Billions In Broadband Funding Begin To Flow… Before We’ve Mapped Broadband Gaps

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

As we’ve beforehand famous, the Infrastructure Funding and Jobs Act will dole out an historic $65 billion to shore up broadband entry. $42 billion of that whole will instantly fund a Broadband Fairness, Entry, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program overseen by the NTIA. It’s a large infusion of cash, and far of it ought to have a real, productive affect on the nation’s longstanding broadband gaps.

The continued drawback: we nonetheless haven’t precisely measured the place U.S. broadband is or isn’t obtainable, and there’s nonetheless no onerous date for when long-awaited mapping enhancements will probably be completed.

But the NTIA introduced it’s beginning to dole out the cash beginning this week:

To take part within the BEAD Program, states and different eligible entities should submit a letter of intent and a planning funds finances, which can unlock $5 million in planning funds and permit states to start creating their five-year motion plan. Every state could have direct assist from devoted NTIA employees by each step of the method. Every collaborating state is assured a minimal $100 million allocation, with further funding determinations made based mostly on the forthcoming protection maps from the Federal Communications Fee.  

That we nonetheless haven’t truly precisely mapped broadband availability (after spending $350 million on an FCC broadband map) continues to be a shocking coverage failure we identical to to glaze over.

Not solely do many states not have correct maps to find out the place broadband is required, many don’t have efficient broadband workplaces or employees to do quite a lot of this heavy lifting. And the lifting will probably be heavy; to forestall this system from being abused by fraud (a very good factor), the NTIA has saddled the funds with quite a lot of necessities trade watchers like Doug Dawson say could also be pricey and problematic:

After I began to make a full listing of the entire grant necessities prompt by the NOFO, I spotted that these are going to be probably the most difficult broadband grants ever – extra difficult even than ReConnect grants. It seems to be just like the NTIA made an inventory of every part that would probably go fallacious with a challenge or an ISP and made every right into a grant requirement.  Listed below are just some of the brand new necessities I’ve by no means seen in a grant earlier than: a cybersecurity plan, a local weather resiliency plan, a provide chain danger administration plan, a middle-class affordability plan, and a challenge workforce continuity plan if not utilizing union labor.

The grant funds are going to be thought-about a taxable earnings by the IRS. The necessities will add quite a lot of prices that wouldn’t be current have been a area people to discover building and financing choices by itself. That in flip would possibly discourage quite a lot of new broadband suppliers from even bothering, assuming, once more, their state can decide the place broadband is and has the employees to sort out the grants.

One other drawback: ISP lobbyists have satisfied a number of states to prohibit funding from going to any corporations that compete with regional monopolies (which is forbidden by NTIA guidelines, however might or will not be enforced). Those self same regional monopolies are additionally utilizing present, unreliable maps to saddle grant functions with pricey further challenges aimed toward derailing initiatives.

Once more, this isn’t too pooh-pooh broadband subsidies. They are often an exceptionally helpful solution to spur deployment of fiber to wanted areas. The purpose right here is to focus on how a lot potential for abuse exists given we did not do the basics, and the way it’s a bit extra difficult than simply throwing billions of {dollars} on the drawback after which claiming “mission achieved.”

U.S. telecom has spent thirty-plus years mired in monopolization, and federal regulators have been so feckless and captured they’ve did not even measure the scope of the issue. Throwing billions of {dollars} on the “digital divide” earlier than fixing the underlying rot is like constructing a brand new home on a big termite mound.

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