INVESTING IN WATER AND SEWER INFRASTRUCTURE
The Final Rule provides that CSLFRF may be used to make necessary investments in water and sewer infrastructure. Eligible projects outlined in the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSFRF) and in the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) are presumed to be necessary investments. These projects include: the construction of publicly owned treatment works; decentralized wastewater treatment systems; water conservation, efficiency or reuse measures; upgrading facilities to improve drinking water quality, and many more. For a complete list of eligible projects, via the EPA handbook for each fund: CWSRF and DWSRF.
In addition to those eligible projects identified in the CWSFRF and DWSRF funds, there are several additional water and sewer infrastructure projects that may be undertaken if they are found to be “necessary” as defined in the Final Rule. These projects include stormwater infrastructure, residential wells, lead remediation, and certain rehabilitations of dams and reservoirs.
A “necessary” investment in infrastructure must be:
(1) responsive to an identified need to achieve or maintain an adequate minimum level of service,
which may include a reasonable projection of increased need, whether due to population
growth or otherwise;
(2) a cost-effective means for meeting that need, taking into account available alternatives; and
(3) for investments in infrastructure that supply drinking water in order to meet projected
population growth, projected to be sustainable over its estimated useful life.
Please note that DWSRF and CWSRF eligible projects are generally presumed to be necessary
For information on how to calculate the income of a service area, see this document: How to identify the Median Household Income of a service area and Lowest Quintile Income.
INVESTING IN BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE
NC Counties Broadband Grants/Partnership Options: This document provides a detailed overview of the options available to counties in using CSLFRF funds to invest in broadband infrastructure.
Counties Go-It-Alone Flowchart: This flowchart is useful to counties not participating in the G.R.E.A.T or C.A.B programs.
The Final Rule states that CSLFRF may be used for eligible, necessary broadband investments to address challenges with broadband access, affordability, and reliability. More specifically, the Final Rule provides that recipients may fund high-speed broadband infrastructure in areas of need, such as those without access to adequate speeds, affordable options, or where connections are inconsistent or unreliable. Completed projects are required to participate in a low-income subsidy program. In addition to making broadband infrastructure investments in eligible areas, recipients must also ensure that projects are designed to meet high-speed technical standards: reliably meet or exceed 100/20 Mbps and be scalable to a minimum of symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds.
While the Final Rule broadened the eligibility around broadband infrastructure, the state law authority for broadband is more limited. Prior to the passage of the most recent North Carolina State budget, counties did not have authority to construct or fund broadband infrastructure, except as needed for county operations. Pursuant to G.S. 153A-459 (enacted by SL 2021-180), “A County may provide grants to unaffiliated private or nonprofit providers of broadband service, as that term is defined in G.S. 143B-1373(a)(3), for the purpose of expanding broadband service in unserved areas in the county. The grants shall be awarded on a technology neutral basis, shall be open to all private or nonprofit providers of broadband service, and may require matching funds by the private or nonprofit providers. A county shall seek and consider requests for proposal from providers prior to awarding a broadband grant and shall use reasonable means to ensure that potential applicants are made aware of the grant; provided, however, a county is not required to seek and consider requests for proposal when providing financial or other support in connection with an application from a private provider for a broadband service grant under G.S. 143B-1373. The county may use general fund revenue as well as State or federal funds for the grants. For purposes of this section, the term “unserved area” has the same meaning as in G.S. 143B-1373(a)(14). For any grants awarded pursuant to this section after the date this section becomes effective, the term “unserved area” shall not include any location where a private provider has been designated to receive funds through State- or federally funded programs designed specifically for broadband service deployment if the recipient of the funding is in good standing with the grantor agency’s requirements regarding construction build-out and time lines. Nothing in this section authorizes a county to provide high-speed broadband service.”
The State budget also included funding from state fiscal recovery funds for the expansion of the G.R.E.A.T. and creation of the C.A.B. programs to increase broadband infrastructure and access. Note that “with the exception of funds expended under this section or under G.S. 143B-1371.1 as enacted by Section 38.6(a) of this act, a county that has utilized federal funding for broadband infrastructure on or after May 1, 2021, shall be ineligible.” NCDIT has interpreted this to mean that if a county has already obligated or contracted with an internet service provider (ISP) for broadband deployment suing ARP funds (with the exception of G.R.E.A.T. or C.A.B.) on or after May 1, 2021, that any ISPs in that county may not submit a G.R.E.A.T. application in that county, and the county could not participate in the C.A.B. program.
The Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (G.R.E.A.T.) grant program is provided by NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office. Applications are being accepted through May 4, 2022, to provide grant funding to private providers of broadband services to facilitate the deployment of broadband service to areas of the state unserved with broadband. The current funding round may award up to $350 million in ARP funding. More information on how ISP’s may submit an application and how counties can support here: https://www.ncbroadband.gov/grants/great-grant-federal/great-grant-2021-2022.
The Complete Access to Broadband program (C.A.B.) is also provided by NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office. The program provides an opportunity for counties to partner with NCDIT to fund broadband deployment projects in unserved areas of each county. N.C. Session Law 2021-180 appropriates $400 million from ARP for this new program. Program requirements for the C.A.B. grant are currently being development. For more information on the upcoming C.A.B. program, visit https://www.ncbroadband.gov/grants/cab-grant.