Frequently Asked Questions

Funding Sources

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021, provides $550 billion in federal spending with a focus toward infrastructure.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Digital Equity Act (DE) program were funded through IIJA; both of these programs will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

IIJA also expanded eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which helps low-income families afford internet access. 286,000 Montanans (27%  of the State) will be eligible for the program. For more information, please refer to the FCC Website.

The Digital Equity Act (DE) provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and digital inclusion. Digital equity is defined in the Digital Equity Act of 2021   as “the condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that is needed for full participation in the society and economy of the United States.” Digital inclusion is defined the Digital Equity Act of 2021 as “the activities that are necessary to ensure that all individuals in the United States have access to, and the use of, affordable information and communication technologies, such a—(i) reliable fixed and wireless broadband internet service; (ii) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; and (iii) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration; and (B) includes—(i) obtaining access to digital literacy training; (ii) the provision of quality technical support; and (iii) obtaining basic awareness of measures to ensure online privacy and cybersecurity.”  

An overview of the three grant programs is included below.

Program 1: The State Digital Equity Planning Grant program provided $60 million to states, territories and tribal governments to develop digital equity plans. Under the formula grant, the State of Montana received $601,337 to support planning activities to develop the state’s digital equity plan for submission to NTIA. The Montana Department of Administration (the Department) prepared the Montana Digital Opportunity Plan, solicited comments from the public, and discussed those comments with the Communication Advisory Commission (CAC) before submitting the plan to the NTIA for review and approval. Refer to the CAC Meeting Recordings for additional information.

Program 2: The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program is a $1.44 billion formula grant program for states, territories and tribal governments. It will fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of digital equity plans. The NTIA is expected to announce the grant awards in early 2024.

Program 3: Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program is a $1.25 billion competitive grant program that will fund annual grants for five years.

Refer to the NTIA’s website for additional information.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs. Montana will receive $629 million under the BEAD program to improve broadband coverage across the state.

To receive the $629 million in BEAD funding, the State must comply with the NTIA requirements. The Department has completed the first requirement of preparing and submitting the State’s BEAD Five Year Action Plan. The second requirement is to submit an Initial Proposal to the NTIA by December 27, 2023. The Initial Proposal is separated in two volumes. The Initial Proposal Volume 1, which includes adopting the NTIA’s BEAD Model Challenge Process, was made available for public comment from August 3, 2023 to September 2, 2023. The Department is currently working on the Initial Proposal Volume 2 which will outline the subgrantee selection process. Updates to the Initial Proposal Volume 2 will be discussed at upcoming CAC meetings. Refer to the ConnectMT Events website for additional information. Once the NTIA approves the Initial Proposal, the Department will conduct the subgrantee selection process. Within one year of NTIA’s approval of the Initial Proposal, the Department is required  to submit a Final Proposal that outlines the projects selected for funding.

Applying for Funding

The NTIA must approve the State’s Initial Proposal before the application process can be initiated. Updates to the application timeline will be discussed at CAC meetings. At this time, the Department anticipates initiating the BEAD Model Challenge Process in Q1 2024, so the Department is ready to start the subgrantee application process concurrent with NTIA approval.

Consistent with SB 531, an eligible applicant means an entity that has authorization to do business in the state and has demonstrated that it has the technical, financial, and managerial resources and experience to provide broadband service or other communications service to customers in the state. This includes incorporated businesses or partnerships, Montana nonprofit organizations, limited liability companies, corporations, or cooperative entities organized for the purpose of expanding broadband access. A government entity or tribe is only eligible to apply in partnership with an eligible broadband service provider. Additional information regarding eligible applicants will be outlined in the Initial Proposal Volume 2.

The Department will perform a subgrantee selection process consistent with SB 531 and the Initial Proposal. Companies that received ARPA funding may choose to apply for additional Projects through the BEAD application process.

The State must comply with the NTIA BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) requirements when selecting projects. Under NTIA guidelines, the State must award projects to provide coverage of all unserved locations followed by all underserved locations and eligible community anchor institutions. The Montana BEAD Five-Year Action plan outlined three scenarios for distributing the BEAD funding to meet the objectives of the NTIA BEAD NOFO. These scenarios will be further refined in CAC meetings and the Initial Proposal Volume 2.

The State will design subgrantee selection criteria consistent with NTIA guidance and SB 531. NTIA guidance requires the subgrantee selection process to prioritize projects providing end-to-end fiber-optic facilities to each end user premises (“Priority Broadband Project”). Priority Broadband Projects will be evaluated based on minimal BEAD program outlay, affordability, fair labor practices, speed to deployment and additional prioritization factors. Non-priority projects will be evaluated based on minimal BEAD program outlay, affordability, fair labor practices, speed to deployment, speed of network and other technical capabilities, and additional prioritization factors. Subgrantee selection factors and proposed weighting will be discussed at the October 11, 2023 CAC meeting. In addition, the subgrantee selection process will be outlined in the Initial Proposal Volume 2 and made available for public comment on the ConnectMT website.

Consistent with HB 531, the CAC will approve a process to assess the suitability of a waiver of the 25% match requirement for proposals within an extremely high cost per location threshold. The waiver process will be outlined in the Initial Proposal Volume 2.

Procurement/Purchasing Requirements

Yes, based on the current NTIA guidance in the BEAD Notice of Funds Opportunity. However, the NTIA is considering waiving certain competitive bidding requirements of Uniform Guidance. The public comment period related to Uniform Guidance ended on August 4, 2023 (RFC). In addition, the NTIA is currently accepting public comments on a limited, general applicability, nonavailability waiver of the Buy America Domestic Content Procurement Preference requirement. Public comments may be submitted prior to September 31, 2023 (RFC).

A summary of federal procurement requirements outlined in Uniform Guidance is below:

Any procurement of contractors must comply with federal procurement standards outlined in 2 CFR 200.318 – 2 CFR 200.327.

All procurements must take affirmative steps to solicit small, minority and women owned enterprises (2 CFR 200.321), comply with the domestic preferences for procurements (2 CFR 200.322) and Build America, Buy America Act and be supported by a cost or price analysis that demonstrates costs incurred are reasonable (2 CFR 200.404).

The methods of procurement vary based on the dollar value of the anticipated contract outlined in 2 CFR 200.320.

  • Micro-purchases ($10,000 threshold): Micro-purchases may be awarded without soliciting competitive price or rate quotations. Price reasonableness should be documented based on research, experience, purchase history, or other information.
  • Small purchases (> $10,000 and < $250,000): Small purchases may be awarded by soliciting price or rate quotations from an adequate number of qualified sources (generally at least three).
  • Formal Procurements (> $250,000): Purchases greater than $250,000 (current simplified acquisition threshold) must be completed through a formal procurement. A brief overview of a formal procurement:
    • Bids/proposals must be requested publicly.
    • The evaluation criteria and their relative importance must be included in the request.
    • Subrecipients must have a written method for conducting technical evaluations of the proposals received and making selections.
    • Contracts must be awarded to the responsible offeror whose proposal is most advantageous based on price and the other pre-established evaluation criteria.
    • A cost or price analysis will need to be documented (2 CFR 200.324)

Note, after completing the bidding process, subrecipients must ensure contracts include the required contract provisions (2 CFR 200.327) and the applicable bonding requirements (2 CFR 200.326).

The grant is a subaward of federal funds and must comply with federal procurement requirements. Project costs must meet the requirements in the grant agreement, NTIA guidance, and Uniform Guidance (2 CFR 200).

Expenses incurred prior to execution of the grant agreement are not eligible for reimbursement. Any procurement of contractors must comply with federal procurement standards outlined in the grant agreement and NTIA guidance.

Additional Resources

ConnectMT Website: Landing page where additional broadband opportunities and program guidance will be published.

Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Signup: All eligible participants are encouraged to participate in the ACP. Applicants are encouraged to incorporate the ACP in their community outreach and adoption strategies. Further, all BOOT Grantees will be required to participate in the ACP as a condition of accepting funding.

System for Award Management (SAM): All subrecipients are required to maintain an Active registration on SAM.GOV. Further, a subrecipient should search and retain documentation that all contractors/vendors are not debarred.

Uniform Administration Requirements (2 CFR Part 200): All federally funded grant programs will follow compliance requirements of the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.

Procurement Threshold Definitions (48 CFR Part 2 Subpart 2.1): Federal procurement thresholds may be updated periodically. Subrecipients should follow the thresholds in effect at the time of the grant agreement.

Build America Buy America Factsheet and FAQs and Buy America website: Subrecipients will be required to comply with Buy America. The OMB published an initial FAQ and continues to update its website with additional guidance.

Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program: The NTIA website that outlines BEAD program updates and guidance.