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Broadband infrastructure program explained: The details

With the $42.45 billion BEAD Program, each state will use allocated funds to connect all households to high-speed internet.

On June 26, 2023, President Joe Biden announced details of his plan to close the digital divide and give states billions of dollars in funding to provide each U.S. territory, household and business high-speed internet access.

The digital divide has been a problem in the U.S., where rural areas and low-income households have had difficulties securing high-speed internet. The internet has become a necessity today, as people move to working, learning, shopping and paying bills online.

The Federal Communications Commission released a map showing nearly 7% of U.S. households and businesses do not have broadband internet access. This percentage equates to around 8.5 million locations and tens of millions of Americans.

The funding for the Biden administration's broadband infrastructure plan is $42.45 billion -- part of the $65 billion 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $42.45 billion broadband internet grant program is called the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD).

White House officials say the internet broadband plan BEAD compares to Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to bring electricity to rural areas in the 1930s.

What the plan means

Biden emphasized that every U.S. household will have access to high-speed internet by 2030 with cables made in the United States. In addition to having access, this plan also aims to lower the costs of internet service by using federal funding to offer low-cost plans to eligible recipients.

Internet service plans should include price transparency and boost competition to provide adequate service through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

On June 1, 2024, the ACP ended due to lack of additional funding, and households will not longer receive a discount. Through this program, more than 23 million households received a $30 monthly discount on home broadband services. Future plans for bringing back this program have not been announced.

To be eligible, households needed to meet one of three criteria:

  1. If household income is at 200% or less than the Federal Poverty Guidelines (see chart here) based on household size and state.
  2. If the person or a dependent participates in government assistance programs such as Medicaid, WIC or SNAP.
  3. If a household member receives a Lifeline benefit.

Eligible households received a discount on broadband service through ACP, which was part of the broadband infrastructure plan.

How the ending of ACP affects the BEAD program

The loss of this plan will make it hard for low-income households to afford the upgraded networks, creating challenges for participating ISPs. ACP’s expiration will also limit some areas and may even lead to overpaying for broadband deployments in rural areas making it even more unaffordable to some households.

The goal of ACP was to help low-income households with high-speed internet plans. The plan defined three megabits per second (Mbps) for uploads and at least 25 Mbps for downloads to be considered a broadband internet connection.

Download speeds refer to how fast information can be loaded to a personal device from the internet. This is what enables users to watch movies and TV episodes from a streaming device or access files in the cloud. Upload speeds refer to how quickly data is sent to the internet, necessary for sending emails, moving files to the cloud or posting images and videos on social media.

Learn the differences between broadband and Wi-Fi.

Highlights of the program

All states were awarded at least $107 million in funding, according to a White House release. There were 19 states that received more than $1 billion, including these states with the top 10 allocations:

  • Alabama.
  • California.
  • Georgia.
  • Louisiana.
  • Michigan.
  • Missouri.
  • North Carolina.
  • Texas.
  • Virginia.
  • Washington.

All states, Washington, D.C. and territories -- including American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands -- have funding to connect all residents and small businesses to high-speed internet.

Click here for the complete list of state funding amounts.

In addition to connecting all Americans to broadband or high-speed internet, the plan supports manufacturing jobs to make the materials needed. Materials -- such as fiber optic cables -- will be made in the United States.

The domestic manufacturing activities in North Carolina will be expanded by CommScope and Corning by $47 million and $500 million respectively. Additional jobs will be created in North Carolina because of the need to build fiber optic cables for the broadband infrastructure. These investments are a part of Biden's Investing in America program's $500 billion pledge for private sector manufacturing.

Breakdown of funding

The money for the BEAD program is included in the infrastructure spending package approved in 2021. The state breakdown announced July 5, 2023, was money from the BEAD program to allocate money and start planning.

The BEAD program complements five other broadband access programs included in the bipartisan infrastructure law. These programs include the following:

  • $14.2 billion for ACP including the $30 per month discount per eligible household and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands (no additional funding as of June 1, 2024).
  • $2.75 billion for Digital Equity Act to ensure communities have skills and support for high-speed internet connections.
  • $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for high-speed internet deployment on Tribal lands.
  • $2 billion for the Department of Agriculture's Reconnect Program for loans and grants to build high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas.
  • $1 billion for the Middle Mile Program to bridge the gap of internet networks for storing and interacting with data.

How BEAD works and what's next

Each state will produce a plan detailing the unserved areas that are not supported by any other broadband initiatives. Local governments, internet service providers and nonprofit organizations will also submit feedback on the proposal's improvement service areas.

States will also determine their strategies to attract and hire skilled workers, create plans for the physical infrastructure to ensure they are resilient to any climate concerns and guarantee connections are affordable.

Following the approval of these initial plans, states will have access to 20% of their allocated budget to begin giving subsidies to broadband providers, electric subsidiaries and telecom firms. After the federal government accepts final proposals, which should demonstrate how states will hold internet service providers accountable for their spending, the remaining money will become available.

For areas with high-speed internet, the ACP program offers eligible households $30 off their internet bills per month. A one-time discount of up to $100 is also available to these qualified households for the purchase of a desktop computer, laptop or tablet.

Learn more about the ACP program here.

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