NRECA offers guidance for electric co-ops over $42.5bn rural broadband fund

‘Talk with your state and local officials. If co-ops don’t apply and win it to serve their area, someone else will’

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has welcomed the allocation of US$42.5bn (£33.05bn) in rural broadband funding from the US government, and has issued advice for electric co-operatives looking to apply.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program has been allocated to the states as part of president Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The BEAD funding will be used to deploy or upgrade broadband networks to increase access to high-speed internet service. Once the deployment goals are met, any remaining funding will be used to pursue eligible access, adoption, and equity-related projects.

“Efforts to bridge the digital divide began nearly 25 years ago, yet millions of Americans remain sidelined and disconnected simply because of their zip code,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

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“In 2023, that’s unacceptable. Access to broadband creates new ways to live, learn and earn in rural America. These state allocations are a major milestone in the fight to finally make rural broadband a reality.”

Now that the state allocations have been announced, states will lay out their broadband plans and launch grant programs to award the funds.

A  Federal Communications Commission mapping project is now under way to determine eligible locations for BEAD grants that are classed as either unserved (lacking internet download/upload speeds of 25/3 megabits per second) or underserved (below 100/20 Mbps).

NRECA senior regulatory director for broadband and telecom, Brian O’Hara, advised co-ops to start evaluating the rules for the new grants and which areas may be eligible, adding, “A feasibility study may show a broadband project does not pencil out, but that could change when grant money is involved.

“Getting a grant can change the equation of whether pursuing broadband is economically feasible,” he said. “Talk with your state and local officials. If co-ops don’t apply and win it to serve their area, someone else will.”