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Amid Change in Governors

La. Is First State to Get Full BEAD Plan Approval

Louisiana is the first state to get full NTIA approval of its initial proposal for the broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program. NTIA approved volume 2 of the state's plan, the agency said Friday. On a videoconference with reporters Thursday, outgoing Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said he has no concerns that Gov.-elect Jeff Landry (R) “will depart from the commitment that we have made in our submission.”

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Louisiana may now execute on its plan to use its $1.35 billion BEAD allocation under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Plans call for Louisiana to complete its BEAD challenge process this month, and the state may now request to start selecting subgrantees, said NTIA. Louisiana must submit a final proposal in one year that will list winning subgrantees and explain how it will ensure service to all unserved and underserved locations, the agency said.

"We're going to deliver the plan that we submitted and ... be faithful to it,” Edwards said during the videoconference. “We will start executing shovel-ready projects in 2024 under the BEAD program.” The state plans to spend $2.25 billion on broadband between now and 2029, he added. Louisiana's plan “strikes the right balance between affordability, reliability and access,” the governor said. “So I just have no reason to believe, and I am not at all worried” that Landry will do anything other than “clawing forward diligently … with fidelity to the plan that we have submitted.” In an interview last month, ConnectLa Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar said Louisiana aimed to maintain its broadband lead among states, even with a change in governors (see 2311010043). Landry didn’t comment.

Edwards said Louisiana’s plan will address workforce and resiliency issues. Through a partnership with Louisiana community colleges, the state expects it will train 5,000 workers to build high-speed networks, he said. Also, the state intends to “heavily incentivize” ISPs to put last-mile networks underground “to increase resilience, given the increasing frequency and severity” of hurricanes and other weather events, said Edwards.

NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said he has a “quick word” for other states and territories. “Be like Louisiana.” All initial proposals are due Dec. 27. Expect NTIA to issue approvals for plans submitted at deadline in April and May, he said. “I think in the spring we’ll have all the plans approved.”

Virginia, Delaware, Kansas, Nevada, Vermont, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia submitted both volumes of their BEAD initial proposal for federal approval, an NTIA dashboard showed after a Friday update: NTIA approved Kansas and Virginia's first volume only, but 31 states and territories are waiting for the federal agency to approve their submitted first volumes. All states and territories shared drafts of both volumes with NTIA and released them for public comment, the dashboard showed.

Louisiana hit the ground running, moving faster than any other state … and that hustle has brought incredible results,” Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator, said on Thursday's call. A former New Orleans mayor, Landrieu urged Congress to extend the affordable connectivity program (ACP). Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement Friday, “Louisiana is taking a major step toward ensuring that no one in the state is held back by a lack of Internet access.” Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., said, “By prioritizing the internet as an essential tool for communication, Louisiana sets an example for other states in utilizing BEAD funds to bridge technological disparities, creating a more inclusive and connected society.”

NTCA applauds “the achievement of this significant milestone in the BEAD program -- the first opportunity for these historic funds to flow for their intended purpose of broadband deployment,” CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a statement Friday. Adrianne Furniss, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society executive director, said universal broadband in Louisiana seemed like an “impossible dream” a few years ago, but now the state “is on a path to closing its digital divide ... We hope that other states will follow Louisiana’s example and get this job done.”