Utilizing BEAD funds for state broadband expansion

Utilizing BEAD funds for state broadband expansion
By James Warta
Jun 11, 2024

BEAD is intended to build broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas in states and U.S. territories. What are some of the best practices to ensure a successful and efficient program?

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of reliable internet connectivity. But many individuals across America continue to have limited access to broadband connectivity, and low-income households and communities are less likely to have internet access at home.

State broadband offices are on the front line of the digital divide—the gap between individuals and communities who have access to the internet and technology and those who do not. Limited opportunities for education, reduced access to healthcare, social isolation, and economic inequality are only a few of the resulting consequences of this disparity.

To ensure that all individuals can participate in the digital economy and society, state broadband offices must design digital equity and deployment programs that effectively reach unserved communities.

Understanding Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funding

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 authorized $42.45 billion for funding of the BEAD Program for every state, tribe, and territory. These critical funds provide an opportunity to deploy critical broadband infrastructure to those most in need.

BEAD is intended to build broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas in states and U.S. territories (also known as Eligible Entities). Eligible Entities will be required to deliver download/upload network speeds of 100/20 Mbps that are scalable to 100/100 Mbps in the future.

Many Eligible Entities will be given in excess of $1 billion in funding, which is both an enormous opportunity and a significant challenge. Delivering programs at this scale will be no easy task, and Eligible Entities must carefully consider many factors, including their relationships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), involvement of experts in the process, and areas that are most in need.

Additionally, this type of opportunity may never be available again, so it is critical that Eligible Entities disburse every dollar effectively. 

Support Internet Service Provider (ISPs)

In addition to managing digital equity funding, state broadband offices should also support ISPs to ensure that they are providing reliable and affordable internet service to all qualified locations. As this is a new program, it will be a learning experience for both the ISPs and Eligible Entities. State broadband offices should focus on successful interaction throughout the project by:

  • Regular monitoring of all BEAD awards.
  • Additional training for ISPs as necessary.
  • Regularly scheduled meetings and hosted events.
  • Assist in conflict resolution that ISPs may encounter with state and communities in the deployment process.
  • Access though website support.
  • Effective responses to ISPs questions or requests.

Involve experts throughout the process

Eligible Entities need competent and tested partners who are leaders in grants management, program design, program start-up, monitoring, and geospatial analytics to deliver a successful and efficient program They should look for expertise to support the delivery of technology, engineering, device, literacy, and effective engagement of underserved communities.

Finding a partner with significant broadband and federal grants management experience will help maximize this unprecedented investment. To provide expertise and engagement delivery, Eligible Entities should choose a partner with the following:

  • Established processes for managing large project feasibility, permitting, and NEPA requirements.
  • Experience delivering federal grant funding projects in excess of $1 billion.
  • Expertise with CPF/ARPA, DEA, and SLFRF programs.
  • Expertise in adjunct staffing and project support.
  • Proven experience managing federal funds compliance.
  • Expertise in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Focus on adoption and prioritize those most in need

An important aspect of managing digital equity funding is to ensure that the equipment and services provided are affordable and sustainable. This can be achieved by providing low-cost or free internet access and digital devices, as well as training on how to use and maintain them.

Furthermore, Eligible Entities should conduct regular assessments of the state of digital equity in their jurisdiction. This can be accomplished by gathering data on internet access, digital literacy, and other digital equity indicators. Additionally, they should also gather feedback from ISPs and community partners on their experiences with digital equity programs and internet service.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to reduce the digital divide. State broadband offices should work with local communities to understand their individual needs. Next, use that understanding to target funding dollars for programming and technology solutions that are specific to the needs and challenges of your local communities.

Meet the author
  1. James Warta, Director, Broadband Grant Management

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