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For BEAD success, ISPs should engage with states nowFor BEAD success, ISPs should engage with states now

Service providers hoping to win Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) funds should get involved with their state broadband offices and local communities now, says the Fiber Broadband Association.

Nicole Ferraro

September 7, 2023

4 Min Read
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With state allocations for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program announced in June, the clock is ticking for state broadband offices to submit their initial proposals to the NTIA describing how each state will carry out its competitive BEAD grant process.

Specifically, states were given 180 days from the date BEAD allocations were announced, or until roughly the end of the year, to submit their initial proposals.
Thus far, around ten states have published initial proposals for public comment and submission, including Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. But the vast majority of states are still drafting their proposals and seeking stakeholder input. Indeed, most states are still one step behind the initial proposal and are in the process of submitting their five-year action plans detailing overall goals for BEAD. Those are due 270 days from states receiving their initial planning funds, most of which were allocated late last year.

"I was speaking with the broadband directors ... they are still so very open to input from stakeholders," said Marissa Mitrovich, vice president of public policy at the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), which heard from state broadband offices at its annual Fiber Connect conference in August. "I think this is going to take a lot of input, and there are big decisions to be made to get this right."

Related:Push against BEAD letter of credit gets more ISP support

That input works both ways. In addition to assisting resource-strapped broadband offices, service providers that get involved in the process early and make themselves known to the community will likely have a leg up when it comes to applying for grants later.

"There's a fear out there that, you know, the big carriers are gonna get all the money," said Evann Freeman, Fiber Broadband Association's conference committee chair, noting that FBA's membership also includes smaller providers, municipalities and co-ops.

"But the advice would be to make sure that they're commenting on the process. So as BEAD plans are coming out, making sure that they're engaged in making comments. And then once the program rolls out, that they're involved in challenging areas that they may be serving, or applications that may not pass the smell test," he said.

"If they're talking to their broadband offices, and they're working with their communities locally, then they're going to most likely have more successful grant applications," Freeman added.

Broadband office resources

In addition to urging members to get involved at the state level with the BEAD process early, the FBA, in coordination with NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, has also recently released a series of modules to assist states with various aspects of the BEAD process – including one published this week on the aforementioned challenge process.

Related:White House announces over $40B for broadband deployment

While each state's BEAD-eligible areas are initially determined by the FCC's national broadband map, service providers will have an opportunity to challenge the status of a location under certain circumstances. That challenge process must be spelled out in states' initial BEAD proposals.

FBA also released a module to help states set their extremely high-cost threshold per location – or the cost at which it's too prohibitively expensive to deploy fiber-to-the-premises. The industry group said it used "realistic but general assumptions, leveraging national average build costs and simple provider contribution estimates, to develop a reasonable, directionally-accurate threshold for each state."

The outcome, according to FBA, is an "optimal" threshold between $10,000 and $20,000 for most states, with the exception of states that have high BEAD allocations and fewer expensive locations, such as Rhode Island and Arizona, where the group recommends a threshold of $45,000 and $46,000, respectively.

Another module FBA published is aimed at helping states work through permitting problems: a top concern for broadband stakeholders. With permitting delays posing a threat to BEAD deployment timelines, the NTIA has instructed states to "provide a solution for permitting issues" in their initial proposals.

"These recommendations represent the views of providers, as well as legislators and local officials," said Mitrovich of FBA's module on the subject. Their recommendations include establishing a single point person in each state broadband office for subgrantees to work with on permitting, as well as implementing specific steps to provide full transparency on the permitting process.

While states and local communities are at varying stages of preparing for BEAD, Mitrovich said she's optimistic they'll get it done.

"Between the conversations we're having with them and the resources NTIA has been offering to them, I think we feel confident that they will be prepared," she said.

About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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