On June 26, 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the amount of funding each state and territory would receive from the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The focus now shifts to state broadband offices, which have 180 days to submit their Initial Proposals.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which established the BEAD Program, specified that every state would receive a minimum of $100 million in broadband infrastructure construction subsidies. Additional allocation decisions reflect the number of "unserved" locations – that is, those that lack access to a high-speed Internet connection at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream (25/3 Mbps) – and "underserved" locations: those where speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps are not yet available.
Congress in the IIJA specified that the FCC's National Broadband Map, unveiled in November 2022 and updated in May, would serve as the definitive source for current service availability information. NTIA's BEAD Program funding allocations, therefore, in part are based on the number of "unserved" and "underserved" locations in a given state as indicated by the National Broadband Map.
As I have noted repeatedly, however, most recently in "Wasteful Duplication by Design: A Case Study on Overlapping Federal Broadband Subsidies," a May 2023 Perspectives from FSF Scholars, the BEAD Program's eligibility requirements, set forth in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), treat locations with access to "broadband" provided via satellite or unlicensed spectrum as "unserved."
Accordingly, there is a real danger that BEAD Program money will be used to overbuild existing, privately funded networks. In the above-referenced Perspectives, I focused on a nearby neighborhood here in Colorado where, despite the existence of six competitors, four of which offer speeds that exceed 25/3 Mbps, BEAD Program subsidies might be awarded to yet another provider – simply because of the most-cost-effective technologies selected by those already serving consumers.
The BEAD Program allocation announcement reveals that Colorado is eligible to receive $827 million. Going forward I will keep a close eye on the areas to which that money is made available.
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the National Broadband Map reveals only where service is available at the time of the data collection – for the updated version released in May, that would be the end of 2022. It does not reflect where federal money has been awarded but construction has not been completed (or even commenced, in many cases).
That responsibility falls to the FCC's other map: the Broadband Funding Map, the release of which I highlighted in a May 2023 post to the Free State Foundation's blog. Intended to facilitate critical interagency coordination efforts – as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reiterated recently, the existence of over 130 different subsidy programs run by 15 different federal agencies amounts to a "patchwork of programs [that] could lead to wasteful duplication of funding and effort" – Congress required the creation of the Broadband Funding Map to illustrate those areas to which money from other sources (Treasury, Agriculture, and so on) has been committed.
At present, however, the bulk of those hundreds of billions in federal dollars are in process, thereby further complicating oversight efforts. For example, the Colorado Broadband Office, tasked with distributing $162 million just from Treasury's Capital Projects Fund, only began to accept applications on June 20, 2023.