NRECA is advising electric cooperatives and statewide associations to contact their state broadband offices now to press for fair rules for the $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

A letter template has been distributed to NRECA Broadband participants to help quickly and clearly communicate with state officials drafting BEAD proposals and five-year action plans, which are required for state participation in the Biden administration’s landmark “internet-for-all” grant program.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced BEAD funding allocations to states in June, after which states had six months to submit their plans to award internet providers grants to connect unserved communities with broadband.

“Rules being promulgated by state broadband offices will directly impact electric cooperatives’ ability to successfully bid and win BEAD awards,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA’s senior regulatory director for broadband and telecom.

“It’s imperative for cooperatives and statewide associations to engage now to ensure rules are not installed that would negatively impact co-ops’ ability to compete for these funds.”

The letter template covers key issues and concerns for co-ops to raise with state broadband offices and includes the following recommendations:

  • Simplify the application process to encourage participation by small and nontraditional providers, such as electric cooperatives.
  • Provide technical assistance for small entity applicants.
  • Allow electric co-ops to use existing electric easements for retail broadband.
  • Address permitting issues and delays.
  • Allow applicants to draw their own "proposed funding service area."
  • Offer guidance on low-cost affordable services plans.
  • Cap the total BEAD award amounts that a single entity can win.

Co-ops are encouraged to edit the letter to address their specific issues and circumstances in their state, O’Hara said.

“This template offers an effective way to voice any concerns and offer ideas to state broadband offices before they determine how they will award BEAD money,” he said.

“It’s important for co-ops across the country to be heard as the rules for the BEAD program are being debated and decided within the states.”