BEAD Allocations Are Here! Now What?
BEAD Allocations Are Here! Now What?

By Dr. Chris Barnes, Senior Grants Development Consultant (State and Local Government)

On June 26, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced widely anticipated state allocations for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The BEAD program is the $42.45 billion broadband grant program created out of bipartisan infrastructure law that was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021.

BEAD is a unique broadband program. Unlike previous federal broadband programs, the NTIA will allocate funds to states who will then run their own competitive state-level BEAD programs. These state-level programs will provide awards to eligible municipal governments, service providers, non-profits, utility districts, and Tribal entities, with the ultimate purpose of funding projects that bring connectivity to:

  • Unserved communities (80% of locations in the proposal area lack access to reliable 25Mbps/3Mbps)
  • Underserved communities (80% of locations in the proposal area lack access to reliable 100Mbps/20Mbps service)
  • Community anchor institutions (“CAIs”), such as schools, libraries, and hospitals, lacking access to 1Gbps service

While states have known that they would receive at least $100 million in funds to conduct their BEAD program, they did not know how much they would receive beyond that. This is because the allocations were in part based on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new broadband maps, designed to give a better picture of broadband availability across the country. After publishing a “pre-production” draft of the map in November 2022, the FCC published a revised map on May 30, 2023, which the NTIA then used as part of its calculations.

The allocation announcement marks an important milestone for the BEAD program, but it is just the beginning. States now have 180 days to prepare their Initial Proposal for submission to the NTIA (proposals will be due by December 27th). This proposal will, amongst other things, detail items such as:

  • Long-term objectives for deploying broadband across the state
  • The state’s unserved and underserved locations as well as eligible CAIs
  • The state’s plan to competitively award subgrants
  • Any other ongoing broadband deployment efforts within the state that are using federal and state funding

Once a state’s Initial Proposal is approved by the NTIA, they will receive 20% of their allocation. Final Proposals will be due to the NTIA no later than a year after the approval of the Initial Proposal. After the Final Proposal has been approved, the remaining 80% of a state’s funds will be released to its broadband office.

At this point, all states have received up to $5 million in BEAD planning funds, which they can use for a variety of activities, such as data collection, outreach to stakeholders across their state, employee training, and technical assistance.

What Can You Do Now?

BEAD has very much been a “hurry up and wait” situation for those interested in pursuing these funds for broadband deployment projects in their communities. Unfortunately, that will still be the case in the coming months as state broadband offices continue to work on their required proposals and plans that then require approval from the NTIA.

In the meantime, there are things that potential subgrantees can do to prepare as their state broadband offices continue to navigate the BEAD process:

  • Engage your broadband office: States are required by the BEAD guidance to conduct outreach to local stakeholders as they develop and shape their competitive programs. Be on the lookout for listening sessions, local meetings, or other opportunities to connect with your state’s broadband office. Moreover, watch your state’s broadband office website closely, and sign up for its mailing list if possible so that you are looped into any new BEAD program developments.
  • Build local partnerships: A fundable broadband project will need to demonstrate that there is buy-in at the local level. Whether you are a municipal government, service provider, or utility cooperative, it is important to reach out to potential partners and members of the local community who would be impacted by your project. That way, you can ensure that you can point to ample local support in your proposal.
  • Begin collecting data: To demonstrate a need for your project, you will want to collect data to support it. That may mean reaching out to residents about connectivity challenges, surveying the community on connectivity speeds, and beginning to estimate how many possible subscribers your proposed broadband network would have or would reach.

This preparation will pay off when your state office finally opens its BEAD program and will ensure you will not be scrambling to collect information that you could have secured months prior, allowing for more time to think through the specifics of your project.