The following statement may be attributed to Free State Foundation Director of Policy Studies & Senior Fellow Seth Cooper:
On May 13, NTIA released its anticipated Notice of Funding Opportunity as part of the agency's implementation of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program ("BEAD Program"). NTIA deserves credit for getting the ball rolling on the BEAD Program. We hope that NTIA and states that participate in the program will be successful in timely, accurately, and efficiently funding the construction of broadband Internet networks that will finally reach Americans who are truly unserved by broadband services.
At the same time, certain aspects of NTIA's Notice raise some concerns. Although the Notice does indicate that Eligible Entities shall prioritize unserved locations when scoring and awarding funding for last-mile deployment projects, much of the Notice gives the appearance of putting unserved and underserved locations on equal footing. The BEAD Program will fail in its essential purpose if Americans are still left unserved by broadband services after the $42.5 billion allocated for the program is spent. Going forward, it will be important for NTIA to emphasize that unserved locations are to be given first priority for receiving grant awards for broadband deployment. And states awarding grants should be responsible for ensuring that every last unserved location within their jurisdiction gets connected to broadband. Otherwise, BEAD Program dollars may end up going to so-called "underserved" locations wherein most Americans already have access to broadband Internet services with 80 Mbps download speeds.
And while it is good that NTIA's Notice does not impose "open access" or "net neutrality" regulatory conditions on the awarding of funds by states under the BEAD Program, the Notice includes a misguided recommendation that states ought to favor open access wholesale last-mile broadband services in setting their criteria for awarding grants. Open access requirements do not and would not help unserved Americans gain access to broadband. It is essential that states keep focused on connecting the truly unserved and not bog down the process or the program's ultimate success by pursuing open access requirements.