Infrastructure Grants and Loans Programs.
State programs currently exist that provide financial support for infrastructure projects, including infrastructure related to the provision of communications and broadband services to end users.
Public Works Board. The Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) was established, in part, to assist in financing critical infrastructure projects. The Public Works Board (Board) may make low-interest or interest-free loans from the PWAA to finance the acquisition, construction, repair, replacement, or improvement of the following local public works: bridges, streets, and roads; water systems; storm and sanitary sewage systems; and solid waste facilities, including recycling.
The Board may make loans for preconstruction, emergency, and capital facilities planning. Local governments and special purpose districts, except port and school districts, are eligible to apply for loans from the PWAA.
Community Economic Revitalization Board. The Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) provides financial assistance to local governments and federally recognized tribes for public infrastructure that encourages new business development and economic growth.
CERB is authorized to make direct loans and grants to political subdivisions of the state and to federally recognized Indian tribes to finance public facilities. Eligible projects for CERB financing include:
The 2018 Supplemental Capital Budget created the Broadband Infrastructure Program. The Legislature authorized CERB to provide low-interest loans and grants to local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes, in rural and underserved communities, to finance infrastructure for high-speed, open-access broadband service.
Broadband Definition and Goals.
"Broadband" and "broadband service" are defined to mean any service providing advanced telecommunications capability and Internet access with a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed.
The statewide goals for access to broadband service and minimum download and upload speeds established in statute include that:
Areas may be designated as "distressed areas" if they meet certain criteria set forth in statute. These criteria are based on, among other considerations, unemployment rate, median household income, and population.
The Department of Commerce (Department) shall establish a competitive grant program to award funding to local governments located in rural counties for public facilities.
The Department is required to develop administrative procedures governing the application and award process, act as fiscal agent for the program, and is responsible for receiving and reviewing applications and awarding funds.
The Department must develop a process to prioritize applications and funding of grants for public facilities submitted by local governments located in rural counties. The Department must publish on its website the specific criteria and any quantitative weighting scheme or scoring system that it will use to evaluate or rank applications and award funding least 60 days prior to the first day applications may be submitted in each fiscal year.
The Department must consider the following factors in prioritizing projects:
In addition to the prioritization factors above, the Department must consider the extent to which the project meets the following state policy objectives:
Grant Awarding Requirements.
The Department may not award funds that that total greater than 75 percent of the total cost of the project, except the Department may fund the total cost of a project located in a distressed area up to 90 percent. The maximum amount of total funding that the Department may provide for any jurisdiction is $10,000,000 per biennium. The maximum amount of funding that the Department may provide for preconstruction activities to any jurisdiction is $50,000 per biennium, except there is no maximum amount for: (1) preconstruction activities located in a distressed area; or (2) preconstruction activities necessary to determine whether the completion of the project will directly or indirectly achieve net negative greenhouse gas emissions.
Contracts for grants must include provisions that the asset or infrastructure to be developed will be maintained for public use for a period of at least 15 years. If the grantee is found to be out of compliance with provisions of the contract, the grantee is required to repay to the state general fund the principal amount of the grant plus interest calculated at the rate of interest on state of Washington general obligation bonds issued most closely to the date of authorization of the grant.
Procedures for Applications Requesting Broadband Infrastructure Funding.
For applications requesting funding for broadband infrastructure, the Department must require the applicant to provide documentation that the applicant contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service near the proposed project area to ask:
Applicants must contact the entities providing broadband service near the proposed project area no later than six weeks before submission of the application.
Within 30 days of the close of the grant application process, the Department is required to publish on its website the proposed geographic broadband service area and the proposed broadband speeds for each application submitted. Any existing broadband service provider near the proposed project area may, within 30 days of publication of the information, submit a written objection of the application, certified by affidavit, to the Department that must contain information demonstrating that:
The Department must evaluate the information submitted by the objecting provider and must consider it in making a determination on the application objected to.
The Department may choose to not fund a project if the Department determines that the objecting provider's commitment to provide broadband service in the proposed project area is credible. In assessing the commitment, the Department may consider whether the objecting provider has or will provide a bond, letter of credit, or other indicia of financial commitment guaranteeing the project's completion.
If the Department denies funding to an applicant as a result of a broadband service provider's objection, and the broadband service provider does not fulfill its commitment to provide broadband service in the project area, then for the following two grant cycles, the Department is prohibited from denying funding to an applicant on the basis of a challenge by the same broadband service provider, unless the Department determines that the broadband service provider's failure to fulfill the provider's commitment was the result of factors beyond the broadband service provider's control. Confidential business and financial information submitted by an objecting provider is exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act.
An applicant or broadband service provider that objected to the application may request a debriefing conference regarding the Department's decision on the application. Requests for debriefing must be coordinated by the Statewide Broadband Office (SBO) and must be submitted in writing in accordance with procedures specified by the SBO.
The Department is not prohibited from denying funding to an applicant for reasons other than an objection by the same broadband service provider.
The Department, in collaboration with the SBO, may adopt rules for a voluntary nonbinding mediation between incumbent providers and applicants to the grant program created.
Prior to awarding broadband infrastructure funds, the Department must consult with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). The UTC must provide to the Department an assessment of the technical feasibility of a proposed application. The Department must consider the UTC's assessment as part of its evaluation of a proposed application.
Rural Infrastructure Assistance Account.
The Rural Infrastructure Assistance Account is created in the state treasury. All receipts must be deposited into the account. Expenditures from the account may be used only for grants to local governments located in rural counties for public facilities, including costs incurred by the Department to administer the grant program. The Department may not sign contracts or otherwise financially obligate funds from the rural infrastructure assistance account before the Legislature has appropriated funds to the Department for the purpose of funding public facilities.