State Broadband Leaders Ask for Provider Cooperation on BEAD

ORLANDO, August 24, 2023 – State broadband leaders on a Fiber Connect panel Wednesday urged providers to engage with state offices as much as possible during the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program process. 

State broadband offices need as much information as possible to make the best decisions for the states while developing their five-year action plans, digital equity plans and initial proposals for the $42.5 billion federal grant program, agreed the leaders.  

“Be as vocal as possible with state broadband office,” said Glen Howie of Arkansas’ Economic Development Commission. 

It is important to overcommunicate, said Thomas Tyler of Louisiana’s ConnectLA. He asked providers to create a relationship with their state office, voice concerns for program requirements and barriers, and continue the discussion. It is critical, he said, that providers are in a good partnership position with the state when they submit BEAD subgrant applications.  

Jade Piros de Carvalho, director of the Kansas Department of Commerce, added that providers should share their fiber routes under a non-disclosure agreement to improve local and regional planning efforts and cost modeling efforts.  

“We are not able to do this on our own,” said de Carvalho. Providers, local government and nonprofit help will be crucial, she said, urging them to be as engaged to the extent possible. She added that Kansas is expecting that their BEAD allocation will be $250 million less than what it needs to connect every unserved and underserved address in the state. 

Florida developed a local technology planning teams that engage members of different sectors, including agriculture, tourism, education, and broadband. The state’s broadband director, Katie Smith, told providers that engagement in those teams will be critically important when they are submitting applications for subgrants.  

Smith said the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will call the tech planning team to determine how involved each provider is and whether each presented project proposals to the team and worked with members to determine the best steps forward. 

Urging Affordable Connectivity Program renewal

State officials also asked industry leaders to lobby for the renewal of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides subsidies of $30 or $75 a month to low-income families to receive high-speed internet access. Some estimations claim that the program will run out of money in early 2024.  

Industry voices are more powerful than state broadband offices, said de Carvalho. “We want the maximum amount of people to take advantage of this network,” she said, and states can’t do it without the ACP program.  

A coalition of 45 bipartisan member of Congress jointly signed a letter on August 17 urging House and Senate leadership to prioritize the replenishment of ACP in the upcoming government appropriation bill. 

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday $.4.3 million in outreach grants to boost participation in the ACP. The program is now serving more than 20 million people nation-wide.