BEAD and ACP Initiatives Show Early Promise of Greater Internet Accessibility for the Underserved
AireBeam, Arizona’s fastest growing fiber to the home and fixed wireless Internet service provider, works regularly with underserved Internet access communities. In this announcement, the company’s CEO Ben Elkins explores how residents in these areas can take advantage of government programs to reduce their Internet bill, particularly in Arizona.
Ben Elkins, CEO of AireBeam shares his thoughts on the BEAD and ACP programs
When the Internet burst on the scene in the mid 1990’s, it was much like a gold rush. Everyone wanted to get involved and get a piece of the action. Fast forward to today, and Internet access is as available as the telephone or electricity. The common misconception is everyone has it and it is easily accessible but is it really?
Today, while Internet connectivity is pretty common, there are many parts of the United States that don’t have Internet access, or it is spotty at best. Fortunately, there are programs funded and managed by the U.S. government and administered through the states to help address this issue.
As Arizona’s fastest growing fiber to the home and fixed wireless Internet service provider, we at AireBeam are actively leveraging these programs on behalf of our customers and those in our service areas. We’ve spent quite a bit of time getting to know these programs and working hard to use their benefits for our communities. With this in mind, we hope to give you a deeper understanding of exactly what these programs offer, and how this may benefit both ISPs and consumers alike.
It started in 2021 with Congress’ passage of the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That legislation earmarked over $65 billion to build out Internet infrastructure and supplement Internet access costs for unserved and underserved areas.
The biggest portion of broadband spending has been for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program at $42.5 billion. BEAD subsidizes Internet service providers (ISPs) that build infrastructure to support areas in need. The majority of the remaining portion of the $65 billion has gone to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) fund that is essentially a longer-term version of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created for the pandemic. Under ACP, there are available subsidies for eligible households to offset Internet connectivity costs. Both are administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which works with individual states to ensure broadband goals are met.
Quite simply, the two programs do different things. BEAD earmarks funding through the states to help ISPs build out the infrastructure necessary to upgrade connectivity in unserved or underserved areas. ACP, on the other hand, helps individuals with ongoing subsidies for their monthly Internet service to make it more affordable.
Let’s first start with BEAD. For some context, BEAD is designed to establish broadband networks for underserved and rural areas to have high-speed Internet. BEAD steps into areas where high-speed Internet is not feasible and is too costly for ISPs to implement alone.
Funding for BEAD to states is split into three tiers based on needs – Minimum Initial Allocation, High-Cost Allocation and Remaining Funds Allocation. The Minimum Initial Allocation gives each state $100 million and U.S. territories a minimum of $25 million. High-Cost Allocations are designed to provide additional funding to states with more than the average unserved locations. The Remaining Funds Allocation essentially allows for upgrades of speeds and service to areas in need.
Funding for unserved and underserved areas are determined by NTIA’s Broadband Data Maps that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created. These maps visually show unserved and underserved areas around the country. Unfortunately, some of these maps are out-of-date in terms of coverage. As a result, the NTIA allows AireBeam and other Internet service providers to challenge what the current data maps have with newer, up-to-date information, which updates the map to ensure no one is left out.
It’s our opinion that there is plenty of money for each state to service every area. Through BEAD, the NTIA has done a particularly good job of detailing and designing the way each state gets allocated funds. The formulas are very equitable and seem to work much better than previous programs.
As a side bar, there is money also available to ISPs for tribal communities through The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. It is a $3 billion program directed to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
Now, let’s turn to ACP, the other critical program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. ACP is a bit different than BEAD funding because it is designed to help individual households pay for Internet access on an ongoing basis.
ACP is a program that helps households afford and access broadband Internet which is needed for work, school, healthcare, and other essential needs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. ACP funds are dispersed through eligible Internet service providers to qualifying households.
ACP benefits provide a discount of up to $30 per month for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on Tribal lands for Internet service. In addition, eligible households can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 for the purchase of an electronic device from participating providers. ACP is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
It is important for ISPs to willingly promote ACP to their constituents. At AireBeam, we promote ACP benefits by highlighting it on customer bills, our website and at events. Our customer service representatives are trained to let customers know about ACP and explain the benefits. We list steps on our website to make it easy to apply, which has paid off in a 92 per cent qualification rate among those who apply for ACP at AireBeam.com.
We believe the ACP is not just a funding initiative that’s a one or two-year thing, but that it will continue to be funded for generations to come. Not only are we excited about the future of this type of funding, but we have and will continue to promote it to our customers as much as possible.
State Collaboration Is Key
One very encouraging thing about what the NTIA is doing is collaborating well with the states to deliver on the promise of BEAD and ACP, along with other initiatives. Each state is allowed to address the needs of residents as they wish, granting every state an office to oversee broadband implementations. In Arizona, it is the Arizona State Broadband Office. Arizona’s Director of Broadband Services is tasked with overseeing the growth of broadband infrastructure in Arizona.
From AireBeam’s point of view, Arizona’s Director of Broadband Services Sandip Bhowmick has done an outstanding job in his role. Sandip was able to secure an additional millions of dollars in funding for Arizona after proving that the state had a greater need than the NTIA initially thought. He has positively affected ISPs and the surrounding communities as efforts to bring Internet connectivity to underserved areas have been made.
Representatives from each state broadband office routinely meet with ISPs and rural communities to assess the problem firsthand. Each state director is hugely influential in bridging communities when they get involved. In Arizona, representatives meet many mayors and civic leaders in Arizona to assess their needs and figure out how much money is necessary.
This process determines what ISPs are qualified and what communities would be a good match for them. Unlike the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), a national program enacted in 2019 that didn’t work well with the FCC’s data map, BEAD and ACP have shown a different approach that relies heavily on the State Broadband Office being the catalyst to get things done.
The NTIA has done an exceptionally excellent job of giving each state upfront money to create office space and hire personnel to meet communities, ISPs, and figure out which areas are in need. This approach has been really beneficial in getting states and other government agencies to work together to address issues. In Arizona, we have seen firsthand the positive outcomes from this collaboration.
And The Future?
What does the future hold? The BEAD and ACP initiatives have shown early promise in their efforts to increase broadband access and affordability. As the NTIA and states continue to work together, broadband infrastructure in rural and disadvantaged areas will continue to improve and expand, benefiting communities across the country.
At AireBeam, we continually try to do our part by meeting with towns, mayors, tribal leaders, and communities to understand their needs when it comes to Internet accessibility. We work extremely hard to keep a pulse on our service areas and continue to use tools such as BEAD and ACP to address issues that may arise.
ISPs should continue to prepare and stay involved in the larger scheme of things when it comes to providing Internet accessibility to communities in need. We encourage them to give BEAD and ACP a chance and not shy away just because past programs haven’t worked. However, it is important to figure out one’s financial position, as well as areas that fit the ISP specifically before committing to these programs. At the end of the day, ISPs need to understand that the government is providing funding to better the community while service providers are attracting new customers. It is a win-win for everyone.
AireBeam was founded in 2004 and is one of Arizona’s fastest growing fiber to the home and fixed wireless Internet service providers. AireBeam is locally operated and proudly serves Pinal, Pima and Maricopa Counties, including Arizona City and surrounding areas. Their mission is to provide affordable and accessible Internet access to rural areas in Arizona. AireBeam is a subsidiary of Boston Omaha Corporation (NYSE:BOC).