The Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Program (BEAD) and Telehealth

April 25, 2022

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“the Act”) appropriated significant funds for broadband expansion. Included in these appropriations is $42.45 billion, to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as what is termed the Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Program (BEAD) program. See a good summary of the program here: 

https://www.natlawreview.com/article/broadband-equity-access-deployment-program-bead-4245-billion-state-broadband-grants

Under BEAD, funds will be distributed under formula to the states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Territories. At least $100 million will be awarded to each recipient.  Subgrants may be distributed by states consistent with the Act in accordance with a five-year action plan to be developed by the States and approved by NTIA.  

The BEAD program links directly to efforts authorized under a separate statute, the Digital Equity Act (DEA). A detailed summary of the DEA is linked below: 

https://www.natlawreview.com/article/digital-equity-act

The DEA creates three separate initiatives: 

  • State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, which allocates $60 million for states and territories to develop “Digital Equity Plans;”; 
  • State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, which allocates $1.44 billion for states and territories to support the implementation of their State Digital Equity Plans; and 
  • Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, which allocates $1.25 billion to support efforts of applicants – including local and regional entities – to achieve digital equity, promote digital inclusion activities, and spur greater adoption of broadband among covered populations. 

The BEAD efforts of individual states and territories are expected to be consistent with Digital Equity Plans. BEAD funding will dwarf the funds available under the DEA’s competitive Equity Grant Program.  

Note that not all states and territories have a designated or fully functioning office ready to the administer the BEAD program. See a recent inventory of state and territory broadband offices here: 

https://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/state-broadband-task-forces-commissions.aspx

The DEA Planning Grant and Capacity Grant programs will assist in the development of these offices, helping them to prepare for BEAD. It would be useful for SORHs to engage with their state broadband offices and provide advice and assistance with the rural telehealth aspects of their planning. SORHs can use this listing to identify the broadband office in their own states. 

BEAD subgrants may be used to fund three types of broadband infrastructure: 

  • Unserved area service projects – where 80% of locations in the proposal area lack access to reliable 25Mbps/3Mbps; 
  • Underserved area service projects – where 80% of locations in the proposal area lack access to reliable 100Mbps/20Mbps service; and  
  • Community anchor institution service projects (“CAIs”) – supporting schools, libraries, hospitals and other community institutions lacking access to 1Gbps service. 

All projects supported by BEAD must provide at least 100Mbps/20Mbps service.

States and territories “must award funding in a manner that prioritizes unserved service projects.” After certifying to NTIA that it “will ensure coverage” to “all unserved locations” in the State or territory, the State/territory must prioritize underserved service projects. After “prioritizing underserved service projects,” the State/territory may fund eligible CAIs. Note that a significant percentage of unserved areas are in frontier/rural locations. 

Of the three eligible types of project, CAIs are most directly related to telehealth. SORHs participating in the development of state Digital Equity Plans can assure appropriate use of BEAD funds for hospitals and other health service institutions. SORHs can also be a more general advocate for rural/frontier communities, assuring equitable investment of all BEAD funds.  

Guidance for BEAD and DEA programs is expected to be released in the next few months. 

 

Date: April 25, 2022 

Tags: Telehealth, Digital Equity Plan, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act