The federal government has been investing big-time into nationwide broadband access for underserved communities. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), state governments are beginning to develop plans to connect local communities with high speed, affordable broadband.
Historically, broadband funding has been distributed and managed by federal entities such as the USAC, with programs such as the Connect America Fund, which dispersed funds directly to internet providers. This time, state governments are managing grants and making sure that their local communities have access to high speed and affordable broadband.
Even with the recent push to bridge the digital divide, the United States is extremely behind in nationwide access to high-speed internet. In 2019, the United States ranked 3rd in the world for the number of internet users (behind China and India), with 312.32 million users, yet Internet bandwidth per Internet user was the 43rd highest in the world in 2016.
Past federal programs were more-so aimed at bringing broadband to areas that previously may have had lacking speeds, or no broadband at all. Moving forward, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program aims to climb the next hurdle and deliver at least 100/20 speeds to all customers of ISPs that receive funding.
Big Money Is Being Invested
With the BEAD Program, each US state and territory will receive a minimum of $100 million, along with additional funding based on the estimated underserved areas in each state. The leftover money from the programs totaling $42.5 billion will be dispersed based on an ongoing federal mapping of underserved areas that is set to be completed in May.
Many states are expected to receive much more than the base $100 million, with California and Texas estimated to receive 2 and 4 billion dollars, respectively, with several other states expected to be receiving close to the billion dollar mark.
Somehow, the amount of money being spent on the BEAD program makes the $1 billion being spent on the Middle Mile program- a component of the larger $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), look small.
This program aims to build out the ‘middle mile’, which is the infrastructure of a broadband network that connects the backbone of the network to the ‘last mile’ - the part of the network that connects the local ISP network to the customer, such as a cable line to the home.
How Will States Handle The Influx Of Money?
Some states are well experienced in broadband funding, while others are seriously lacking.
California has had a broadband program emphasizing digital literacy, accessibility and broadband adoption, with grant programs in each, for over a decade. Other states such as Utah, Maine, and North Carolina granted ISP’s funds at the state level before the passage of the infrastructure act.
Other states are newcomers to the topic, such as New Jersey, who have had a slow start after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law establishing a Broadband Access Study Commission last year. New Jersey’s not alone, with 19 other states that still don’t have a dedicated broadband office. Some argue that this creates an uneven playing field when it comes time to bid for funding, however it’s up to the states independently to facilitate their broadband programs.
Broadbands Impact On Rural Communities
The economic opportunity of these grants in rural communities has already been evident. Recently, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) published a report on Douglas Fast Net, an ISP in Roseburg, Oregon, that revealed the impact of high-speed broadband on their community.
The report states that Douglas Fast Net has successfully leveraged fiber broadband to create jobs, improve quality of living, invest in its future, and even fight forest fires all while creating approximately $28 million in revenue or savings each year.
Another example is a study done last May by Deloitte that used an economic model to show that a 10% increase in broadband penetration in 2016 would have added 806,000 new jobs in 2019, an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs.
When does it Begin?
The NTIA won’t be ready to determine how much BEAD funding each state will get until the FCC broadband mapping project is completed. That project, which has been subject to many delays, is expected to be completed later this month. Once the number of unserved locations in each state is accurately mapped, the NTIA will notify states of the availability of funds for each state.
Moving forward, state broadband leaders are coming together to create long term solutions for rural communities across America. Most broadband plans are still in their infancy, as the United States is getting ready to dedicate years of work to the next generation of high-speed broadband.
ATS is currently working with State Funded ISPs to manage their network performance testing obligations. As we look towards the future of state level broadband programs, we are excited to work with State Broadband Offices and ISPs to create custom solutions that conform to their local program's requirements. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with your state funded project.