The 21st-century economy relies on internet access. But in 2022, many Eastern Kentucky residents still lack connectivity at home.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the devastating impact of these inequities.
If we don’t fund last-mile broadband projects for our communities, our residents will continue to be blocked from participating in the remote work economy. Children won’t have the chance to fully participate in their education or prepare for modern career opportunities. And telemedicine — a life-saving innovation for rural communities without nearby clinics or hospitals — will remain out of reach.
Bringing high-speed broadband to all Eastern Kentuckians has the potential to counteract the social and economic issues plaguing our region.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) recognizes the transformative power of broadband in rural communities. This bill authorized $42.45 billion for broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption projects for states, territories, and the District of Columbia through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
Administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is now live.
Thanks to BEAD, billions of grant funds will be coming online soon.
BEAD will be a top funding opportunity for broadband projects throughout our region. But if counties and communities in Eastern Kentucky intend to win these funds, submitting competitive grant applications will be crucial.
Who is BEAD ultimately designed for? And how will it help federal, state, and local leaders to bring meaningful opportunities for Eastern Kentucky residents? Let’s take a closer look.
The BEAD Program
The BEAD Program will provide federal funding to states, DC, and territories. Once received, these entities will issue grants for broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption projects.
Kentucky is eligible to receive at least $100 million through BEAD. But the final funding amount from the NTIA will need to accurately reflect the urgent need for broadband expansion throughout Eastern Kentucky.
That’s why the NTIA will calculate an additional funding amount for Kentucky using a formula that relies on the latest broadband coverage data from the FCC. The FCC is currently collecting and analyzing conditions in our region, including the number of unserved and high-cost locations in the state.
As many of our communities are without last-mile broadband, we expect Kentucky’s award amount to increase from the initial $100 million.
BEAD program timeline
The Commonwealth of Kentucky submitted a Letter of Intent (LOI) this July to the NTIA. State officials may request up to $5 million to support planning efforts — including building capacity in state broadband offices and outreach and coordination with local communities.
Once Kentucky receives its initial planning funds, they will have 270 days to develop and submit a 5-year broadband action plan. This plan will surely count on input from Eastern Kentucky leaders and advocates for broadband expansion.
Once the FCC issues its revised broadband coverage maps, which are expected by this fall, the NTIA will release additional program deadlines to applicants. The initial proposal will be due 180 days once the NTIA releases Kentucky’s calculated available amount of funding.
BEAD and broadband expansion in Eastern Kentucky
As early as 2023, BEAD grants will come online for towns, counties, and eligible organizations throughout Kentucky. But don’t wait until next year to start preparing.
If you’re hoping to launch a broadband project for your community, you need to start engaging your stakeholders, forming partnerships, and identifying your next steps right away.
What are your goals? And do they align with what BEAD is trying to accomplish? The answer is probably yes, but you’ll need a well-thought-through plan and a committed dollar amount before submitting your application.
Take a look at this shortlist of projects and activities that BEAD is likely to fund in Eastern Kentucky:
- Last mile deployment to homes, businesses, and municipal buildings
- Middle mile deployment
- Improving service reliability
- Upgrading facilities and materials, including fiber installation
- Planning grants
BEAD is also closely aligned with a grant program prioritizing digital equity.
Kentucky’s 5-year plan will connect with the objectives funded by the Digital Equity Program, which intends to help funnel these billions of grant dollars into our most underserved areas.
As a result, BEAD funding will likely be prioritized for communities experiencing the greatest need. This may include broadband partners struggling to access traditional funding, remote towns overlooked by private internet providers, areas with low workforce participation, and stagnant or declining economies.
Goals for BEAD-funded projects
The IIJA is targeting the downstream effects of expanded broadband access.
Increased workforce participation, improved health outcomes, and stronger educational performance for students are among the IIJA’s leading goals.
But most of all, BEAD should help strengthen local economies by increasing median income levels and decreasing wage inequality in remote areas like ours.
Local leaders must take full advantage of the BEAD Program. The stakes are too high not to. To get started, Eastern Kentucky communities must get organized — and consider best practices for planning, seeking funding, and installing broadband.
How to prepare to apply for BEAD funding
Seeking broadband grants is more competitive than it’s ever been. As Kentucky officials prepare to receive and issue BEAD funding, it’s up to you to start getting ready for the grants that’ll come online in 2023.
Grant funding comes with strings attached. You have to be able to administer the funding you receive exactly per the program’s requirements.
You’ll also need a solid broadband expansion plan in place. The application will require you to outline your idea — and convince grantors you have the capacity to make it happen.
Your plan must include who your project stakeholders are, where your funding match will come from, and all the considerations that come with public-private partnerships.
Preparing for broadband grants takes time, which is why you need to start now. And since the need is so great, there will likely be an abundance of applications that BEAD program administrators will be reviewing.
BEAD will enable our communities to tackle the most pervasive issues we’re facing — from underemployment and unemployment to healthcare access and educational opportunities. As a result, you should be treating this process with the utmost care.
In partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), SOAR has developed a comprehensive resource to help Eastern Kentucky communities create their plans for broadband.
Additionally, SOAR created the Grants 101 Playbook to help you optimize your application strategy.
Download both to get ready for the transformative grant opportunities coming your way next year.
Conclusion: Bring high-speed broadband to your community
Learn how to take full advantage of BEAD funding and other broadband programs in your town or county.
SOAR maintains an up-to-date suite of broadband resources to help Eastern Kentucky leaders and advocates get their regions online.
Contact your SOAR representative today for more information.