NRECA CEO Jim Matheson lauded the allocation of $42.5 billion in federal funds to states and territories for grants to bring affordable, reliable broadband to millions of unserved rural Americans.

“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,” Matheson said following Monday’s funding announcement by President Joe Biden and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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

States will receive their allocations on June 30 from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, created by the bipartisan infrastructure law. They will have 180 days to submit plans for their grant programs to the NTIA for approval on a rolling basis.

States have some flexibility about how they administer their programs, so co-ops should be meeting with their state broadband officials and policymakers to provide input, NRECA Legislative Director Katie Culleton said.

BEAD funds initially will be used to build or upgrade broadband networks to fulfill the program’s goal of affordable and reliable high-speed internet access to everyone. Remaining funds then may be applied to address secondary challenges to gaining access.

The five largest allocations went to Texas ($3.3 billion), California ($1.9 billion), Missouri ($1.7 billion), Michigan ($1.6 billion) and North Carolina ($1.5 billion).

The NTIA used the National Broadband Map drafted by the Federal Communications Commission to determine areas lacking minimum internet speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload. Most electric co-ops in the broadband space are providing minimum 100/100 Mbps service but often get outbid by large, for-profit competitors.

NRECA’s broadband team is meeting with FCC staff with recommendations to improve the accuracy of the map data, among other issues.

“In order to confirm their eligibility for BEAD, states need to create a challenge process for determining if specific locations are served or unserved as reflected in the FCC map,” Culleton said. “There is still a long way to go before money is in the hands of providers to begin building networks, but the allocations announced today are an important step.”