In November of 2021, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bipartisan piece of legislation contained several important measures. However, arguably the most important one was the U.S. BEAD Program. This program is designed to revamp and enhance the nation’s information networks with the intention of providing Internet for all. And not just any Internet but one with reasonable access speeds and affordability. In total, the BEAD Program allots $42.45 billion to achieve its mission. This is why it’s considered the most noteworthy aspect of the legislation overall.
As you might assume, any government funded program that’s in the billions comes with a number of requirements. The U.S. BEAD Program is no different. While every state and territory will receive significant portions of the total amount of funds, stipulations exist. These pertain to a variety of areas including data caps, network outages, security protections, and delivery timetables. Likewise, some areas are to be prioritized over others in an effort to quickly achieve quality Internet for all. For states and network partners who understand these requirements, the potential upside is tremendous. And for the nation as a whole, this new infrastructure will be a game changer for decades to come.
Oversight and Intentions of the Program
The overall pursuit of Internet for all was part of the nation’s Investing in America agenda under the current administration. The goal was to ensure everyone in the nation was connected to the digital economy. But this was not the only underlying objective of the U.S. BEAD Program. In addition, the hope was also to increase American manufacturing of various technologies including fiberoptic cables. At the same time, the program was to stimulate job creation for millions in relation to infrastructure development. The primary target was expansion of national Internet services. But several secondary achievements that were considered equally important were also included in this program’s construction.
In addition to these objectives, oversight responsibilities were also defined. The U.S. BEAD Program will be monitored by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). This agency will allocate $100 million to each U.S. state to achieve its Internet for all goals. In addition, U.S. territories will receive a small portion of $25 million for the same purpose. The NTIA then awards additional funds to areas with high-cost needs to make the process more equitable. And it will also determine who receives any of the remaining funds thereafter based on the program’s priorities. In total, it is expected that the U.S. BEAD program will rollout over the next five years under NTIA’s guidance.
Priority Issues for the U.S. BEAD Program
The overriding priority for the U.S. BEAD Program is to effectively address the digital divide in the nation. There are many unserved areas when it comes to Internet access. There are also several underserved locales where Internet speeds are slow and outages frequent. In order to address these issues, the program seeks to establish fiberoptic connectivity to all end-users through the funding provided. At the same time, unserved areas will receive the greatest priority attention first followed by underserved ones. This is how the program is structured in its pursuit of quality Internet for all. States and providers enrolled in the program will need to focus on these areas first.
At the same time, the U.S. BEAD Program also wants to make Internet for all affordable. As a result, affordability is as much a priority as accessibility when it comes to the program. One of the requirements of program is that all participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connect Program. This program reduces eligible low-income households a $30 per month subsidy discount off their Internet services. At the same time, the U.S. BEAD Program also wants to increase proposals from states and participants to keep costs low. This too allows Internet for all at the lowest rates possible, thus advancing access also. While jobs and manufacturing are additional objectives, access and affordability are by far the most important priorities.
Participant Requirements for Funding
As noted, one of the key requirements for any projects under the U.S. BEAD Program relates to affordability. Participation in the FCC’s Affordability Connect Program is a must. But other additional requirements also exist, including those related to the performance of the networks themselves. One of the notable caveats is that projects must deliver Internet services with data caps that might restrict accessibility. These same networks must also provide reliable speeds that is at least 100/20 Mbps without choppiness or buffering. And networks cannot exceed 48 hours of outages annually unless related to a natural disaster. This is how the program plans to use its funding to establish higher quality Internet for all and not just mediocre service.
The U.S. BEAD Program also has some additional requirements that go beyond performance issues. Participants in these projects must also develop effective cybersecurity measures to prevent hacking into the systems. They similarly must have supply chain risk management plans to address potential issues that could affect service. Projects must also provide extensive support services that include access to needed devices and adequate user training. Public service campaigns are also a part of the programs requirements to promote awareness. Given this, it is evident that the billions of dollars in funding aren’t being awarded haphazardly. Only projects that demonstrate adherence to these requirements will actually receive Internet for all grants.
Moving Forward Fast
Overall, the U.S. BEAD Program is designed to provide end-users with quality Internet services within a period of four years. States must submit letters of intent, provide five-year project plans, and also create initial proposals as well. From there, they must also describe how these proposals will be implemented over the four-year period. Notably, states will be relying on qualified businesses and vendors to assists with these efforts. And companies with advanced expertise in network engineering, cybersecurity, data center services, and field support will excel. Based on U.S. BEAD Program’s structure, it would appear that Internet for all is not only feasible but probable. And in all likelihood, this program will quickly launch the nation ahead for decades to come.