Welcome to Signals & Bits, a podcast where Bernie Arnason, Editor in Chief of Telecompetitor breaks down some of the most important news coming out of the broadband industry. We’ll keep it short and to the point. Let’s dive in.
Hello, friends and welcome to the latest edition of Signals & Bits. I’m Bernie Arnason. I’m coming to you today from snowy Keystone, Colorado, attending the Mountain Connect Conference. If you can believe it, we got over a foot of snow here so far, all the way into late May. Even the locals were surprised by that. Much of this conference is focused on broadband infrastructure funding, and specifically the BEAD program. That’s what I’ll be focused on for this edition of Signals & Bits, well that, and some dinosaurs. More on the dinosaurs later.
Now you’ve more than likely heard about the Broadband Equity Access and Development program or BEAD, as we’re calling it. It’s part of the broader trillion dollar plus infrastructure program. It will and it will make over $42 billion in funding available to all 50 states, and the US territories, with an aim to bring broadband to the un-served and underserved. It will be administered by the NTIA, an agency in the commerce department. NTIA administrator, Alan Davidson, has some serious ambition for this program. He offered his thoughts here at Mountain Connect, and I’ll sum them up in this way. Davidson says, “BEAD is a generational moment.” 30 years from now, he wants society to look back at this moment and say, “this generation took it upon themselves to bring high speed, affordable internet to everyone in the country, regardless of geographic location or economic circumstance.” Just like we look back on generations that electrified America or built the interstate highway system, but achieving this goal will be complicated. A sobering reality that Davidson admitted to. It’s no slam dunk, and there’s a lot of work to be done before it’s accomplished.
Now, before I get into more details of the BEAD rules, I’ll digress a minute, and touch on the end of an era. You may have heard that New York City removed the last functioning payphones from service in that large city. 2022, and the payphones are gone for good. Now I have to say, what took them so long? My guess is those payphones probably generated four bucks a year in revenue, and that’s with a single call costing a dollar. Now a sign of the times, those payphones were replaced with free wifi hotspots. That’s today’s reality.
Let’s look at some high-level rules that we now know about this BEAD program. Individual states will make the final rules on how the funding gets distributed, but they must abide to some NTA guidelines. Those guidelines include a priority for fiber based networks. Although there will be situations where other technologies will be allowed on a case by case basis, un-served areas, that lack speeds of at least 25 mb down, and 3 mb up should be addressed first. Once all of these un-served locations have been addressed, and if there’s any funding left for that state, then underserved locations, defined as those lacking a 100 mb down and 20 mb service will be next up to receive the funding. Grantees must provide at least 25% of the project’s cost. This is the so-called matching funds. Service providers must offer a low cost affordable option for low income households.
There are some labor requirements, some very specific labor requirements. Funding won’t be totally released until the FCC completes new broadband mapping to identify un-served in underserved locations. As of right now, that mapping is due in the fall. A realistic timeframe for this funding cycle has the initial funding of the BEAD program, or no more than 20% of that funding, going to states in late 2022, with the remainder being released over the next four years or so, depending on the approved state plans. Realistically we shouldn’t start seeing an impact from BEAD until around mid 2023. Really, 2024 through 2027 will be where the real action takes place.
It’s important to remember that BEAD is only one of many government funding programs. There is a ton of private equity as well, also flowing for broadband investment. By some calculations, when you add up the total value of all of this investment, both public and private, over the next five or so years, there might be a quarter of a trillion dollars at play. My friends, it’s a great time to be in the broadband business. Well, I’d say on most days, anyway. All that funding can create a lot of headaches too. Some days can actually suck. Speaking of suck, I can’t hold back on this next topic. I recently saw a TV commercial for the next installment of the Jurassic Park, dinosaur movie series…
Jurassic Park Trailer (Universal Pictures)
Is anyone else fed up or tired of these dinosaur movies? I mean, what are we up to, Jurassic park seven? Don’t all the dinosaurs get killed by a meteor or something? I’m guessing Steven Spielberg didn’t get that memo. Let me explain it to you Steve, enough with the dinosaur eating us human movies. Thank you very much.
Some broadband quick hits from the past couple of weeks, buildings need fiber two. A new report from the Vertical Systems Group says only 25% of buildings are lit with fiber. When you unpack that a little bit, really only 16% of buildings with 20 or less employees, or really small businesses, are connected to fiber. In addition to the 42 and a half billion dollar BEAD program, NTIA also released the rules for the billion dollar middle mile program, which will not be run by the states, but will be run through NTIA. The FCC wants school bus wifi as a covered expense under the E-Rate program. The FCC is also seeking input about raising the speeds funded through the A-CAM program for rural carriers. Dish and AT&T recently hooked up to allow dish to resell AT&T internet, including AT&T fiber. According to the research firm, LRG, broadband growth slowed in the first quarter of this year as compared to a year ago, but fixed wireless is a bright spot.
Well folks, that’s a wrap for this edition of Signals & Bits. Thanks so much for listening. I’d love to hear your feedback good or bad. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for new episodes every couple of weeks or so, and use it to get caught up with the most important developments in broadband. Plus my snarky observations on a bunch of other stuff too. Thanks again, and as always, check us out at telecompetitor.com. Take care everyone.