Industry Insight Series

Much like the yellow brick road Dorothy and friends navigated to find the Wizard of Oz, the path to BEAD has been long and winding.  While there’s no wicked witch attempting to derail prospective BEAD applicants, confusing processes and uncertainty over heavy and complicated program rules have taken a toll. But with state Initial Volume 2 Proposals gaining approval, the veil has dropped. As BEAD grant windows start to open in the next 2 months, the biggest risk to the weary travelers on the BEAD journey isn’t flying monkeys – it’s time.

After a long period of wait-and-see on BEAD, a sudden acceleration is happening in those few states that have successfully navigated the NTIA challenge and Initial Proposal approval gauntlet.

For example, on April 25, Kansas received approval of its Initial Proposal Volume 2 by NTIA. Almost immediately, Kansas announced that it will open its prequalification window for BEAD applicants on May 13; and, less than 60 days later on July 9th, it will open its grant window to accept its first BEAD applications. For those betting that applicants would have 4-6 months to digest the final state BEAD plan and that the timeline for BEAD would continue to be pushed to the right – think again.

In essence, the Kansas timeline gives BEAD applicants approximately 100 days to complete their BEAD application. The expectation is that applicants should have been preparing their submission all along utilizing all the data and information that has been released thus far, regardless of whether that data is preliminary.

While it is unclear whether this new pattern will be the norm for every state that receives its Initial Proposal Volume 2 approval by NTIA, rural providers need to pay attention. While the bigger carriers have been working to develop their BEAD applications for months, it does not appear that the small rural providers who know their communities the best are as prepared. At a recent rural provider conference, one state broadband leader urged the audience to participate in BEAD and told the crowd it would be a mistake to sit on the sidelines.

To understand why, it’s important to take a step back and remember that the purpose of BEAD is to connect every single unserved location (speeds less than 25/3) and to reach as many underserved locations (speeds less than 100/20) and anchor institutions as possible in a state. If BEAD is successful, there will not be a need for another large government funded program in the future because there will be almost universal connectivity. At a minimum, future rounds of ReConnect or other high-cost program funding will only be available to reach very limited gap locations which are unlikely to support a sustainable ROI on their own.

This means that rural providers that sit on the sidelines for BEAD will have lost a massive once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seek as much as a 75% subsidy to connect the hardest to reach locations in their community. More importantly, the biggest consequence of bypassing BEAD is that it is almost a guarantee that if a rural provider does not seek BEAD funding for eligible locations closest to them, someone else will. The program mandates it.

State broadband leaders are rightly concerned that their applicant pool isn’t adequately preparing for the rigors of the BEAD application. This includes finding and contracting with a Professional Engineer who is required to stamp certain documentation for BEAD applications in every state. In addition, the rigors and demand for equipment and labor across 50 states requires savvy applicants to lock in pricing BEFORE the grant budget is submitted within an application.

If Kansas is any indication, rural providers will miss the window of opportunity – it is just not feasible to pull together a winning BEAD application in 100 days once a state gets their Initial Proposal Volume 2 approved by NTIA.

Wishing and clicking your heels together won’t make a competitive BEAD application materialize.  But rural providers know better than anyone that there’s no place like home and there’s no one better to deliver broadband service to their communities.  They have all the brains, the heart, and the courage they need.  As Dorothy learned at the end of the film, the power to realize your dream – whether it’s going home or securing rural America’s digital future – comes from within. 

Visit Nokia’s BEAD Applicant Resource Center today to get the help you need to prepare a winning BEAD application.

This series features insight into important broadband industry issues from industry leaders.

Don’t Miss Any of Our Content

What’s happening with broadband and why is it important? Find out by subscribing to Telecompetitor’s newsletter today.

You have Successfully Subscribed!