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Your BEAD Questions Answered: Q&A with Broadband Planning & Implementation Expert, Chris Campbell

The Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program is the most significant broadband funding program in history. Funded through the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021, the BEAD Program provides $42.5 billion for high-speed internet access across all 50 states and U.S. territories. Bigger than any of its predecessors, this massive grant comes with a considerable rules and regulations to ensure funds are being used to effectively reach its goal of bringing digital equity to all Americans.

We sat down for an interview with Chris Campbell, Broadband Planning and Implementation Expert and Principal Consultant at Tilson, to help understand what makes BEAD unique to previous funding programs, and how states and territories can best navigate its complexities.

How does the size of the BEAD program impact applicants?

The BEAD program is substantially bigger than any broadband program before it. While this brings incredible opportunities for states, it also poses new challenges. Many state offices are still in their infancy, just finding their footing, or relatively small. The approaches they’ve taken in the past don’t necessarily scale. Being able to envision this much bigger program and understand how to deliver, resource, and manage it is one of the biggest challenges across states. That’s where my team comes in – we provide full-service support to bridge the gap and deploy largescale BEAD programs, including the planning, design, feasibility studies, grant program administration and management, and post award consulting.

What are the BEAD goals and how do we reach them?

The goal of BEAD is to solve the pervasive digital divide throughout this country and connect all unserved and underserved locations to reliable high-speed internet. For every program that preceded BEAD, the goal was simply to improve access; the goal of this program goes well beyond that to solve the whole problem and connect every unserved and underserved location in the country.

This is an ambitious yet attainable goal, in my eyes. To do this, however, states must have accurate data on the areas that need improved connectivity. The well-defined rules of the BEAD program make it clear that projects must not overlap with other proposals or create gaps in coverage. The answer is to ensure a deep understanding of that state’s unique social, political, and geographic landscape to meet the goals of connecting all communities without leaving anyone out. Managing this robust data accurately and navigating the many stakeholders involved is a formidable task and is the reason that many states turn to outside help through consulting groups.

What is the timeline for the BEAD program?

While previous federal broadband programs have been relatively flexible with their process and timing, the BEAD program has much tighter timelines and is stricter in how states distribute funding to subgrantees. States must hit multiple key milestones within specific time periods and must develop and provide resources such as a 5-year Broadband Action Plan, multiple rounds of proposals, and final reports. This requires states to juggle the timelines of multiple complex requirements at once.

The states I’ve seen that have been the most successful are able to anticipate what is coming next and maintain an aggressive clip to hit these deadlines. Tilson’s Broadband Consulting team brings a comprehensive understanding of what clients and their stakeholders are going to face, helping them stay ahead of the curve and prepared for each step of the BEAD process. We are successful because of the depth of knowledge of our team and the developed approaches and solutions that have been proven to work.

How are applicants meeting BEAD match requirements?

Each BEAD-funded broadband deployment project requires subgrantees to provide matching funds no less than 25% of project costs. Because there are limitations on where the matching funds can come from, states have legitimate concerns that BEAD applicants won’t be able to come up with the required match, jeopardizing projects. The solution is to engage stakeholders early and often and build key relationships with internet service providers (ISPs) to better identify needs and find creative solutions. While it can sound complicated, a fair, open, and transparent public process is also imperative to ensure match requirements are met. Getting the right stakeholders in the room together isn’t easy, but Tilson has helped facilitate these discussions and uses our experience to make sure we’re having the necessary conversations to unlock match funding.

How can I get help with my BEAD-funded project?

While BEAD offers significant challenges, the impact of its successful implementation will be transformative for the residents and businesses benefitting from state-of-the-art broadband access. Tilson’s Broadband Consulting team understands that high-speed internet is critical to grow economic opportunities, increase access to telehealth, support remote learning and remote work, and ultimately improving quality of life across America. We are deeply committed to improving outcomes for rural and underserved communities nationwide.

About Chris Campbell:

Chris serves as Principal Consultant for Tilson, an organically grown national fiber and wireless network design-build firm with a nationwide consulting division providing broadband consulting for state, tribal, and territory governments. Tilson’s Broadband Consulting team partners with states and stakeholders to develop and implement broadband plans that serve the unique needs of states and communities, today and in the future. From the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (known as BTOP) funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to the IIJA, Chris has helped teams navigate multiple federal initiatives.

Before Tilson, Chris served as the head of Vermont’s broadband program from 2010-2015. He has sat on both sides of the federal process, as a public employee and now as a Principal Consultant. He is committed to helping the current cohort of state broadband directors navigate federal funding opportunities. Chris has long been passionate about the power of high-speed internet to keep communities connected and embodies Tilson’s mission to build America’s infrastructure.

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