Connectivity

2024 is going to be a big year for broadband funding

Federal grants for state connectivity projects are set to roll out after a long planning period.
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John Rensten/Getty Images

· 4 min read

The Biden administration and state governments are poised to open the tap for billions of federal dollars pouring into connectivity projects.

This year marks a milestone during which states will begin receiving payouts from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment fund. The BEAD program, as it’s known, is a $42.45 billion state-grant effort authorized by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aimed at ensuring every American has access to high-speed internet.

“I think the thing that makes BEAD more interesting in 2024 is the fact that funding is finally going to roll out the door,” Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, told us.

She emphasized that it’s a “most unusual” program because it’s overseen by the federal government but implemented state by state. Over the last two years, states have been tasked with setting up broadband offices if they didn’t already have one (most didn’t) and formulating connectivity plans that will eventually designate subgrantees to build out the needed infrastructure, she said. The state plans were due to the Commerce Department in late December, setting the stage for funding to flow and projects to commence.

Bloomfield said that “2024 is going to be big, because we’re going to see some of the states, in particular, that were a little bit faster out of the box with some of their state plans, getting some of their allocated funding, and starting to build their projects, which prioritize bringing broadband to those consumers who are completely unserved.”

Louisiana is one of the states that’s ahead of the curve: In mid-December, it became the first to gain approval for its plan to spend its allotted $1.3 billion which includes a $30 monthly consumer broadband option, earning praise from the Biden administration. Once other states receive federal approvals, broadband providers can start making bids to service the areas subject to final federal oversight.

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Bloomfield expects participants to range from long-established providers to small businesses and startups. Indeed, Cornell University and Pew researchers found that past broadband grants typically benefited regional providers over national ISPs.

“If you’ve ever thought you wanted to start a broadband company, now might be the time to do it,” she quipped.

Paul Garnett, founder and CEO of telecom consulting firm the Vernonburg Group, told us that states will be grappling with several pain points as the year unfolds, including deciding which technologies and vendors make the most sense for delivering broadband service in particular areas.

While fiber was an early frontrunner, “a lot of states are now coming to the realization that fiber is not going to be the answer for every location,” according to Garnett, whose firm helped Vermont formulate its connectivity plan with a $229 million budget. In very rural areas where laying the necessary cables might not be practical or affordable, “things like fixed wireless and, in some cases, even satellite is really going to be the answer,” he said.

The timing of the funding disbursement matters, as states will compete for labor from a limited workforce. Bloomfield emphasized that while the new year marks a significant milestone, it will still take a while for the connectivity projects to be completed.

“In a couple of years, we are going to be looking back, and we’re going to see a significant part of our population who didn’t have broadband, have broadband, and those who had subpar broadband, getting better and faster broadband,” she said. “I think it’s going to be incredibly impactful.”

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