NC BEAD Five-Year Plan
In our last bulletin, we described how the National Broadband Map had changed based on challenges made by state broadband offices and others like the NC Healthcare Broadband Coalition (NCHBC). Based on version 2 of the map, which includes initial challenges, NTIA has allocated funding to the states, territories, and tribal nations. NC fared well, in part because NC healthcare (through the Coalition) made about 900 challenges. NC received $1.5 Billion, making it the fifth-highest recipient of broadband funding. With this allocation of funding, the NC Division of Broadband and Digital Equity must now develop and submit its plan for allocating these funds to unserved and underserved residents and businesses and to anchor institutions like our healthcare facilities.
NC BEAD Five-Year Plan
The Five-Year Action Plan must be submitted to NTIA within 270 days of receipt of initial planning funds. This plan will describe how the states will inform and develop their initial and final proposals to distribute their broadband funds. NTIA has published an action plan guideline that details various requirements that must be answered in the action plan. These include such things as detailing the external engagement process with broadband stakeholders, describing the state’s digital equity and inclusion needs, goals, and implementation strategies, and identifying how the plan will align with other related initiatives like telehealth, workforce development, and economic development. North Carolina has completed a draft of its Five-Year Plan, and it has published it for comment, which will be incorporated into a final submission to NTIA.
NC Healthcare Broadband Coalition (NCHBC) Comments
As an important broadband advocate for NC healthcare and public health organizations, the NCHBC reviewed North Carolina’s Five-Year BEAD plan draft and submitted comments on behalf of NC’s healthcare providers. First, it acknowledged key positive provisions that NCHBC supports. The Division will rely on its existing broadband funding infrastructure. It has years of experience in the solicitation, evaluation, and monitoring of broadband proposals and projects. Its decisions will be data-driven. Again, it has an existing infrastructure for data collection, analysis, and reporting including the NC Center for Geographic Information and Analysis and the NC Geographic Information Coordinating Council along with existing address-related data sets, and the mapping capabilities of the Division itself. Finally, it will leverage its ongoing partnerships with key stakeholders to gather information, seek counsel, and undertake funding allocations. Many of these stakeholders have participated in earlier and ongoing broadband initiatives. NCHBC supports all these provisions in the plan.
NCHBC also recommends some changes to the Five-Year BEAD planning draft. The plan recognizes that policy and workforce-related issues could be a serious constraint in a successful BEAD rollout. However, the comments are limited. NCHBC believes that policies around such things as pole attachments and easements, legislative constraints on the role of municipalities, and importantly, affordability could all represent real, meaningful barriers to a successful broadband rollout. The same holds true for broadband workforce shortages. NCHBC recommends that the plan expand on its recognition of these barriers and proposes more fulsome initiatives to address them. It recommends the formation of a commission to develop and recommend policy and legislation that sustains programs and subsidies for North Carolinians who cannot afford broadband, people like many of our Medicaid patients.
NC healthcare providers are local anchor institutions in most communities. For this reason, the NCHBC suggests several possible roles for healthcare anchors. These roles include such things as assistance in the collection of data about healthcare communities, facilities, and patients, collaborative messaging about the benefits of broadband adoption and such things as telehealth, and collaboration with other community broadband stakeholders. In addition, NCHBC recommends that the plan also modify its definition of anchor institutions that are eligible for BEAD funding. Rather than describing eligible anchors as being those without fiber access, we recommend that the language be aligned with that of the original NTIA NOFO. Anchors without a gigabit connection will be eligible for funding. In addition, the FCC has assumed that no anchor institutions subscribe to mass market internet services. Thus, their facilities are not broadband serviceable locations (BSLs). As a result, they are not included on the National Broadband Map and are not eligible for funding. The NCHBC is aware of many healthcare facilities that do rely on mass-market services for internet connections. We therefore recommend that the plan references this issue, that the division will work to collect broadband-related data for anchor locations, and that this data will be used to inform funding allocations.
The NCHBC believes the BEAD funding represents a watershed for North Carolina’s healthcare organizations and its patients, and we believe the plan represents a solid first step in the state’s deployment of these funds.
RESOURCES FROM www.ncbroadband.gov/BEAD
- Broadband maps and data: https://www.nconemap.gov/pages/broadband
- Affordable Connectivity Program materials: https://www.ncbroadband.gov/ACPmaterials
- Challenges to the FCC maps: https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/location-summary/fixed