The thinking behind the $42.5 billion BEAD rural funding program was that individual states were better positioned than the federal government to understand their local needs and tailor state-level rules accordingly. And although the NTIA has established broad BEAD guidelines, we are seeing considerable variation from one state to the next.

A case in point: Two Midwestern states – Minnesota and Missouri – have mapped out two somewhat different paths for administering the BEAD program. The broadband directors for those states discussed these plans on a recent webinar organized by NRTC. On the webinar, the directors talked BEAD timelines, judging criteria and how they hope to entice providers to participate.

Unique to Missouri

Missouri will be one of the largest recipients of BEAD funding, with $1.7 billion allotted to the state.

One of the things Missouri wants to do differently from other states is to allow providers to determine the areas where they would like to build, said BJ Tanksley, director of Missouri’s Office of Broadband.

NTIA has not yet approved Volume 1 or Volume 2 of Missouri’s initial proposal, but if the proposal is approved, it calls for providers to choose their own serving areas.

“We hope by allowing service providers to serve the areas that make sense to them, we can save money,” said Tanksley.

That money, he said, could then be used toward deployments in areas that are less attractive to the providers.

“As soon as NTIA tells us they are OK with that approach, which we are hoping happens in April or May, [providers] will be able to submit proposed project areas,” said Tanksley.

Perhaps allowing providers to choose their own service areas also will help ensure provider participation, which in turn should help the state reach universal deployment goals.

“In the past, applications were judged against every other application” noted Tanksley. “Now you’re only competing against people [wanting] to serve the same area.”

Missouri’s proposed plan calls for funding to be awarded in two separate rounds. In the first round, providers would be required to meet a minimum score based on the state’s scoring criteria. The second round would have different rules.

“We would love to do a third round if we have the time to do it and if we have the money,” he said.

Asked which criteria will be most important, Tanksley said, “We’re putting a lot of weight in the amount of money [that providers] are asking for.”

Meanwhile in Minnesota

Minnesota has been allotted $652 million in BEAD funding.

While some states are establishing new award programs for BEAD, Minnesota plans to award its BEAD funding through its long-lived Border-to-Border program, noted Bree Maki, executive director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development.

The state has been funding broadband deployments for years and has offered a range of programs, including Border-to-Border, which is a last-mile program, a line extension program and others.

Minnesota prioritized local coordination and support in those programs and hopes to do the same in the BEAD program, provided that NTIA approves Volume 1 and 2 of the state’s initial proposal as outlined, noted Maki.

Local support can be critical to preventing a provider from doing a deployment that requires the provider to charge a price that is so high that residents do not sign up for service, said Maki.

“We hope to see local coordination and local support,” she said.

The broadband office looks for input from the community indicating that “this is the provider that they want; they’ve done their due diligence.”

 In most cases, she said, “Those projects are very successful… because people run into each other at their local grocery store and hold each other accountable.”

It’s worth noting that fitting in three rounds of BEAD funding awards could be tight, considering that states have one year to award BEAD funding from the time Volume 1 and 2 of their initial proposals are approved. Nevertheless, Minnesota – like Missouri – hopes to do three rounds in the program.

Maki noted that having multiple rounds would enable the broadband office to identify areas that have not received bids and negotiate with providers to include those areas in upcoming bids.

Like Missouri, Minnesota also is awaiting approval of Volume 1 and Volume 2 of its initial proposal.

NRTC owns Pivot Group, which publishes Telecompetitor. A replay of the NRTC webinar, titled “Let’s Talk BEAD: A Conversation with State Broadband Directors,” is available at this link.

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