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Carl Guardino: 100% Broadband Access in the U.S. — The Time is Now

A strong fiber bias in broadband funding means that underserved communities remain at risk of being left behind.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Carl Guardino, VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Tarana

In June, President Joe Biden announced how more than $42 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funding will be allocated across the U.S. and its territories to bring 100% broadband access to nearly 60 million unserved or underserved Americans within five years.

That goal, set by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, and the billions of dollars and new tools available to fill existing gaps in coverage will give policymakers, communities, and industry stakeholders a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to bridge the digital divide in the United States.

Now, the real work begins: determining how 50 states and six territories will put that funding to work.

No family left behind

There are severe consequences for those affected by insufficient or slow implementation of broadband service, as highlighted by a recent study from the National Skills Coalition, which emphasized the importance of digital skills for more than 92% of today’s jobs.

A lack of access to reliable internet not only prevents individuals from acquiring those crucial skills and limits their employment opportunities, but also hinders them from using the myriad of internet-driven resources to which families have become accustomed for healthcare, education, employment, public safety, social survival, and more. Those waiting on broadband access are at a serious disadvantage, which is why we must ensure that no American family is left behind.

Finite finances

Despite the many funding initiatives aimed to solve the problem in the U.S., those finances are finite and currently trending in a “fiber-first” direction. Fiber is great where attainable, but this approach overlooks the important realities of providing reliable broadband to underserved areas at scale, which indicate that fiber alone would require far more funding than what is currently available.

With the average cost to connect fiber to every home in a given state hovering in the neighborhood of $7,000 per home, some simple math comparing a state’s BEAD funding allocation to the number of households in the state would demonstrate a significant gap between the funding available and the funding actually required to close the digital divide with a fiber-only strategy.

The $42.45 billion set aside for the BEAD program has vast potential in the pursuit of 100% coverage. But the strong fiber bias that persists in the world of broadband funding means that underserved communities remain at risk of being left behind. If we rely solely on fiber, an objective analysis of the true cost and operational mechanics of fiber deployment in digital divide projects shows that both time and money will run out long before we reach millions of American families that are still waiting on adequate internet access.

Technology advances

Thanks to recent technological advancements, there are new tools available that can efficiently and cost-effectively reach those forgotten by “fiber-first” thinking. Next-generation fixed wireless access is a unique technology category that overcomes two long-battled challenges of the wireless broadband industry:

  • Non-line-of-sight capabilities — the ability to maintain high performance despite physical obstacles, such as trees or buildings, between tower and home;
  • Interference cancellation — a feature that ensures reliable, high-speed service in crowded (even unlicensed) radio frequencies where there are interfering signals from other devices;

As the first wireless technology to truly deliver on both fronts, ngFWA has rewritten what is possible with wireless broadband. Combining the rapid deployment and scaling benefits of wireless technology with unprecedented reliability and performance, ngFWA is the long-awaited method of filling gaps where fiber is too timely or expensive.

The time is now

For the first time ever, we have what it takes to achieve 100% coverage with readily available funds, and in timelines measured in months rather than years. Opportunities of this magnitude don’t come around often. It is critical that the U.S., state governments, and key stakeholders work together to deliver reliable internet to those still impacted by the digital divide.

A joint effort, in which every possible tool is leveraged to optimally allocate resources and efficiently bring broadband to the unserved, is the only way to reach every American. With billions of dollars at stake, and all of the technological means to get this right, the time is now to bridge the digital divide for every American family.

Carl Guardino serves as the VP of Government Affairs & Policy at Tarana, to which he came after leading global government affairs for Bloom Energy. He also served for 24 years as CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and is the Vice Chair of the California Transportation Commission. Carl, who has completed 19 marathons and three Ironmans, led or co-led 19 statewide, regional, and countywide ballot initiatives. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Michigan Island Asks FCC to Require Fiber for Some Carriers

Missing out on BEAD-funded fiber could ‘materially impair’ the Beaver Island’s ability to compete, a local committee argued.



Photo of Beaver Island from the Beaver Island Boat Company.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 – A small Michigan island, Beaver Island, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require broadband carriers receiving legacy federal funds to lay fiber-optic cable, or face competition from other providers.

The 55-square mile island is the largest in Lake Michigan and had a population of 616, according to the 2021 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beaver Island’s Joint Telecommunications Advisory Committee made the request in a September 18 filing to the FCC asking that the commission reconsider its adoption of the Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or Enhanced ACAM. That model updates the previous allocation of federal money from the Universal Service Fund to internet providers in rural areas.

The model makes $13.5 billion available through 2028. It allows carriers to continue receiving funding if they upgrade or continue to provide service at 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) upload by 20 Mbps download – regardless of the technology they use to do so.

This, the island’s committee says, will prevent the island from being reached with fiber-optic cable, the highest capacity, most future-proof broadband technology. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, established in 2021, allocates $42.5 billion for states to expand broadband infrastructure, but disqualifies areas already served by federal funding.

Michigan’s broadband office estimated its portion BEAD funding could provide fiber-based internet to every location in the state currently receiving less than 100 * 20 Mbps service. That covers all of Beaver Island. But the island expects its providers will take the Enhanced ACAM  money and update their older, copper-based equipment to meet speed requirements rather than compete at auction for BEAD grants to build fiber.

“Rather than assuring [sic] those areas affected by the Order will receive adequate service,” the filing reads, referring to the commission’s official adoption of the new model on September 1, “the Order instead all but guarantees they will receive a service that will quickly become outdated.”

The committee  said in its filing that in order for an Enhanced ACAM recipient to prevent an area from being eligible for BEAD funding, it should be required by the FCC to use fiber.

Providers have until September 29 to accept or deny Enhanced ACAM funding.

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BEAD Director Says NTIA is Working on Changes to Letter of Credit

Evan Feinman, speaking at the BEAD Implementation Summit, said the agency will also issue guidance on project auditing.



Photo of BEAD Director Evan Feinman at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 –  The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is working on changes to the letter of credit requirements for its flagship broadband grant program, according to the program’s director Evan Feinman.

The letter of credit requirement in the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program requires providers receiving grants to expand infrastructure to obtain a letter of credit from a bank for 25 percent of the project cost.

That means awardees will have to back the letters with cash, which many in the broadband industry have said will push small and community providers out of BEAD projects.

Feinman said the letter of credit requirement accomplishes two goals for the NTIA: it promises some recovery if a project fails, and offers a chance for third-party financial analysis of projects.

“What we did not do was offer a menu of options to do that. We are hard at work on that now,” he said. “You’re going to hear more from us about the letter of credit requirement in the relatively near future.”

The discussion was part of a question and answer session with the broadband community at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit on Thursday.

The summit also featured state broadband leaders, other federal grant program officials, investors, and service providers in conversations about key focuses as states work to allocate and deploy BEAD funds.

When asked about a provision in the program allowing for internet service providers accepting grant money to conduct self-audits, Feinman said the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the program, will be issuing more guidance to states on how to monitor BEAD projects.

That guidance will not be created in the next three months, though. 

“We have deep financial resources in the bank, but our human capital is not as thick as you might like,” he said. “We got to do initial proposals,” he added, referencing grant procedures which states will be submitting to the agency until December 27.

A new model for broadband expansion

Feinman repeatedly drew comparisons to the effort to bring electricity to rural America in the 1930s, but said that BEAD is different from other federal grant programs.

“This is not a normal grants program. This is in fact, not a grants program at all,” he said. “This is a universal coverage broadband infrastructure program. The tools that are being used to get there are grants.”

He said the program is a departure from previous broadband funding efforts because so much of its goal – universal broadband coverage in the U.S. – hinges on working partnerships, both between federal and state officials and between local governments, providers, co-operatives, and communities. That’s because of the complexity of the task and the sheer number of people who need to understand that task to accomplish it.

“This room, we have our hands on the pen. We are writing the next chapter of the great American infrastructure story,” he said at the event. “But this is going to require a true whole-of-society effort.”

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Louisiana the First State to Obtain NTIA Approval of Broadband Plan

The state became the first in the nation to receive approval from the NTIA on part one of its BEAD proposal.



Screenshot of Veneeth Iyengar, Louisiana state broadband director

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 – Louisiana on Tuesday was first state to have volume one of its initial broadband grant proposal approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

States are required to submit in two volumes initial proposals for administering their portion of the $42.5 billion allocated under the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. The two volumes are due December 27.

The first volume is aimed at preparing for the eventual disbursement of funds. It details existing broadband funding programs operating in the state, the types of community anchor institutions within the state, and, crucially, areas in need of internet coverage as shown by the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map and how the state plans to accept and process challenges to the data in that map. 

The FCC is on the third version of the map, updated through its own challenge process. The second version, which updated the provider-reported coverage data after accepting challenges alleging slower on-the-ground internet speeds and other inaccuracies, was used to determine relative need among the states and allocate BEAD funds.

Louisiana will be adopting the model challenge process created by the NTIA. States are not required to use the model process, but the agency encourages them to do so to streamline the drafting and approval processes.

The state is making optional modifications outlined in the model process. It will designate any area served only by DSL – digital subscriber line – technology as “underserved,” and thus eligible for BEAD funded projects, regardless of what speed the provider advertises. The option was included in the model to phase out copper telephone wires in favor of more future-proof broadband technologies like fiber-optic cable.

Louisiana will not accept challenges on the basis of speed, the amount of data a user can download or upload at a time, but will allow subscribers to challenge coverage with speed tests that show excessive latency, or delays in those uploads or downloads. Challenges must be collected and submitted by eligible entities like nonprofits and local governments.

It will also require providers to prove their reported coverage is accurate for an entire building or census block group, rather than on a per-location basis, if enough subscribers there challenge its service.

With volume one of its proposal approved Louisiana can begin administering its challenge process, which it plans to finish in 90 days.

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