The $451 million that Kansas will receive in the BEAD rural broadband funding program will be sufficient to make service available to everyone in the state if 25% of it goes to fixed wireless access (FWA), said Jade Piros de Carvalho, director of the Kansas Office of Broadband Development, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
That determination was based on cost modeling, she said.
Although Piros de Carvalho was disappointed in the amount of funding that the state received, she said, “I anticipate we’ll be OK. We will get other federal funding opportunities and hopefully more private investment than we’re counting on.”
Perhaps the allocation for Kansas was lower than it might have been because the state did not challenge the FCC broadband map data about the number of unserved locations in the state.
The state was one of many that didn’t challenge the data. As with some other state broadband offices, the Kansas office was not fully staffed at the time challenges were made.
“We had an office of two when the maps came out,” Piros de Carvalho said.
As an alternative, “we did large-scale outreach,” she said.
“We worked with providers that did bulk challenges. We had to focus on a grass roots effort.”
Grass roots efforts only go so far, however, because if one person in a neighborhood successfully challenged the availability data that a provider reported, information for other locations in the neighborhood was not adjusted accordingly.
“We continue to find inaccuracies,” Piros de Carvalho said. “One provider overreported extensively. It could have impacted our allocation by tens of millions of dollars.”
The Kansas broadband office now has a staff of nine and expects to hire two more people in order to be fully staffed.
The state received Capital Projects Fund money over a year ago and was in the process of allocating deployment awards funded through that program when we spoke to Piros de Carvalho earlier this month.
At that time, the office had just completed its work on Volume 1 of the initial proposal that must be submitted to NTIA by the end of the year and was putting the finishing touches on the five-year plan that all states are required to submit to NTIA for the BEAD program.
Among the information that must be included in the initial proposal is a list of service providers that could bid for funding. When we asked Piros de Carvalho how the state put that list together, she said the state broadband office worked through the state’s public utilities commission and sent letters to all providers with eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) status.
Being listed doesn’t necessarily a company will bid. As Piros de Carvalho noted, requirements involving an irrevocable letter of credit “will be a barrier” for some companies.
She also expressed concern about BEAD rules that cap the amount of funding the program will provide for a deployment project at 75% of build costs unless a waiver is obtained.
“With the Capital Projects Fund, we had the option to do a sliding scale to incentivize companies to go into higher-cost areas,” she noted.
If the past is prelude, the state should see plenty of carriers seeking funding, however.
As Piros de Carvalho noted, “We got a good response to our other grant programs. They were all wildly oversubscribed.”
Piros de Carvalho noted two other challenges that the Kansas broadband office will have to address.
One is the challenge process for eligible locations. The state plans to use the model challenge process that NTIA put together, but as she noted, it may be difficult to meet the speed test parameters that are required to successfully challenge a provider’s broadband availability claims on the basis that the company doesn’t provide the speeds that it advertises.
She also expressed concern about the future of the Affordable Connectivity Program. Participation in that program is a requirement for BEAD funding recipients, but the program is expected to run out of money next year.
She is encouraged by the FCC’s initiative to reform the Universal Service Program, however.
“Maybe through that process, we can get more sustainable funding that doesn’t rely on an act of Congress,” she said.
She would like to see more sustainable funding, considering that providers deploying networks with funding from one-shot programs like BEAD may need ongoing support.
Despite challenges such as these, Piros de Carvalho remains positive.
“The ultimate goal is more important than the red tape, and one by one, they’re getting solved,” she said.
For more information about Kansas broadband, including funding programs and news coverage, visit Telecompetitor’s Broadband Nation page for Kansas.