For those without access to broadband, there’s a need for BEAD. As of Monday, the wait for states to hear how much federal funding they’re set to receive through the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment grant program is over.
President Joe Biden announced more than $42 billion in allocations for the BEAD program Monday, with nearly $1.2 billion coming to Pennsylvania to expand access to high-speed internet. The commonwealth, which is set to receive the first 20% of the grant award – almost $240 million – in December, is one of only 19 states to get allocations of more than $1 billion.
The program is part of a strong push by the Biden administration to provide all Americans with access to affordable high-speed internet by 2030.
“This is a watershed moment for the millions of people across the country who lack access to a high-speed internet connection who will soon have this necessary service to learn, work and play,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communication and Information Alan Davidson said in a statement. “States can now plan their grant programs with confidence and engage with their communities to ensure they spend this money where it is most needed.”
The funds will be distributed by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which was established through Act 96 of 2021 to manage federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding coming into the state.
“We’re thrilled the commonwealth is receiving this historic allocation — we’ve worked hard over the last year to ensure Pennsylvania received the funding it needs to finally address the connectivity issues impacting our communities,” said Brandon Carson, executive director of the Broadband Development Authority, said in a statement. “Everyone in the commonwealth should have access to affordable, high-speed internet and the authority is committed to making that a reality.”
The BEAD allocations arrive after a months-long process when states, counties or individuals could challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband service maps and identify additional unserved areas. The state’s allocations were ultimately decided by the number of unserved areas identified within it.
The Broadband Development Authority entered into a contract with the Penn State Extension late last year to develop and update state broadband maps and assist with the FCC challenge process. Several counties also conducted their own surveys and issued challenges to the FCC, while others hired consultants to help them advance their challenges.
Some counties identified thousands of unserved areas that did not appear on the FCC’s address maps. In Westmoreland County, officials identified 14,527 sites – or 8% of the 175,251 address points in the county. In Washington County, the challenge identified 617 sites, including 19 places that FCC maps indicated were served by broadband but the county determined were not.
In total, the commonwealth appealed more than 50,000 service areas that did not have access. The FCC upheld about 28,000 of those challenges.
In order to receive and distribute BEAD funding, the commonwealth is required to complete a five-year action plan by Aug. 12 and a State Digital Equity Plan by Oct. 31. The Broadband Authority is hosting community conversations throughout the summer to gauge community needs related to equitable broadband access and aid in the development of the five-year action plan due in less than two months.
If the state’s five-year plan is in place by the fall, as expected, it can anticipate opening grant programs for BEAD in early 2024.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.