It’s an exciting time for broadband infrastructure across America! The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, part of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), appropriated $42.45 billion for States, Territories, and the District of Columbia (DC) to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. In preparation for the final announcement, NoaNet has begun early planning efforts.
The Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) is the administering entity for both the BEAD and Digital Equity Planning Grants, and was established to ensure broadband access and adoption for all populations within Washington. BEAD requires that all participating states submit a five-year broadband action plan demonstrating how they can overcome barriers to access and adoption locally. These action plans are due in August of this year, along with an initial proposal that will explain how each State intends to utilize BEAD funds to follow in December of 2023.
Today the White House announced state allocations for $42.45 billion dollars in high-speed internet grant programs, as part of the Investing in America Agenda. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) expanded on how those BEAD funds will be allocated. Washington State is set to receive $1,227,742,066.30 to deploy or upgrade broadband networks and support digital equity services.
Instrumental to this is input from established Broadband Action Teams (BATs) who are working collaboratively across communities to inform needs, timelines, partners, and costs involved to bridge their respective digital divides. Although complex, these community plans are critical and factor into the larger, statewide plan for broadband access. Reinforcements have been helping to ensure a thoughtful, thorough process which accurately represents community needs.
Last summer, community specialists with Washington State University (WSU) Extension partnered up with the WSBO to enhance capacity for Washington communities, especially those in rural and remote areas seeking better and more equitable access to reliable, high-speed internet. To that end, the Washington State Department of Commerce funded a one-year, $8 million statewide Broadband Action Team (BAT) Implementation and Support Project to aid county and community efforts with training, planning support, and resources coordinated through Extension offices.
In the nearly-year since, Extension team members have been busy aiding in locally created plans that help communities advocate for, fund, and launch internet infrastructure projects (it’s also providing funding support for local digital equity efforts by counties and tribes). The BAT support project is wrapping up outreach now, with most community plans already completed. These are being sent onward to WSBO and its BEAD consultant, Guidehouse, as the statewide BEAD plan is drafted.
A statewide public search process that began in Nov. 2022 with a maximum project budget of $1.175 million (Federal funding via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) resulted in Guidehouse winning the bid. The large-scale consultancy’s expertise in both the public and private sector, track record of working through complex challenges and scalable, innovative solutions made them an ideal partner for helping with the state’s critical planning stages for BEAD and digital equity programming.
The qualifying criteria included:
- Coordinating large-scale telecommunication infrastructure projects
- Assisting government and economic development agencies with a regional/community broadband needs assessment
- Digital equity planning and program development
- Leading inclusive stakeholder outreach and engagement
- Working with diverse populations
- Developing and implementing a strategy for archiving grant information
- Broadband mapping and data analysis
- Communications deliverables and activities in multiple languages and accessible formats
It bears repeating: The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our vulnerability to function without quality, affordable broadband services at our homes and businesses. Local Broadband Action Teams have been essential in helping to gather data and advocate for all of Washington’s communities to ensure they have the infrastructure and services required to fully benefit from the surge of funding, including BEAD.
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.