With NTIA finally revealing state allocations for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, a number of industry groups weighed in on what that announcement means for future broadband deployments.
Fiber Broadband Association President Gary Bolton called the White House’s BEAD allocation announcement “a great day for fiber.” Texas, which scored the biggest allotment at $3.3 billion, just passed legislation authorizing the Texas Broadband Development Office to award grants and loans for broadband infrastructure projects.
“But it had a preference for fiber, which was a huge turn of events,” Bolton told Fierce. “Their comptroller, when the bipartisan bill got signed into law he had issued a press release saying they were going to be technology neutral, and we were worried that they were going to try to use fixed wireless or something.”
“So it was great that Texas came around and made a bold statement,” he added.
While it wasn’t too surprising to see other states like Texas, California, Missouri and North Carolina bag a large amount of funding, Bolton said Alaska was the “biggest winner” from a per capita basis. The state received over a billion dollars with a population just over 700,000.
“So, they had almost $1,400 per capita. On the other end, it was interesting that Massachusetts came up with the least [funding per capita],” he said. “They got $147 million dollars for a population of nearly 7 million people, so they’re at $21 per capita. Which says Massachusetts is largely served.”
Another interesting aspect about the BEAD announcement, Bolton went on to say, was President Biden pledged to connect everyone in the U.S. to affordable high-speed broadband by 2030. Whereas the NTIA BEAD program has a four-year cycle, from 2024 to 2028.
“That’s the first time I heard that actual date come out, but it’s reasonable when you consider timeframe,” he said, noting states need time to put out their initial proposals, get their grant programs in place and issue awards to subgrantees.
“That seems [like a] reasonable backstop to make sure every American is connected with fiber by 2030,” Bolton added.
Other industry reactions
There was a lot of praise to go around for the BEAD announcement. Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), called the state allocations “a major milestone in the fight to finally make rural broadband a reality.”
“All of us in the broadband community applaud the Administration, and in particular Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and the entire NTIA team, for their tremendous efforts,” stated Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association. “Now the states turn to the important work of implementing their grant programs, and we will continue to work with them to bring broadband to everyone.”
Cable trade association NCTA noted the allocations are a key step in bridging the digital divide, but pointed out cable operators have “played a vital role in supporting rural America through significant investments, partnerships and broadband buildouts.”
“Cable providers have demonstrated their expertise and experience in building broadband to these communities and are ready to partner with federal and state governments to ensure BEAD’s success,” said NCTA in a statement.
WISPA President and CEO David Zumwalt said the announcement marked “an important milestone” for BEAD rollouts. Yet he noted “much work lies ahead” in getting everyone across the country connected.
“All solutions should be on the table. Pernicious and wasteful overbuilding must be strenuously avoided,” Zumwalt stated. “Access to the state grant process should work to truly invite small players so more answers can be brought to bear on this national challenge. Clarifying these and other matters will improve the program for all involved, especially those who lack broadband.”
Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), an advocacy nonprofit that monitors federal spending, said the BEAD program “is just the latest of the federal government’s over-complicated network of broadband-funding programs, which have already proved susceptible to waste, abuse and overbuilding.”
TPA Executive Director Patrick Hedger argued that because the White House “opted against a technologically neutral approach,” it will make broadband builds costlier and result in “more Americans remaining unconnected for longer.”
“TPA encourages states to reject much of the Biden administration’s approach,” he stated. “Instead, they should adopt light-touch, technologically neutral, market-oriented strategies that will fully leverage private enterprise instead of hamstringing it.”