Bridging the Broadband Gap with help from BEAD funding

Dec 12, 2023

The collaboration of fiber and wireless technologies is essential to addressing the broadband divide, particularly in reaching rural areas where fiber deployment is very expensive with a low return on investment.  

“I would say there are places where it would be over $100,000 a mile if you had to run it underground,” stated Lonnie Lawson, President and CEO of The Center for Rural Development. “Wireless technology often proves more economical for the final leg of the connection, known as the ‘last mile.’” 

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program stands out as a unique program where the State holds decision-making authority compared to the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). Despite the significant allocation of $42.5 billion in BEAD program funding, there remains a substantial gap in financial resources required to cover approximately 8.5 million unserved people and 3.5 million underserved homes. This leaves an average of around $3,500 for each site, a notable shortfall considering the actual cost of fiber deployment ranges from $8,000 to $10,000. In New York, for example, BEAD funding supports only half of the state’s broadband plan, highlighting potential challenges in achieving comprehensive coverage.  

Government agencies are extremely focused on fiber, and there is an ongoing effort by mobile network operators (MNOs) and tower companies to convey the importance of wireless technology. Historically, WISPs and cable companies have relied on unlicensed spectrum for their buildouts. However, BEAD funding requires the use of licensed spectrum, posing a shift in their usual approach. Fixed wireless is a viable solution, particularly where there is excess capacity. 

Other Funding for Comprehensive Coverage 

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is a $3 billion initiative aimed at supporting tribal governments in the deployment of broadband infrastructure on tribal lands. The program is finalizing awards from the first funding round and has opened another application period, making about $1 billion available for eligible tribal applicants. 

Through the Middle Mile Program, NTIA is making up to $980 million available for grant distribution. The primary objective of this program is to incentivize the expansion and extension of middle-mile infrastructure, aiming to reduce the costs associated with connecting unserved and underserved areas. 

How EBI can help 

EBI’s team of experts are here to assist in every step of the process. We can assist in determining which programs are best for your projects, create plans to execute those projects, and ensure that every step along the way is completed in compliance with NTIA and other governing telecom bodies. 

 

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