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Louisiana the First State to Launch BEAD Challenge Process

ConnectLA is the first state agency under BEAD to kick off an evidence-based procedure ground-truthing local broadband data.



Photo of Louisiana broadband chief Veneeth Iyengar by Kade Jones in April 2021 from Houma Today

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2023 – Louisiana on Friday became the first state in the nation to begin its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program challenge process.

The launch of the broadband challenge process by ConnectLA marks the first time that a state broadband agency, under BEAD rules, kicks off an evidence-based procedure reviewing ground-truth local data against internet service provider claims of service.

“We have always worked with a sense of urgency to eliminate the digital divide,” said Veneeth Iyengar, director of ConnectLA. “Today’s start of the challenge process represents a significant step to draw down on funds from BEAD and to ensure once and for all that Louisianans in rural and urban areas have what they have also needed and deserved which is high-speed affordable and reliable internet.”

The state has frequently been the first in the nation on BEAD implementation landmarks, and the launch of ConnectLA’s challenge process makes the culmination of nearly two years of preparation by 56 state, district and territorial broadband offices.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed in November 2021 and is a signature accomplishment of President Joe Biden. The law, and the rules implemented by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, establish a framework for ensuring that Americans lacking access to broadband will be able to receive service through BEAD and other funds.

That law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, invested $65 billion in broadband. Now ConnectLA’s move marks a step forward in the $42.5 billion federal effort through BEAD to expand broadband access. Other states are still submitting initial proposals for administering their allocations under the program, due December 27.

BEAD rules require states to accept and process challenges to broadband availability data before awarding grants under the program.

Going fast with a lean team

In spite of having only a three-person full-time staff, Louisiana was also the first state to have volume one of that proposal, which outlined the challenge process starting Friday, approved by NTIA on September 19, 2023.

Facilitating Louisiana’s program is the Ready Challenge Process Coordinator, part of a software platform purpose-built to assist leading state broadband offices in being data-driven, scalable and compliant throughout their broadband programs.

Louisiana using the Challenge Process Coordinator

Providers in Louisiana will have from November 8 to December 8, 2023, to rebut challenges, requiring evidence, such as information from network diagrams and management systems. The state will then weigh evidence and make determinations on its final broadband map by January 4.

Louisiana submitted the second volume of its initial proposal, detailing how it plans to award BEAD grants based on that map, to the NTIA on Monday. The state will have one year from the approval of that proposal to spend all $1.35 billion of its allocation.

Prioritizing the ‘unserved’ areas over other others

The BEAD program prioritizes areas marked as “unserved” – those with access to speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload – for subsidized infrastructure projects, followed by ‘underserved’ areas – those with less than 100 * 20 Mbps.

Louisiana adopted the NTIA’s model challenge process, a template the agency put together for states to expedite the proposal approval process. That process is slated to last 90 days, ending in Louisiana on January 4, 2024. The state will be accepting challenges for the first 30 days, until November 5, 2023, followed by rebuttal and adjudication phases of the same length.

Challenges in the state can allege that data on things like internet speed, technology type, latency, and data caps available at a location is inaccurate.

Making use of area challenges and MDU challenges

Louisiana is making use of two optional modifications the NTIA laid out: Area challenges and multiple dwelling unit, or MDU challenges. Under these rules, if six locations in a census block group or 10 percent of the units in an apartment building challenge the same provider’s technology or coverage, the provider must provide evidence that they serve the entire block group or building as reported in government data. 

In the second volume of its initial proposal, Louisiana declined to set an extremely high cost per location threshold — the point at which it would consider fiber-optic infrastructure too expensive and consider other, less future-proof technologies.

Louisiana said in its proposal it plans to first review the grant proposals it receives, and if a non-fiber proposal would serve significantly more locations than a fiber proposal in the same area, it may elect to choose the cheaper proposal to get broadband to more residents. The proposal also noted Louisiana plans to fund fiber to every un- and underserved location in the state, and thus might not need a high-cost threshold at all.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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North Carolina Releases Final Guidance on $100 Million Pole Replacement Program

Providers may receive up to $10,000 for each utility pole they replace in unserved areas.



Photo of Nate Denny, deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2023 – North Carolina’s broadband office released on Monday final guidance for its $100 million pole replacement program.

The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, will reimburse broadband providers for utility pole replacement costs. Expanding networks can involve attaching equipment to those utility poles. When a pole needs to be replaced to accommodate more equipment, pole owners typically pass the cost on to attachers.

Telecommunications companies have cited this extra cost as a barrier to quick broadband deployments, something utility companies dispute. The two industries have been in conflict on the issue for years, with both continuing to push the FCC to weigh in on a cost sharing regime.

North Carolina’s plan is an effort to smooth over the issue for future broadband expansion efforts, Nate Denny, the state department of information technology’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said in a statement. 

“It addresses a significant barrier to closing the digital divide in remote parts of our state,” he said.

Under the program, broadband providers can apply for 50 percent of the replacement cost for each pole replaced, up to $10,000 per pole. Pole replacement costs in unserved areas after June 1, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement. 

The program will kick off in February 2024 and accept applications from qualified providers.

The FCC has authority in 26 states over the terms of agreements between investor-owned utilities and telecom companies, which does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. The agency is set to vote on updated pole attachment rules at its December meeting.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: National Security and Global Success Depend Upon Prioritizing Telecom Funding

The Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program are both central funding needs for the industry.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

With the government now funded into the new year, it’s time for Congress to take another look at its broader priorities, especially when it comes to the race with China for dominance in next-generation technologies. Whether it’s AI or cloud computing or virtual reality, if the United States is to remain competitive, we need to make secure and effective communications a priority. This means finally connecting all Americans to high-speed broadband and ensuring that our connectivity cannot be undermined by foreign adversaries.

Two popular programs are central to this goal: the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program. Both of these programs have tremendous bipartisan, bicameral support; but both have been underfunded and now risk dying on the vine. Congress has the opportunity to fully fund these programs if it has the will to do so.

Let’s break it down.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides low-income American families and veterans with discounts on Internet service and connectivity equipment, including higher discounts for those living on Tribal lands. With affordable broadband, more Americans can get online and be a part of the digital economy.

The ACP has been wildly successful, connecting over 21 million households to essential broadband they could otherwise not afford. And it continues to garner widespread support, with the vast majority of voters (78%) calling for its extension, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 95% of Democrats.

Congress provided the ACP with $14.2 billion in 2021—but funding is now running low and is projected to be fully exhausted by spring 2024. Governors, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, public interest groups, and Internet service providers are all raising the alarm about its imminent depletion. That’s why the Biden Administration in October called on Congress to replenish the program’s coffers with an additional $6 billion.

A good start, but not the whole story. Our foreign adversaries are well known for their espionage, and while a spy balloon might get the attention, a far more insidious problem lurks in our communications networks: equipment designed and produced by Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE. A bipartisan Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Networks Act to eradicate national security threats such as these, but sufficient funding for the Rip and Replace program has never materialized.

Again, the Biden Administration has stepped up and identified a need for $3.1 billion to fully fund the program as a “key national security priority” in its emergency supplemental funding request. It’s a narrative we can all get on-board with: that broadband falls under the umbrella of national security as a whole. American consumers and institutions both benefit from American-built networks and increased protection at home. But communications providers can’t live up to these needs on their own.

As it stands, the responsibility to get affordable, secure connectivity programs across the finish line rests with Congress. Even with a consensus of support for these two programs, the devil is in the details of how to make the price tags palatable to enough policymakers on Capitol Hill. The key is ensuring that any changes preserve the widespread efficacy of the program that has made it popular so far.

For example, Congress could cut the cost of the ACP by limiting the additional Tribal funding to rural Tribal lands. Any such change should be grounded in an evaluation of existing need in urban areas, but could be an opportunity to ensure funds are being directed to areas of greatest need. And Congress should consider indexing the ACP to inflation. The high inflation of recent years has wreaked havoc on the budgets of consumers—and inflation-proofing the program would ensure that broadband remains affordable for all Americans even should inflation come back.

As for Rip-and-Replace, those of us urging for more funds could concede putting safeguards in place to ensure the money is being used for its intended purpose – the kind of compromise needed to get such policies across the finish line

These are just some ideas as we head into the final funding fight. Not everyone is going to be on the same page on what is and isn’t working best, but shared success starts by recognizing that we all have the same endgame. Congress must ensure that adequate funding for the ACP and Rip and Replace program are included in any year-end spending package. We have an all-too-rare opportunity to win the race for high-tech dominance—we just need to provide the resources.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. 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.

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NTIA Confirms Licensed-by-Rule May Apply for BEAD Funding

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA on the issue.



Photo of telecom towers by Andrew Hart.

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has moved to confirm some wireless technology will be included in its $42.5 billion broadband grant program. 

The agency clarified it will define fixed wireless broadband provided through “licensed-by-rule” spectrum as reliable. That makes providers using that spectrum eligible for funding if fiber is too expensive, and protects them from overbuilding by other projects under the program.

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA to move on the issue since it released the notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program in 2022.

When the BEAD guidelines were first published, they only marked broadband provided via licensed spectrum – frequency bands designated by the Federal Communications Commission for use by a single provider – as reliable broadband. 

That meant areas receiving broadband through only unlicensed spectrum – bands set aside for shared use – would be open for BEAD-funded projects from other providers. This is still the case under the clarified rules.

The original guidelines would also put systems like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in a gray zone. The CBRS uses a tiered license system, with government users, priority license holders, and general users sharing 150 megahertz of spectrum. Each tier gets preference over the one below it, meaning a general access user cannot, for example, interfere with a government system.

Some broadband providers use that spectrum on a general access basis to provide internet service. They were initially marked in the FCC’s broadband data with the same code as fully licensed spectrum, 71. But when the FCC added in January a new technology code specific to licensed-by-rule spectrum, 72, it became unclear how the technology would be treated by the BEAD program.

The NTIA cleared up any confusion on November 9, issuing an updated version of its FAQs specifying the new technology code would be treated as reliable broadband, and thus both eligible for BEAD dollars and protected from overbuilding. 

The agencies did not go so far as to comment on the merits of the technology, though, saying in its new FAQ section that it would treat licensed-by-rule as reliable because it was originally classified under 71, with fully licensed spectrum.

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