Last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released an updated version of their most frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. With $42.45 billion in high-speed internet grants at stake for states and territories, NTIA continues to evaluate and answer questions stakeholders have when applying for and distributing BEAD funding.
Tom Cohen, Fiber Broadband Association Chief Regulatory Counsel and Partner at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, and Michael Romano, Executive Vice President at NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, dove into the latest FAQ release as well as other BEAD factors on this week’s Fiber For Breakfast to share their observations.
“This most recent round of FAQs went a level deeper and addressed a number of the questions people have posed since the NOFO was released,” said Romano. “It answered some of the most interesting ones that we're pressing right now. And there are some common indications that there's going to be another round of FAQs.”
NTIA indicated that there could be some eligible uses of BEAD grant funding for operational expenses and for more traditional capital expenditures and discussed what areas are unserved and how reliable broadband fits into the program. The new FAQs also defined extremely high-cost locations and offered clarification on workforce requirements (no mandates for unionized labor), and it explained how assets are to be handed and what federal stake will be held over the lifetime of a network.
Cohen said everyone was waiting to get a better idea of grant timing, with the role of a multi-round challenge process being very important and something NTIA is not going to rush. “They want everyone out there to engage seriously in the challenge process at the FCC,” he said. “They want those maps to be accurate. They don't want to be criticized later on for short circuiting somebody's allocation.”
The first version of the new FCC maps – “Version 1.0” as Cohen titled it – is expected to come out in late November, but a ‘pencils down’ corrected version is not expected to come out until mid-2023 at the earliest, with challenges made around the fabric of the maps, the validity of the data used in the maps, and which entities are providing broadband services.
“I think all three areas of challenge processes are important,” Romano stated. “They are time consuming, but they are a feature, not a bug of the process. I think they’re going to lead to better decision-making, better identification, and better targeting of the areas that need support and funding. But it’s the process we need to follow because it’s the law and because it’s going to end up with funding getting to the right places.”
For more insight into the latest BEAD FAQs, listen to the latest Fiber For Breakfast podcast.