Broadband after BEAD: Planning for the Long Term

August 8 – 2:00 pm to 2:45 pm

The BEAD program has been called a “once in a lifetime” and “once in a generation” opportunity for connectivity. While true it represents the largest public investment in broadband in the country’s history, digital exclusion will persist despite the billions of BEAD dollars slated for delivery to states and territories. Indeed, digital divides are tethered to much larger social, political, and economic inequalities that exist regardless of funding. This reality – current dollars and future deficits – requires federal, state and local leaders to think and plan beyond the BEAD program for deployment not to mention affordability, access, and training. This presentation will reflect on three areas in which broadband stakeholders need to consider beyond the allocation of BEAD funding and its timeframe. First is sustainability. Sustainability is twofold, including economic sustainability of providers and programs, and climate sustainability of the network infrastructure itself. In the first regard, while BEAD funds capital expenditures, it will not be enough to connect everyone, nor does it offer operational expenditures. As such, planning for economic sustainability of providers, large and small is crucial. One also cannot speak of economic sustainability without talking about the need for Congress to refund the Affordable Connectivity Program. Next, recent climate catastrophes have demonstrated the vital importance of climate resiliency of broadband networks. This means more funding and nuanced network considerations. Second is redundancy. While “overbuilding” has become the third rail of broadband policy, we must consider the interoperability of funding programs and the vital importance of competition amongst providers. Third, we need to consider experimentation. BEAD comes with a fiber first agenda and rightly so. Nevertheless, some areas and industries will require alternative delivery mechanisms, notably wireless options. Precision agriculture, for instance, requires a wireless connectivity solution. Our fiber first strategy needs room and space for network experimentation. To be sure, BEAD is an opportunity that cannot be missed, but it is only the start of a much longer conversation to securing digital equity.



Christopher Ali, PhD

Penn State University: Pioneers Chair in Telecommunications and Professor of Telecommunications