BEAD Funding Allocation: The Broadband Expansion Race Begins

After almost two years and a great deal of preparation, challenges, and hard work, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the BEAD allocations for each state earlier this week.

With the allocations announced, the states can be expected to accelerate their current and emerging programs and timelines and see these allocations translate into committed expansion and upgrade plans as quickly as possible. For although this program, totaling $42.45 billion, represents the single largest internet funding announcement in US history, some estimates place the total dollar amount needed to comprehensively deliver Broadband for All at nearly double that.

It is imperative that the states and the service providers develop programs and proposals to close the digital divide, focus every effort on assuring that solutions are both as cost-effective as possible, leverage previously awarded grants such as ReConnect and the Capital Projects Fund within ARPA, and deliver significant improvement in service to the communities most in need. States, communities, and service providers must be smart about how and where they target dollars for maximum effectiveness.

Location Data is Critical for Accurately Identifying Priority Communities – but it’s Still Elusive

 The FCC investment in the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, and the introduction of competitive data sources by some states, have certainly improved insight into vulnerable locations and communities, but it’s foolish to think either is a panacea. Quite simply, getting accurate location data is hard, and the stakes are high. Program administrators and Service providers alike should triangulate across multiple sources and existing infrastructure in place to have the highest probability of truly delivering to those who need it most, household by household.

 An additional challenge is that, frequently, service providers operate with incomplete or inaccurate information regarding serviceable households in their own markets. This can harm their competitiveness and leave them vulnerable to competitors who encroach on their territory, even when the service provider could already provide high-quality service or achieve it with minimal effort. Utilizing precise data and analysis can enable effective challenges or, ideally, enable proactive engagement with the community to offer better services with far less investment of time, resources, and money.

As an industry, the BEAD program offers us a unique opportunity and a unique challenge. By digging into the hard analytics, leveraging all technology options, and building investment plans that are highly efficient and cost-effective, we can deliver to the vision of affordable, high-performance broadband access for every American.

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