Service providers shouldn’t let reporting requirements or a requirement to offer low-cost service stop them from applying for BEAD funding, said Evan Feinman, BEAD program director for NTIA, yesterday.

Feinman made his comments on a webinar organized by broadband equipment provider Calix titled “Mastering BEAD Regulations.”

The requirement to offer a low-cost service has become a particularly big concern as funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is set to run out. Many providers had seen the FCC $30-a-month ACP benefit for low-income customers as a means of meeting that requirement. Without the ACP, some providers might be reluctant to participate in the BEAD program.

As Feinman explained, individual states will set their own low-cost program requirements within guidelines set by NTIA. Some states are saying that providers have to offer a $30-a-month service, he noted. But if a service provider says the economics don’t work, the state can issue waivers to allow prices up to $65 or $75 a month, he said.

If a state already has had its BEAD plan approved by NTIA but now wants to make changes to its low-cost service requirements, there is a process for doing so – at least until volume two of their initial proposal is approved, Feinman explained.

State broadband offices “can work with us to edit the plan,” he said. “It makes sense to do it now while there is still a back-and-forth.”

Reporting Requirements

Another BEAD requirement that may be holding some providers back from applying for funding is reporting requirements. Many providers have said that the requirements are more daunting than for other broadband funding programs such as the Capital Projects Fund.

Feinman offered provider some potential relief on this.

“We have a very aggressive goal of reducing the amount of reports that [providers] have to do,” he said. “We will try to get guidance out as soon as possible.”

Nevertheless, Feinman encouraged providers to enlist the help of people with federal grant writing experience, perhaps on a shared basis with other providers. It should be possible to use a portion of BEAD winnings to go toward the cost of hiring that expert help, he said.

Feinman echoed a message that we heard recently from Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Like Raimondo, Feinman urged providers to participate in BEAD.

“Be ambitious,” he said. “There is no reason not to go big.”

Providers also should not let matching fund requirements prevent them from participating, Feinman said. He reminded webinar participants that state broadband offices have the option of waiving matching fund requirements when deployment costs are exceptionally high.

“You don’t have to bring gobs and gobs” of matching funds, Feinman said.

Feinman also cautioned all providers, including those uninterested in the NTIA BEAD program, about the requirement to participate in the challenge process.

“Participation in the challenge process is not optional,” he said.  

He warned providers that their own service availability could be challenged — and if providers don’t respond, they run the risk of seeing a competitor overbuild service to areas that they already serve.

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