$42.5 Billion in BEAD Money Is Coming in June, Now What?

The much-anticipated moment has arrived – a staggering $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure funding is now within reach. States and ISPs are gearing up to invest this unprecedented federal funding into the development of robust fiber infrastructure to address the digital divide. And while the BEAD program is essential and highly anticipated, it also brings its fair share of challenges for state broadband offices and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Here’s why:

The Notice of Funding Opportunity (The “NOFO” that sets federal parameters) has laid out clear guidelines that states must follow. Moreover, while the program offers valuable funding for network expansion, the ISPs, cooperatives, and public-private partnerships which are expected to lead this growth are finding the program requirements daunting.

Now, the pivotal question arises: How can states effectively harness these funds to create a lasting and positive impact? Here are some strategies that will help make the most of this opportunity.

  1. Set a high bar with the 5-year plan. To meet NTIA and community deadlines, States have begun crafting a five-year plan (it should be ambitious and achievable) that targets the investment of allocated funds and the desired outcomes. With plans due in August, time is of the essence, and every voice counts. These plans represent the state’s unprecedented opportunity to rally the broadband ecosystem statewide to set bold targets that can be achieved with once-in-a-generation funding from the federal government. 

  2. Engage, engage, engage. States need to think about what their state and community needs are for broadband and include stakeholders in the planning process.  “You’ll need to engage communities and other partners including other state agencies to gather their thoughts, ideas, and input to craft a five-year plan. This plan will detail how this money is going to flow and what the ultimate outcome is going to be based on what your state needs,” advises Peggy Schaffer, former Executive Director of the ConnectMaine Authority and VETRO Strategic Advisor. “Now is the time to begin to help shape exactly what this grant process is going to look like, and gather the data you will need to make  good grant decisions.”

  3. Establish a single source of truth for all data. “For states to amass good data, they need to go back to their provider partnerships and help them understand upfront that without that data and without them sharing it with the broadband office, they could find themselves ineligible for a grant,” adds Schaffer. “Communities must also engage to identify what areas in their towns are unserved and underserved.  All of this is critical. In sum, the state must be the single source of truth. Otherwise, you have somebody claiming that they serve an area and someone else claiming they don’t.”

To support this monumental undertaking, states should consider using VETRO’s Broadband Intelligence Platform (BIP). Acting as a permanent system of record for States, VETRO’s platform provides a centralized hub where all types of data can be effectively managed, tracked, shared and analyzed.

“Our platform facilitates efficient project assessment, evaluation, and cost modeling, benefiting both states and ISPs,” says Brian Mefford, VETRO’s Vice President of Broadband Strategy. “Essentially, it allows states to track and analyze multiple data sets and to keep key partners and the public informed of progress over time.”

With VETRO’s platform, states will be better equipped to make informed decisions and become responsible custodians of the impending investment. VETRO’s BIP is the best option to take charge of this process because states and providers must be equipped with reliable data in order to be eligible for funding.

“The key to the process is understanding what the NOFO is really asking for,” says Schaffer.  “Read all NTIA FAQs which are posted regularly to gain insights.  A great example is how Maine used the VETRO Platform in our successful NTIA BIP grant in 2021.” For that program, NTIA set a maximum grant of $30 million and asked that grants pull apart census blocks to identify and propose service to all the unserved locations within a census block. Using the VETRO Broadband Intelligence Platform, Maine was able to deconstruct the census blocks and then create seven project areas that matched the requirements of that grant. Using the VETRO platform, Maine was able to work with three different providers to submit a $29M grant. By understanding the eligibility process and knowing the requirements, and having a tool like VETRO to identify areas, Maine’s grant was very competitive and was awarded.

BEAD funding is an unprecedented Federal investment  that has generated high anticipation among states and ISPs, who are now preparing to seize the opportunity and make substantial investments in their respective broadband networks. However, it is important to acknowledge that the implementation of the BEAD program comes with its own set of challenges for state broadband offices and ISPs. As they navigate through the complexities of managing such a substantial influx of funds and the federal requirements that accompany them, these stakeholders must address issues related to effective allocation, determining high cost areas, setting up an approved challenge process, coordination with ISPs and communities, and efficient utilization of resources to meet the goal of Broadband For All. By overcoming these challenges, states and ISPs have the potential to revolutionize connectivity and bridge the digital divide, ultimately transforming the landscape of broadband access and creating a more inclusive and connected society. But they will need effective tools to manage and track all this information. VETRO provides a radically simple platform to accomplish the work and tracking State Broadband Offices are required to do to access and deploy these federal funds.

To learn more, watch our industry panel of experts have an in-depth and informative discussion in the previously recorded FBA webinar, Making the Most of BEAD Opportunities: Tips for Success for States and ISPs.

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