In an announcement at the White House Monday morning, President Biden revealed the total funding amounts that will be allocated to each state and territory through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program. This program, established in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), provides states with formula grants to build broadband infrastructure in areas without adequate service.
What Happens Next?
The BEAD program will provide states with more than $42 billion total over 5 years to develop broadband plans and subgrant funds to develop that planned broadband infrastructure. State allocations were determined using data from the recently-revamped National Broadband Map to assess the number of unserved and high-cost locations in each state, with no state receiving less than $100 million. Over the past year, states have used an initial tranche of funds to establish state broadband offices, conduct outreach and do broadband needs assessments to shape their planning processes.
States now have six months to submit an initial proposal for approval to NTIA outlining how the state plans to use its grant allocation and the process by which it will select subgrantees. These state plans are required to prioritize broadband service first to unserved (lacking 25/3 Mbps service), then underserved (lacking 100/20 Mbps service) and community anchor institutions without 1/1 Gbps service. States are also required to conduct and document coordination with local governments and to make the plans available for public comment. Several states have already released plans for public review and NTIA maintains a list of these on its website.
After a state’s initial proposal is approved, it has twelve months to select subgrantees and submit a final proposal to NTIA, at which point the remainder of the state’s allocated BEAD funding will be released. This final proposal must also be made available to the public for comment prior to submission to NTIA.
What action do I need to take to ensure my community will benefit from these funds?
While the BEAD program does not provide federal grants to local governments, it is critical that local officials actively engage with their states on the planning development and subgrant process. While states are required to prioritize the locations designated as “unserved” by the National Broadband Map, cities, towns and villages can still work to influence the process by which their state plans to choose subgrantees, the technologies it chooses to prioritize and ensure that projects that pass through or near their communities meet residents’ needs. States are also required to establish a challenge process for an area’s eligibility determination, which provides another important opportunity for local voices to be heard and for communities to prevent exclusion from BEAD funds.
In some states, communities may be able to apply directly for subgrant funds to build their own publicly owned broadband infrastructure. In others, because of preemptive restrictions, communities may not be eligible to build or operate broadband. However, leaders in those communities should be aware of the internet service providers that may apply for a subgrant to serve their area, and actively communicate with and support the applications of their preferred providers.
More information on the status of broadband preemption in the states is available in NLC’s new report, “Removing Barriers to Expanding Broadband in American Communities.”
How do I engage with my state’s planning process?
To get started, determine the state broadband planning point of contact. The state broadband office may already have participated in events in your community or at recent state municipal conferences. If your community has its own broadband plan, be sure to share that with the state broadband office. Your state’s Federal Program Officer from NTIA can also be a key resource for answering questions about federal broadband programs and finding relevant information about your state’s activities. NTIA also maintains a comprehensive library of resources for local governments related to broadband and digital equity.
In addition to communicating your community’s needs, priorities, and plans to state and federal broadband officials, local leaders should communicate the value of local infrastructure oversight. While state and federal leaders may be eager to push permitting streamlining efforts, local governments must proactively communicate the value that local permitting and land-use decision making contributes to broadband infrastructure development. Be sure that your state broadband leadership understands how local permitting processes contribute to the safe, equitable, efficient deployment of infrastructure in your community and how preemption of those processes will harm residents.
The Local Infrastructure Hub is now hosting a bootcamp on broadband opportunities including the BEAD program. Learn more about Local Infrastructure Hub and how to sign up for new bootcamps when they are announced.