Doug Dawson

Bringing Broadband to the Arctic

The Arctic region has largely been left out of the broadband arena in the past due to the high cost of building last-mile broadband infrastructure. But this lack of broadband looks to be changing as multiple satellite companies are targeting the region as a good business opportunity. A number of satellite companies are also developing plans and partnerships around bringing their services to the Arctic region. Satellite broadband is an awesome solution for places where there are likely to be no alternatives.

Should You Pursue the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program Grants?

I took part in a webinar last week for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) that talked about the good, the bad, and the money issues with the upcoming Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants. At the end of the session, the last question asked, “How do you reconcile some of the impractical aspects of the BEAD grant processes with the reality of the market?” My response to the question was to get immediately get involved with your State broadband grant office.

The NTIA Preference for Fiber

As might be expected when there is $42.5 billion in grant funds available, we are probably not done with the rules for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants. There are several areas where heavy lobbying is occurring to change some of the rules established by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the grants.

Here Comes Fixed-Wireless Access

In the first quarter of 2022, half of the new broadband customers went to the fixed-wireless access products from Verizon and T-Mobile. T-Mobile and Verizon are aggressively marketing the product, which is touted to have download speeds over 100 Mbps. The market is going to get hotter when Dish gets its launch underway soon. AT&T has also been promising a major new marketing effort to sell the product.

Reducing Construction Barriers to Broadband Solutions

One of the most interesting sections of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) requires that states must define how they are going to make it easier for grant recipients to implement broadband solutions.

Broadband Usage Still Robust in First Quarter of 2022

The OpenVault Insights Report for the first quarter of 2022 shows that broadband usage remains high. Average household broadband usage in March 2022 was measured at 514 gigabytes, staying over half a terabyte of data used for the average household. This is a drop from 536 gigabytes in the fourth quarter of 2021, but the first quarter has always shown seasonally lower usage than at the end of the previous year. Usage for the first quarter is up 11% from the 462 gigabytes in the first quarter of 2021.

The Digital Equity Challenge

It’s hard to look anywhere in the broadband industry today and not hear about digital inclusion. One big reason for this is the two giant grant programs created by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to tackle digital equity issues. The first is the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, that will allocate $1.5 billion to the States for this program – that’s $300 million per year from 2022 through 2026. The second is the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

Private Equity and Rural Fiber

I’ve been asked three or four times in the last few weeks why anybody would invest in building rural broadband networks with the goal of getting rich. I’ve been hearing the same rumors as everybody else that there are private equity investors ready to jump into the rural grant arena. I have no specific knowledge that this is going to occur, but I’ve run across several internet service providers (ISPs) recently who claim to have access to nearly unlimited equity funding.

The Municipal Broadband Battle

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act made it clear that Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants should be made available to everybody—commercial entities, non-profit entities, Tribes, and municipal entities. But there will be an eventual showdown since many states have barriers or restrictions against municipal participation in building, owning, or operating commercial broadband networks. If there is any one area where politics creep into building broadband, it is with state restrictions on municipalities.

The Extra Costs of BEAD Funding

There are a lot of extra costs for a broadband provider to accept Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funding including Environmental and Historic Preservation Reviews, Letters of Credit, Prevailing Wages, Requirements on Contractors, Reporting Requirements, and Taxes. I have to laugh when I look at these requirements and see that reaching that single remote location might get layered with hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra costs. The biggest drawback of expensive grant compliance is that it drives up the cost of every grant project.