BEAD without Equity Is Just Bad

BEAD without Equity Is Just Bad

Posted on October 03, 2022 by Karen Stewart, Digital Access for All Engagement Team
The Digital Access for All (DA4A) initiative has been working diligently to engage the four-county region, state, national, and global partners to promote collaboration to bridge the digital divide. Since 2020, the DA4A Team has conducted or facilitated numerous interviews, webinars, local planning groups, and surveys to build momentum and community engagement. On October 4, 2022, the first National Philanthropy Scan Workshop, "Discovering Pathways for Astonishing Success in Connectivity," was held with over 60 participants. With great excitement, the DA4A Team also released a new report entitled "Society and Philanthropy in Action: Creating New Realities in Digital Access," which explores the expansiveness of the Digital Access space and the many roles funders can play. This intentional approach to engagement is critical to the success of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD).

At the International Economic Development Conference held in Oklahoma City in September 2022, an economic transformation tract featured a workshop entitled "Achieving Universal Broadband Access in America." One of the presenters, Evan Feinman, Director of BEAD for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), spoke about broadband connectivity as an extension to economic development efforts. Businesses desire connectivity and know that they will not be able to grow and compete without access throughout the country. He stated that there is political will and social demand for ensuring equitable access and a moral and ethical demand, such that not solving the problem is not a choice. Digital access is critical for equity in education, for older adults, veterans, and for the provision of mental health and telehealth services. Digital equity is critical for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

Feinman described project management for the BEAD programs, stating that a high-engagement, state-led model has been created, which will require hiring staff in every state who will work with local governments to implement the $42 billion grant program. The plan is to give grant funds to State Broadband Offices with the goal of providing access to every home in the state, with consideration given to high-cost locations. Each state is expected to receive a minimum of $100 million. The BEAD five-year action plan includes the roll-out of the first cut of the FCC maps this fall. Allocations will be made to states based on needs, with rules developed for sub-grants. To implement the BEAD program, each state will receive a $5 million planning and capacity-building grant. He pointed out that billions in new wages and wealth will be created through the development of the infrastructure and that land value increases by 2 to 8 percent as soon as connected.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) delivered The Florida Strategic Plan for Broadband to the governor on June 20, 2022. The comprehensive plan outlines DEO's mission of creating a connected economy and champions the state's economic development vision by administering state and federal programs and initiatives, including broadband, to help citizens, visitors, businesses, and communities. The vision for the strategic plan is to provide guidance to state decision-makers about investments for the provision of high-speed, reliable broadband internet service access to all Florida communities in support of telemedicine, education opportunities, workforce development, and community development. A requirement for the BEAD Program is digital equity, defined as the condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in the society and economy.

The Florida Strategic Plan notes that the planning and capacity building grant will support internet broadband planning, build capacity in state broadband offices, and provide outreach and coordination with local communities. The state will submit a five-year action plan to the NTIA, which must be informed through a collaboration with local and regional entities.

Feinman closed by saying the BEAD, without equity, is just BAD. He gave a call of action to the economic development profession to engage with state and local governments and stakeholders from civic and community organizations to develop a state five-year action plan for BEAD that focuses on equity and inclusion.

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