How much money will it take to connect all of America? Will BEAD be enough? The discussion to those questions continued on the most recent Fiber for Breakfast webinar with Vantage Point Solutions CEO Larry Thompson asserting that it could take $400 billion or more to completely connect the unserved and underserved, a figure far higher than the $42 billion that Jonathan Chambers asserted would be more than sufficient on last week’s show.
Vantage Point Solutions published its estimates last month in its “Cost of Bringing Broadband to All” white paper. “There's been a lot of people that have tried to tackle the question, ‘How much is it going to cost to get universal broadband?’” said Thompson. “Most of them missed the mark for a number of reasons. One big reason is we really don't know how many unserved or underserved locations there are in the US. All we're dealing with is flawed FCC form 477 data, and other sources that are just very high-level approximations.”
FCC 477 census tract data has shown to significantly undercount unserved locations when compared to more detailed state-level mapping. Using more accurate state data, Vantage Point estimates there are 10 million unserved locations and up to 27 million underserved locations, roughly three times as many as accounted for by 2020 FCC data.
Thompson also says it’s going to cost a lot of money to connect the unserved. “People don't really understand what it costs to build broadband in these very rural areas of the US,” he stated. “If you look across the country now at what's left, it is generally these rural areas. We're not dealing with the large metropolitan areas or even second tier communities generally. It's often price capped territories that have been neglected for years… It's some of the least dense areas in the United States.”
Vantage Point Solutions is relying on its two decades of experience doing work in over 40 states, helping his customers land $2.7 billion in federal monies to build broadband networks for its construction cost estimates, coming up with a cost of around $15,000 per unserved location and another $6,000 to $9,000 to bring underserved locations up to the latest broadband speeds.
The total bill to bring 45.4 million households up to high-speed broadband comes in between $397 billion to $478 billion. Thompson notes the number isn’t all federal monies, since there will be some private investment as well, and the estimates don’t account for connectivity progress made over the past 18 months with ARPA and other federal programs.
To get more info on the great BEAD sufficiency debate, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.