemed to be located in the county where the greatest number of unserved households are proposed to be served. To qualify for an award under this section, no more than an incidental number of households or businesses, not to exceed ten percent (10%) of the total households or businesses within the boundaries of the project area submitted by the applicant, may have terrestrially deployed Internet access service with transmission speeds greater than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.



(14)      Unserved area. – A designated geographic area that is presently without access to broadband service, as defined in this section, offered by a wireline or fixed wireless provider. Areas where a private provider has been designated to receive funds through other State State‑ or federally funded programs designed specifically for broadband deployment shall be considered served if such funding is intended to result in construction of broadband in the area within 18 months.months or for the duration of the federal funding program for that area, or if the funding recipient is otherwise in good standing with the funding agency's regulations governing the funding program.



(c)        Project areas comprised of census blocks, or portions thereof, within which a broadband provider is receiving matching funds to deploy broadband service within the next 18 months are ineligible for the GREAT program. It is essential for the Office to know the location of census blocks, or portions thereof, comprising these areas so it can determine project eligibility. A private provider receiving Universal Service or Connect America Phase II, or nonfederal State or federal funds to deploy broadband service in unserved areas may qualify such area for protection by submitting within 60 days of the application period a listing of the census blocks, or portions thereof, comprising the State‑ or federally funded project areas meeting this requirement and nothing more to in a manner prescribed by the Office. In future program years, the cutoff date for submitting this census block data shall be established by the Office, but shall be not less than 60 days prior to the beginning date of the application period. This will enable the office to update maps and advise applicants as to the unserved areas of the State that are eligible for consideration in that program year. The Office shall only utilize this data to update maps of census blocks to reflect these census blocks, or portions thereof, as being served. Failure on the part of a provider to submit the listing of census blocks by the cutoff date shall result in those areas being eligible for inclusion under this program during the upcoming subsequent program year. years. The Office shall use the census block data provided only for mapping of unserved areas. Upon expiration of the 18‑month reservation period described in this subsection, A project area shall remain protected for a period of 18 months from the submission of the listing information required under this subsection; provided, however, a private provider that has received a reservation of census blocks protection for a project area shall submit written documentation by April 30 of the year following the program year that broadband deployment has begun or been completed completed, or is otherwise in good standing, in the census blocks, or portions thereof, that have been deemed ineligible by the Office due to the existence of a federally funded project area. under this subsection. Upon submission of documentation satisfactory to the Office, a protected project area shall remain protected until project completion. A project area where a private provider has forfeited or otherwise defaulted on an agreement in connection with receipt of funds to deploy broadband service shall be eligible for inclusion in this program in subsequent program years. Information provided to the Office pursuant to this subsection is not a public record, as that term is defined in G.S. 132‑1.



(d1)     An application submitted pursuant to this section shall include a project area map that provides location‑specific data in a format required by the Office. A provider submitting an application pursuant to this section shall bear the burden of proof that the proposed area to be served can, in fact, be served using the proposed technology. The burden of proof may be satisfied by the submission of data, maps, and any other information satisfactory to the Office, demonstrating that the area and number of prospective broadband recipients proposed to be served can be provided the minimum upload and download speeds indicated in the application.

(e)        Applications shall be made publicly available by posting on the Web site of the Department of Information Technology for a period of at least 30 20 days prior to award. During the 30‑day 20‑day period, any interested party may submit comments to the Secretary concerning any pending application. A broadband service provider of broadband services currently providing broadband service in a project area proposed in an application may submit a protest of any application on the grounds the proposed project covers an area that is not an eligible a protected area under subsection (c) of this section. section, or that the proposed project area contains ten percent (10%) or more of total households with access to broadband service as defined in this section. Protests shall be submitted in writing, accompanied by all credible and relevant supporting documentation, and including specific addresses, and detailed mapping demonstrating that the protesting broadband provider has installed infrastructure sufficient to provide broadband service to the specific addresses provided in the protest, along with an attestation that broadband service is available in the public right‑of‑way at the specific addresses indicated. The protest shall be considered by the Office in connection with the review of the application. Upon submission of evidence satisfactory to the Office that the proposed project area includes a protected area or prospective broadband recipients that are presently served, as measured using a methodology satisfactory to the Office, the Office may work with an applicant to amend an application to reduce the number of unserved prospective broadband recipients in the project area to reflect an accurate level of current broadband service. The Office may revise application scores in accordance with amended applications; however, the Office may reject any amended application resulting in a lower application score to the extent that the lower score would have impacted the ranking of the application in the initial scoring process. For applications with filed protests, the Secretary shall issue a written decision to the protesting party at least 15 days prior to the approval of that application. Following a protest that is granted for a portion of the application, the Office may release to an applicant the locations or areas declared ineligible. The information released to the applicant is not a public record, as that term is defined under G.S. 132‑1, and shall remain confidential. Any provider submitting a protest shall verify that the information in the protest is accurate and that the protest is submitted in good faith. The Office may deny any protest or application that contains inaccurate information.

As a means of resolving a protest, the Office may utilize speed tests to determine if the protested area or individual households or businesses currently have access to broadband service as defined in this section. The Department shall publish the speed test methodology it uses to assess speed levels pursuant to this section. All decisions regarding the speed test to be utilized and the manner by which the speed tests are applied shall be made by the Secretary or the Secretary's designee.



(g)        Applications shall be scored based upon a system that awards a single point for criteria considered to be the minimum level for the provision of broadband service with additional points awarded to criteria that exceed minimum levels. The Office shall score project applications in accordance with the following:

(1)        Partnership. – Projects involving proposing a partnership shall be given points in their application score. A proposed partnership shall (i) be in writing, (ii) provide the specific terms and conditions of the partnership, and (iii) be signed and attested to by the parties. A county or nonprofit may enter into proposed agreements with more than one applicant. For the purposes of scoring under this subdivision, a county that provides a portion of the match required by this section or that has entered into an agreement with the applicant to one point shall be given for a proposed partnership that will make available its existing infrastructure that has been installed for the county's partner's enterprise, nonconsumer broadband purposes, or any other property, buildings, or structures owned by the county, partner, for a proposed project under this section shall be considered a partnership. section. A county may provide a portion of the or nonprofit entity that proposes to provide a financial match required by this section pursuant to G.S. 153A‑349.60. Projects involving partnerships shall be given six points in their application score.shall be given one point. Notwithstanding Article 8 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes, or any provision of law to the contrary, a county may use unrestricted general funds or federal funding allocated to it for the purpose of improving broadband infrastructure for a financial match. Funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) may not be used for the purposes of this subdivision. Nothing in this subdivision shall be deemed to authorize a county to provide broadband service.



(5)        Cost per household or business. – The Office shall give additional points to projects that minimize the infrastructure cost of the proposed project per household or business, based upon information available to the Office. Points shall be given to projects based upon the estimated cost per household or business as follows:

a.         For projects proposed in the Piedmont or Coastal Plain Regions:

Est. Cost per                Partnership Using                    Private Provider

Household/Business       Infrastructure                                  OnlyPoints

Up to $1,700$3,500             4                                                       9

$1,701‑2,200$3,500, up to $5,000 3                                             8

$2,201‑2,700$5,000, up to $6,000 2                                             7

$2,701‑3,200$6,000 and over 1                                                    60

b.         For projects located in the Mountain Region:

Est. Cost per                Partnership Using                    Private Provider

Household/Business       Infrastructure                                  OnlyPoints

Up to $2,500$4,500             4                                                       9

$2,501‑3,300$4,500, up to $6,000 3                                             8

$3,301‑3,800$6,000, up to $7,000 2                                             7

$3,801‑4,300$7,000 and over 1                                                    60

(6)        Base speed multiplier. – Projects that will provide minimum download and minimum upload speeds shall have the aggregate points given under subdivisions (1) through (5) of this subsection multiplied by a factor at the level indicated in the table below:

Minimum Download:

Minimum Upload                                           Score Multiplier

25:3 Mbps. Up Up to 100:10 Mbps.                           1.35

100:10 Mbps. up to 200:20 Mbps.                              1.75

200:20 Mbps. or greater.                                             2.00

100 Mbps., symmetrical.                                             3.00

Greater than 100:100 Mbps.                                       4.00



(i)         (Effective July 1, 2021) Applications receiving the highest score shall receive priority status for the awarding of grants pursuant this section. As a means of breaking a tie for applications receiving the same score, the Office shall give priority to the application proposing to serve the highest number of new households at the lowest cost per household or business. Applicants awarded grants pursuant to this section shall enter into an agreement with the Office. The agreement shall contain all of the elements outlined in subsection (d) of this section and any other provisions the Office may require. The agreement shall contain a provision governing the time line and minimum requirements and thresholds for disbursement of grant funds measured by the progress of the project. For projects where the application includes a proposed partnership, the agreement shall contain a provision requiring a certification of the existence of the partnership prior to disbursement of grant funds. Grant funds shall be disbursed only upon verification by the Office that the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled according to the progress milestones contained in the agreement. At project completion, the grant recipient shall certify and provide to the Office evidence consistent with Federal Communications Commission attestation that either speeds greater than those identified in the application guidelines or the proposed upstream and downstream broadband speeds identified in the application guidelines, and for which a base speed multiplier was awarded pursuant to subdivision (6) of subsection (g) of this section, are available throughout the project area prior to any end user connections. A single grant award shall not exceed two four million dollars ($2,000,000). No more than one grant may be awarded per fiscal year for a project in any one eligible economically distressed county; except that if ($4,000,000). No combination of grant awards under this section involving any single county may exceed eight million dollars ($8,000,000) in a fiscal year. 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 two eight million dollars ($2,000,000) ($8,000,000) in that fiscal year.

No more than one‑half of the funds appropriated to the fund established in subsection (b) of this section shall be disbursed for eligible projects located in a development tier two or tier three county. 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.

Any project that is applied for and not funded in an award round under this section shall be eligible for funding under the Completing Access to Broadband program pursuant to G.S. 143B‑1373.1.

(j)         Grant recipients are required to provide matching funds based upon the application scoring pursuant to this section in the following minimum amounts:

Score                                                                                 Matching Requirement

12.0 points or less                                                                           55%50%

Greater than 12.0 points, but less than 17.5 points                        50%45%

17.5 points, up to 22.0 points                                                         45%40%

Greater than 22.0 points                                                                 35%30%

Up to fifty percent (50%) of matching funds paid by the grant recipient may be comprised of third‑party funding including funds from other grant programs. Funds from the Universal Service Fund shall not be used for any portion of the required matching funds. Any other current or future federal funds may be used, including any future phase of the Connect America Fund, for the required matching funds within the parameters of this program.



(p)        The Department may use up to one percent (1.0%) of the State funds appropriated funds each fiscal year to administer the GREAT program.program established under this section.

 

part iv. appropriations

SECTION 4.1.  There is appropriated from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund, established in Section 2.2 of Senate Bill 172, 2021 Regular Session, to the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology Fund the sum of three hundred fifty million dollars ($350,000,000) in nonrecurring funds for the 2021‑2022 fiscal year for broadband infrastructure grants awarded pursuant to G.S. 143B‑1373, as modified under Part II of this act.

SECTION 4.2.  Subject to applicable federal guidelines, of the funds appropriated in this act, the Department of Information Technology may use up to one and one‑tenth percent (1.1%) for administration of broadband grant programs receiving American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117‑2) funds in this act.

SECTION 4.3.  It is the intent of the General Assembly, in subsequent legislation, to appropriate funds received by the State of North Carolina pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117‑2) in the amount of four hundred million dollars ($400,000,000) for the Completing Access to Broadband program established in Part I of this act.

 

part v. Development Tier freeze and effective date

SECTION 5.1.  For grant applications submitted through the 2024‑2025 fiscal year pursuant to G.S. 143B‑1373 and G.S. 143B‑1373.1, the Office of Broadband Infrastructure shall utilize the development tier status in the annual ranking performed by the Department of Commerce pursuant to G.S. 143B‑437.08 for the 2020 calendar year to offset any disparate economic impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic that may be reflected in current and subsequent development tier rankings.

SECTION 5.2.  This act becomes effective July 1, 2021.