ACA Connects Comments on NTIA and State Implementation of $42.5B BEAD Program

February 7, 2022

Success depends on NTIA establishing uniform, transparent, and impartial processes, objective evaluation standards, and quantitative metrics for States to use in awarding grants

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 7, 2022 — ACA Connects on Feb. 4 responded to the Request for Comment issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) regarding implementation of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

In the comments, ACA Connects recommends measures NTIA should adopt to ensure the BEAD Program is implemented by NTIA and States in a fair, effective, transparent, and accountable manner. ACA Connects’ suggested approach, which stems from lessons learned from prior grant programs, should increase the chances the program carries out Congress’ intent and closes the broadband availability and adoption gaps while giving States the freedom to use funding to meet their unique needs.

Specifically, NTIA should:

·     Establish and require States to use uniform grant processes, including the use of a standard application form and a single round, sealed bid process; the processes should be clear and understandable, impartial, and auditable;

·     Establish and mandate that states in evaluating bids apply standards and quantitative metrics that carry out the directives, priorities, and preferences in the statute, including by prioritizing the deployment of future-proof (fiber) networks and applications from experienced and financially capable providers; project areas with the highest percentage of unserved or underserved areas; applications that are cost-effective (i.e., price-per-location requested is lowest); and applications from providers who commit to signing up the highest percentage of households to service;

·     Harmonize the definitions of “unserved” and “underserved” locations used in the program with those used by the FCC for its Broadband Data Map;

·     Ensure funding is properly allocated to states by requiring that NTIA and states use a version of the FCC’s map that accurately identifies locations that are unserved and underserved;

·     Ensure states properly award funding by establishing and requiring states to apply a uniform challenge process that is transparent, impartial, and auditable;

·     Clarify that a provider’s participation in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program complies with the obligation to offer a “low-cost broadband service option” and that states may not regulate the rates charged for a “low-cost broadband service option” offered by a provider who receives funding;

·     Maximizes use of limited funding by refraining from requiring states to prioritize, or otherwise give preferences to, projects that meet policies and regulatory requirements that are not mandated by the statute and do not apply to all broadband providers; and,

·     Implement robust accountability measures for NTIA and states to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of BEAD Program funds.

“The BEAD Program represents an historic opportunity to connect all Americans, but it will only succeed if NTIA and the states properly implement the program,” said ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka. “ACA Connects Members have learned through participation in prior government programs which approaches work and which ones can undermine a broadband grant program’s objectives. NTIA now needs to apply these lessons learned and establish and require states to use clear, objective rules and metrics that ensure unserved and underserved households get the broadband service they so desperately need today and tomorrow.”

The complete filing can be viewed here.