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Some Questions Remain

2024 'Year of Execution' for BEAD: NTIA Official

Industry and state broadband officials encouraged engagement with local stakeholders and providers as states prepare to implement their plans for NTIA's broadband, equity, access and deployment program (see 2402060081). NTIA is "looking at 2024 as the year of execution" for the BEAD program, said acting Deputy Administrator Sarah Morris during a USTelecom webinar Wednesday.

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"We've come a really long way" since the program's inception, Morris said, and the agency is "working with urgency" to approve all states' plans on a rolling basis. Once the states begin their challenge processes, "that's really where the rubber meets the road to ensure that BEAD funding goes where that money is needed most," she said. New Jersey Broadband Office Director Valarry Bullard agreed and encouraged officials to engage with local stakeholders and other state broadband offices as they consider how to address their own states' broadband needs. The "most challenging" part of drafting a proposal has been outreach, Ballard said.

"Getting that state process right is really, really important," said Pamela Sherwood, Brightspeed vice president-Compliance and Broadband Office. "We're still waiting to see the final framework that the states are proposing," Sherwood said, adding she has seen a "very different approach" in each of the 20 states the company operates in (see 2401310058). "We are concerned about the timeline" for fiber broadband deployment in Minnesota, where the company operates, due to weather-related obstacles and administrative delays, CTC CEO Kristi Westbrock said: "I think we're going to have to be creative."

States should look "really hard to make sure it's not just the table scraps of building what you say you're going to build in your bid," said Verizon Deputy General Counsel Katharine Saunders. Providers must prepare to comply with future requirements, Saunders said, such as reporting obligations and internal infrastructure (see 2312290026). Providers should also strive for a skilled workforce, she said, adding that a "union-represented direct workforce" is "an advantage in this process because it means that you have a workforce ready to build."

There are "still a number of requirements that are up in the air," Sherwood said, such as how providers "actually are reporting and complying with a number of the requirements." It can "become very expensive and difficult to manage" because "you can't really develop that standardization when you have all the one-offs," she said. Westbrock agreed: "There are a lot of areas that are very gray right now," and it's important to make sure that "we really can spend the money in the state the best way that it's needed."

NTIA and states should work together proactively to streamline permitting, rights of way issues and other deployment obstacles, Sherwood said. Uncertainty remains around the future of the FCC's affordable connectivity program, Saunders noted, which would satisfy a BEAD program requirement that a provider receiving any funding offer a low-cost broadband option to eligible low-income households.