NTIA Releases Broadband Funding to the States | Citizens Against Government Waste

NTIA Releases Broadband Funding to the States

The WasteWatcher

Following the release of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) updated broadband coverage maps the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its plan to provide $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program funding grants to states.  The new maps, released on May 30, 2023, updated the November 18, 2022 maps and show 8.3 million locations across the country, or 7 percent, are unserved by broadband.

The BEAD program was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and is intended to “expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs.”  The IIJA provides at least $100 million for each state and $25 million for each territory, with additional funding allocated based on need.   

Texas will receive the highest amount of funding, $3.3 billion, while the lowest amount of funding, $27.1 million, will go to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  States must submit their initial proposals 180 days after their notice of available amounts has been issued, and resolve all challenges at least 60 days prior to allocating grant funds for network deployment as part of the state challenge process.  NTIA anticipates that 20 percent of the funding will be approved and allocated by the spring of 2024, and the remainder will be provided by the summer of 2025.

While the objective of the BEAD program is to close the digital divide, Citizens Against Government Waste has expressed serious concerns about the impact on deployment of the guidance issued by NTIA.  It does not follow the statutory guidance provided by Congress, which stated that the funding should be vendor and technology neutral, and it also includes requirements that are unrelated to deployment and in many areas could make it harder to reach unserved locations. 

A March 27, 2023 coalition letter to Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.) noted, “The NTIA plans to give potential government owned networks (GONs) favorable treatment over private providers.  The notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) from NTIA waives matching funding requirements from GONs while maintaining stringent thresholds for privately owned networks.  The NOFO also requires justification for grantors to explain why they awarded the funds to private providers over potential municipal networks, creating a clear preference for GONs.”  CAGW has noted for many years that GONs are costly and ineffective, overbuild on existing private broadband networks, and end up failing to provide the promised services.  CAGW has cited the need for broadband funding to be vendor and technology neutral.  The organization’s February 2, 2022, comments to the NTIA expressed serious concerns over the agency’s NOFO guidance, including the preference for GONs, funding preferences, and restrictions that are unrelated to connecting underserved and unserved locations across the country. 

BEAD funding is not the only available federal program for broadband.  FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said during a February 1, 2022 Facebook Live interview with CAGW President Tom Schatz, that there is more than $800 billion that could be used for broadband deployment across the country.  Other programs include the FCC’s Connect America Fund and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program and Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the Rural Utilities Service Community Connect Grant program, the Rural EConnectivity Program, and Telephone Loan Program, and the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, which received funding in the American Rescue Plan Act.

According to a May 31, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, there are more than 130 broadband programs administered by 15 different agencies across the federal government.  Like the dozens of other overlapping federal programs, lack of coordination among the broadband programs can often lead to duplicative services and wasteful spending. 

States should proceed with great caution when using the federal dollars for broadband deployment and make sure that this funding is not used for projects that overbuild existing broadband networks or create government-owned networks when private sector providers are already in place.  Bridging the digital divide is a laudable goal, but states should use this new infusion of federal money wisely and avoid this type of duplicative spending.  Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communication and Information Alan Davidson said in a press release issued on June 26, 2023, regarding the issuance of the funding to states, “this is a watershed moment for the millions of people across the country who lack access to a high-speed internet connection who will soon have this necessary service to learn, work and play.”

Federal and state officials should work to use the BEAD funding wisely, streamline state and local application processes, resolve issues related to pole attachments, and avoid funding wasteful projects that fall short of their goal of connecting all unserved Americans.

Written by Lee Pearson Simmons

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