ACA Connects (ACAC) and the business consulting firm Cartesian on Oct. 17 issued an in-depth study entitled, “BEAD Program: A Framework to Allocate Funding for Broadband Availability”, which gives each U.S. state and territory a head start in determining how to make the most of the $42 billion allocated for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
The study documents a path forward for the expenditure of BEAD funds that would deliver the most robust and reliable broadband connectivity — i.e. fiber to the premises (FTTP) — to virtually all unserved and underserved locations in the U.S.
(The study, which includes a national framework and a framework for each state and territory, has been made available by ACA Connects and Cartesian on the ACA Connects website, at https://acaconnects.org/bead-program-framework/.)
ACA Connects president and CEO Grant Spellmeyer praised Cartesian for helping ACAC contribute rigorous analysis to this critical national issue. Spellmeyer added:
“Our study relies on extensive data, granular analysis, and the expertise Cartesian has developed over many years. ACA Connects and its members welcome the opportunity to share it with state and territory broadband offices. It should be a useful tool for them to achieve their goals to connect every household in their communities."
A three-step process
According to a press release, the "first of its kind’ ACA Connects/Cartesian study follows a three-step process.
- First, the study estimates the total number of unserved and underserved households in each state and territory based on the FCC Form 477 data, adjusted to account for unserved locations in partially served census blocks, major defaults in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program, and new builds since the data was collected.
- Next, the study uses this data to project the amount of funds each state and territory are likely to receive under the BEAD program formula – which includes designations for a Minimum Allocation, High Cost Allocation, and Allocation of the Remaining Amount. In calculating the funds available, the study estimates that grant recipients will contribute $25 billion total in matching funds, on top of the allocated $42 billion .
- Finally, the study applies a “bottom-up” broadband build model, proprietary to Cartesian, to produce cost estimates for bringing service to unserved or underserved locations in each state. The study provides separate cost estimates for a “baseline” scenario (where fiber is deployed to unserved locations that fall below an extremely high-cost threshold and those above the threshold receive fixed wireless), and a “maximum fiber” scenario (where additional amounts are allocated for fiber projects above the threshold).
ACAC says the national analysis concludes that high-speed broadband could be deployed to all unserved locations under the “baseline” scenario for a cost of $49 billion, which represents approximately 70% of the estimated capital available, including provider matches.
If states and territories decided to pursue “maximum fiber” by deploying fiber to the locations above the high-cost threshold, the study estimates that would add another $10 billion, which still leaves several billion dollars for other eligible projects.
The authors conclude that one of the most valuable aspects of the ACA Connects/Cartesian study is that it collects data and assesses deployments on a granular state-by-state basis. Thus, the results in each state will differ. That is, while most states will have sufficient funds to deploy fiber to all locations, some may not. The framework thus can be used by states to vary the deployment scenarios to achieve their unique objectives, as noted by ACAC.
ACA Connects said it is prepared to work with state and local government offices to help them understand and apply the new framework. The analysis for each state and territory also contains a list of ACA Connects members that operate in that jurisdiction.
ACAC noted that all of its members are experienced broadband providers who have deployed advanced networks to nearly 23 million households, including to more economically challenging locations in rural areas. ACAC emphasized that in addition, over the years, it has successfully used federal, state, and local government funding to deploy broadband connectivity to these communities.
ACAC’s Spellmeyer concluded:
“The BEAD program presents a tremendous opportunity to close the digital divide, but to seize that opportunity, states and territories will need to become expert in understanding the ‘ins and outs’ of broadband deployments. As we wait for the FCC to complete development of accurate, location-specific broadband maps, now is the time for states and territories to get up to speed. This study will help them get there. And our members stand ready to provide further assistance based on years of experience building networks in rural America.”