Louisiana becomes BEAD trailblazer, unlocks $1.3B in funding

Louisiana is the first state to gain approval for its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) proposal, unlocking a $1.3 billion allocation from the program.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) accepting Louisiana’s proposal means the state can complete its challenge process and start selecting award subgrantees.

NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson commended the ConnectLA team, which oversees Louisiana’s broadband efforts through the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, for developing a “sophisticated and high-quality plan focused on creating jobs and building resilient networks that will serve the state for years to come.”

The states and territories allocated BEAD funding are required to submit an Initial Proposal to the NTIA detailing how they plan to spend their BEAD allocations. The deadline to submit those proposals is nearing, on December 27, 2023.

The proposals will come in two volumes. Volume I outlines the state or territory’s challenge process, detailing how local governments, organizations or service providers can challenge whether a location should be eligible for BEAD grant funding. Volume II addresses the remainder of the state or territory’s implementation plan.

The NTIA’s BEAD current timeline predicts that most funding distribution will start by late 2024 into early 2025 as states move through the proposal phases. However, Louisiana ahead of the game as it’s now poised to start distributing funds in early 2023.

There are 24 states/territories that still haven’t submitted their Volume I, according to an NTIA tool that shows each state’s progress moving through the BEAD process. Kansas and Virginia are only a step behind Louisiana, as they are both waiting for their second volumes to be approved.

Louisiana expects to conclude its BEAD challenge process in December. One year from its Initial Proposal approval, Louisiana will need to submit a Final Proposal that details the outcome of the subgrantee selection process and how the state will use its BEAD money to “ensure service to all unserved and underserved locations.”

Jake Varn of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative said Louisiana has “set the stage and now serves as a reference point for other states” as they chart their own BEAD paths.

Varn noted that Louisiana’s NTIA-approved plan for BEAD includes a low-cost option, with a baseline $30 per month plan for networks built with BEAD funds, and includes a waiver process for providers to follow to charge up to $65 (upon demonstrating to the state a $30 monthly plan would be financially unsustainable).

The state will allow the provider’s low-cost plan to increase each year based on the Consumer Price Index, up to a max of 3% to account for inflation.

In a statement submitted to Fierce Telecom, Varn said the state’s low-cost option “strikes a practical balance between setting the floor for an affordable plan and allowing for good-faith concerns from providers that can prove they are unable to sustainably reach and maintain that price point, while still setting a ceiling on what the state will tolerate as low-cost.”

“Combined with the Affordable Connectivity Program’s $30 subsidy for eligible households, Louisiana’s proposal will help ensure high-speed, affordable internet is available to every unserved and underserved home and business in the bayou state," he concluded.