Why Middle Mile Matters
Middle mile infrastructure bridges the gap between where information is stored and the people interacting with it – it's an essential part of reliable, high-speed Internet access. Because of the nation’s middle mile networks, anyone in America can transfer data across the world, enabling community, competition, learning, and well-being.
Middle mile infrastructure may carry traffic via undersea cables that stretch to the farthest American territories, or it may “backhaul” wireless traffic for an antenna mounted on a wireless network tower to the provider’s wired network through fiber-optic connections. It may bring high-speed Internet to previously unserved Tribal or Native lands or may simply enable connectivity in urban neighborhoods where no connections were previously available.
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program is a competitive, $1 billion program funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the construction, improvement or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure. The application period for the program is currently open, and eligible entities are encouraged to apply to participate in the program. The application window will close on September 30, 2022.
To help applicants submit complete, informed, and high-quality applications, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is launching a three-blog series outlining the three major sections of the application. In this first post, we’ll discuss the application review process and the Applicant Information section.
So here’s how to Be Complete and Score Big!
Understanding Review to Score Big
There are three phases of application review associated with the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program: Initial, Merit and Programmatic. Initial Review will confirm completeness, eligibility, and responsiveness to curing. In Merit Review, applicants will score up to 100 points, and then NTIA will prioritize those applications which average 80 or more points AND meet 2 of the 5 statutory criteria in Programmatic Review.
Programmatic Review will take applicants' mean merit score and apply a weighting factor. A mean merit score may be multiplied up to 1.8x, depending on how many of the weighting criteria listed in Programmatic review that an applicant appropriately demonstrates. Based on these final numbers, recommendations for selection will take place. Read the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for more scoring details.
Every application will be examined through the Initial review stage, and those that clear Initial Review will be reviewed in the Merit Review stage. However, if the prioritized applications amount to $1 billion, there is no guarantee that applications averaging less than 80 will be considered during Programmatic Review.
The Applicant Information portion is the first major section of the middle mile grant application and is critical to a complete action. This section gives reviewers an opportunity to get to know about an applicant’s experience, partners, the nature of the partnership, and any agreements currently in place. There are three sections to complete for the applicant information portion of the application.
Other details NTIA would like to know are about other projects of a similar scope and size, and applicants’ key personnel and support. There are also standard forms applicants will be asked to complete, such as the Standard Form 424 (SF-424). The SF-424 requires basic information about the applicant, including proposed project start and end dates and estimated funding. Applicants also must complete Form CD-511, which is the Certification Regarding Lobbying and the Standard Form-LLL Disclosure of Lobbying Activities.
Please ensure that all required forms and documents related to Applicant Information have been uploaded and completed in the NTIA Grants Portal.
- NTIA will conduct an initial review of timely received applications submitted to determine eligibility, completeness, and responsiveness to the minimum threshold requirements of the Middle Mile Grant Program.
- Relative to the applicant information portion, applicants can score points during merit review by outlining the organizational capabilities to complete the specific project proposed.
- During programmatic review, NTIA will evaluate how well the applicant addresses the specific details outlined in the NOFO.
In summary, applications for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program that are most likely to be successful will remember the basics for scoring big:
- Focus on how the project will meet the needs the program intends to address.
- Submit all of the required forms through the grant portal.
- Provide complete, detailed information in each section of the application.
- Check documents for consistency and accuracy.
NTIA recently held a series of office hours sessions hosted by staff and subject matter experts who answered questions from prospective applicants, with the intent to prepare them to write complete, high-quality applications. For more information about the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program Office Hours Sessions, please visit https://www.internetforall.gov/webinars.