Two months after the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) unveiled it will dispense $45 billion in broadband funding – part of President Joe Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative – all 50 states have submitted applications for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
Letters of Intent for BEAD were due by July 18 to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The agency announced today all those letters were submitted ahead of schedule.
In addition to the $42.5 billion BEAD program, the NTIA is overseeing the $1 billion Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure program as well as the $1.5 billion State Digital Equity Act program.
States and territories interested in the Digital Equity program had submitted their applications July 12. Tribal governments were also eligible to tap into that program’s funding.
“I applaud America’s state and territory leaders who took these important first steps toward bringing equitable access to high-speed internet to the people they serve,” stated Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
BEAD participants must submit initial planning fund applications by August 15. Applications for the middle mile program are due by September 30.
When the NTIA initially released its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), questions arose about how the BEAD program will play out. In May, the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB) expressed concern that BEAD’s multi-year rollout could leave many high-speed broadband projects “out in the cold.”
The NTIA last month also underwent congressional scrutiny over the NOFO’s guidelines, such as the agency’s preference to fiber projects. Senators and some industry groups argued those rules did not permit a technologically neutral approach to rollouts.
Moreover, NTIA Chief Alan Davidson has said the agency plans to abide by Congress’ Buy American requirement, as the broadband funding is made available through the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The Buy American rule stipulates projects receiving federal infrastructure funding must use materials containing at least 55% domestic content. The U.S. Department of Agriculture most recently submitted a waiver, asking the NTIA to delay the requirement’s implementation.
Despite these concerns, NTIA Chief Alan Davidson expressed optimism about the future of the BEAD program, saying, “we are heartened by the bipartisan commitment to ensuring that all Americans have reliable, affordable Internet service and the skills needed to thrive in our modern digital world.”
Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, praised the NTIA for getting all eligible states and territories to sign up for the BEAD program.
“NTIA is developing a track record of execution ahead of their deadlines, as evidenced by issuing the NOFOs ahead of schedule and gaining full participation well in advance of the deadline,” Bolton said in a statement, adding states’ participation demonstrates commitment “to build the critical broadband infrastructure that will serve generations to come.”