By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. Capital Growth Partners, a business advisory firm, assembled broadband providers, information technology (IT) professionals, digital divide consultants and leaders from the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to discuss opportunities in President Biden’s Internet for All initiative.
In 2021 Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Part of the legislation included a $65 billion investment to ensure every American has access to reliable, high-speed internet service. The majority of the investment was used by the NTIA to launch the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
The BEAD program is a $42.45-billion program to deploy funds to all U.S. states and territories for broadband infrastructure delivery and adoption projects.
“It really is a once in a generation investment,” said Mark Colon, director of public engagement for NTIA. “The money is going to be administered by the states, and under BEAD, their first priority has to be to provide access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet service to all served and unserved areas in their locations, as well as community anchor institutions.”
Some of the eligible uses for the funds include deploying or upgrading internet service, installing internet service in multi-tenant buildings, establishing digital equity programs and providing workforce and job training for broadband careers.
States are required to ensure a plan is in place to provide internet to every unserved and underserved area before using BEAD funds for other eligible projects.
On June 26, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the funding allocations for each state and territory. The investments ranged from $100 million to $3.3 billion.
The Biden-Harris Administration gave states six months from the allocation date to submit their plans for BEAD funding.
“The most important of the other Bipartisan Infrastructure Law broadband programs to know about is the Affordable Connectivity Program, a $14.2-billion program to provide up to a $30 per month subsidy to low-income families and individuals,” said Colon.
According to Colon, BEAD requires all internet service providers that receive funding to offer a plan at that rate.
“When it comes to connectivity, it’s not about access to the internet,” said Matthew Dietz, global government national security strategist for Cisco. “Connectivity is about access to proper health care, education and critical services that the government provides, as well as the private industry provides.”
According to Dietz, a number of services in the education, healthcare, government and private sectors are going to be exclusively delivered digitally, making it even more important to ensure all people have access to internet service.
He noted that as more people adopt digital services, they must ensure that the services are reliable because their failure would lead to distrust from the public.
“Anything that can be delivered digitally must and will be delivered digitally, be it healthcare, education, any kind of information or warning systems in communities,” said Deitz. “All of this is riding on the backbone of broadband infrastructure.”