The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), has appropriated $42.45 billion for States, Territories, and the District of Columbia (DC) to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. Funding priorities for the program are sequential, starting with providing broadband to unserved areas (those below 25/3 Mbps), followed by underserved areas (those below 100/20 Mbps), and then serving community anchor institutions (1/1 Gbps).
This program could bring as much as $900 million to Washington State for broadband infrastructure and access initiatives. The successful implementation of this generational opportunity will rely on significant coordination between the State and a wide range of stakeholders, including local and Tribal governments, community-based organizations, community anchor institutions, Internet Service Providers, and others.
We’ve recently discussed the BEAD funding opportunity in relation to the critical role that hyper-local Broadband Action Teams play in defining a given community’s broadband needs, timelines, and partners.
To participate in BEAD, states must submit a 5-year broadband action plan to overcome barriers to access and adoption. In Nov. 2022, WSBO requested $5,000,000 for initial planning funds to develop the 5-year BEAD strategy. This initial allotment affords the team the resources to support planning efforts, including building capacity in state broadband offices and outreach and coordination with local communities.
To build local data on broadband access and digital equity gaps, WSBO has partnered with Washington State University Extension (WSU-E) to enhance the capacity of local, sustainable, and community-driven processes and support the local and regional planning efforts statewide. They have developed a workbook and regional support teams to organize local data for submission to WSBO by June 15th, 2023. WSBO has hired the consulting firm GuideHouse to write the initial Washington BEAD 5-Year Strategy document.
Looking ahead, after the first 20% of BEAD funds are released on Feb. 25, 2024, we anticipate state programs for competitive grant funds to open in the Summer or Fall of 2024.
Community specialists with WSU Extension began formally partnering last August with the Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) to enhance capacity for Washington communities, especially those in rural and remote areas. Extension team members are aiding in developing locally created plans that help communities advocate for, fund, and launch internet infrastructure and digital equity projects.
Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated our inability to function without quality, affordable broadband services at our homes and businesses and exposed deep divides in digital access. Solid digital equity and shovel-ready infrastructure plans are critical to each community’s understanding of its broadband infrastructure and digital equity gaps.
We’re excited to see that Washington State is much closer to realizing its share of this federal funding surge to facilitate the infrastructure and services its communities have long needed.
Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation that has been serving Washington State since 2000. As a mission-driven organization, NoaNet focuses on bringing world-class telecommunications technology to hard-to-reach communities which lack access to high-speed affordable broadband services.