The broadband grants community welcomes special guest Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark hosts Alan for a fireside chat, getting a preview of the Broadband.money platform for broadband grant application research, development, reporting & compliance.
Hear Alan’s vision for the $42.5 billion BEAD and $3 billion tribal funding programs. Get his perspective on important matters, such as:
Drew Clark: Jase, thank you so much. We are so happy to have each of you here and to join with Alan Davidson to address the topic of the day, Preparing for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and I really couldn't be happier that we have a speaker of this caliber. We've been doing this Broadband Breakfast Live Online for more than two years since the pandemic started. Of course, it built upon the Broadband Breakfast Club before. I suspect you've heard of, or at least been around for...
Alan Davidson: A member for, how long has it been? How many years?
Drew: Yeah, it's...
Alan: We're not saying how many years [laughter] We were teenagers at the time.
Drew: But Alan, it's so delightful to have you with us to talk about, the way I said it in that recent article, the bottom of the stack internet, and you've, of course, worked at the top of the internet stack too, but your career has been throughout the domain, from Center for Democracy and Technology, where we met 24 years ago, to working with Google, indeed setting up Google's office in Washington DC, working in the Department of Commerce, the same place you're in now, but in a different portfolio, and then, of course, with the Mozilla Foundation. So just briefly, Alan, what do you take from those experiences that you hope will be most instrumental in implementing the most significant NTIA program ever?
Alan: So no pressure, right? Yeah, well, let me start by saying, first of all, thank you for having me today. It's great to be here. I have been a long time follower and fan of the Broadband Breakfast Club, and then the Broadband Breakfast for Lunch Club.
Alan: Yes, it is great and it's hard to believe it's been 24 years. And I will say, I remember very vividly, those early conversations we had at a different, simpler time in the internet, but also over the years, I have really come to value people who really dig deep and understand the issues and then ask, even report or talk about it from that perspective, and Drew, you have been for years one of those people who gets it and who, even in those early days, I always value talking to you because you were somebody who really took the time to understand the issues. So it's great to be here with you here today.
Drew: Well, thank you.
Alan: Yeah, no, I really... It is... And I'll also just step back and have something to say. It's an exciting time at... To be at NTIA, a historic time, and as you said, we've been given this opportunity. It's hard to think about the fact that we've been talking about the digital divide in this country for over 20 years, and there's been a lot of work done, but we finally, thanks to this bipartisan infrastructure law, we've finally been given the resources to do something really serious and structural to close the digital divide, and that is a massive opportunity, is people talk about once in a generation, once in a lifetime. But to do something, this is like rural electrification, this is like building the interstate highway system, this is a moment. As we were saying earlier already, and thank you for that introduction, this is a moment to really bring opportunity to everyone in America to think, how can you thrive in the modern economy today without being able to get access to the internet.
Alan: And we know that also the set of programs we've been given is giving us an opportunity to think not just about access, but also about affordability, about adoption. How do we make sure that people are meaningfully online? So that is a massive and amazing opportunity, and we're extremely excited to be working on this. And for those of you who've been in this space for many years too, how incredible is it that this is one of the top priorities now for our President, for our government, for people in Congress? I will say that we're also trying to walk and chew gum at NTIA, at the same time...
Drew: You have many other responsibilities. And we said, "We're not gonna talk about those because there's so much on IIJA, but just say words about other things.
Alan: Among the other top priorities for us we've got, we're doing a lot of work on Spectrum, we have this statutory mission at NTIA to coordinate Federal Spectrum Policy, to coordinate and manage Federal Spectrum, figuring out how we make sure that there's an efficient and effective use of that federal spectrum while also fueling the needs of commercial industry of the private sector to have access to spectrum. That's a huge ongoing challenge, and we're right in the middle of that. We're doing a huge amount of work around the policy issues, having to do with the internet, both internationally and domestically. We do a lot of work on cyber security, privacy, 5G vendor diversity is a very big initiative for us, we're doing a lot of work around the ITU, International Telecommunications Union, there's an election this year for the head of the ITU, there's an American Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who we're quite excited about it. It'll be really historic, first woman to ever head the ITU, which is amazing. Anyway, so there's a lot on our plate and Public Safety Communications, FirstNet managing, doing the oversight of FirstNet, and that's an amazing project. So we've got a lot.
Drew: You do.
Alan: But we have a lot going on, but this, to come back to it, Broadband is job one.
Drew: So how are you managing that? How are you staffing that to deal with... This is a program that's 10 times bigger than the... More than 10 times bigger than the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for Broadband. And your agency is getting the lion share of those, 42.5 billion plus one billion, three billion, we'll talk about those. So how are you prioritizing the staffing and the administration of the program?
Alan: We're... Well to start with, we're hiring, if you know good people.
Alan: We are and that's really actually probably been my biggest focus in the near term, has been trying to get... Is the talent surge that we know we need to be able to deliver on this. And there's a core group of great people who've been at NTIA for years, and that's partly why I think Congress felt that we should have this support and this funding, but we now need that surge. One of the key places... And so we're building out across the board. We're building out in our digital grid. We recently hired a new head of Digital Equity. Scott Woods, here, is in the audience. He heads our Office of Minority Broadband Communicate... Yes, there you go. He's building his team. We're doing work... I think one of the biggest places that we're investing is in the folks, we're gonna be working at the states.
Alan: And you all understand this, the way that the Infrastructure Bill has been written to the biggest program where overseeing the State Grant Program is really gonna require us to partner with states. And it means we need to have a good partner in the state. One of the things that we can do to support that is, build out and we're building out a pretty big team of folks who will be one stop shop for states. Every state is gonna have a person at NTIA who they know they can call. And a person who wakes up every day and thinks, how do I make sure that Texas, succeeds here? How do I make sure that North Carolina, is getting its letter of intent in, knows what it needs to do for its initial plans? So we're gonna have that kind of customer service mentality and be able to create that. And that I think, is one of the most important thing we're doing.
Drew: So Alan, I have to put my personal hat on, because as I believe you know, I ended up working in Illinois, as the State Broadband Initiative Director for that state. It's kind of 1.0, right?
Drew: Now, that program gave money to state mapping entities to map but also, what I discovered there is it was much more than mapping. And it was really more about coordinating and interacting. So talk just a little bit more about the role of the state broadband officials. Why they're so important and how much discretion are you gonna give them when you put out the notice of funding opportunity rules, next time?
Alan: Well, I think the broadband offices in the states are gonna be the key frontline for a lot of this work, right? And again, the way that the $42.5 billion State Grant Program, the BEAD Program, as we call it. Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, the big ticket item that we've got here, the way that works is it really is about us, doing allocations to states and states will do the grant making. So that means we need to have states in a position to be able to run those grant programs, we expect there will be flexibility, different states are going to run programs in different ways. And our goal is to give them in the statute, gives them that flexibility. It's not a one size fits all at all. So that means you need state broadband officers that are in the position to run these allocations and to do it well, because to do it well only could probably make a difference. The statute requires and we will require that they do this in consultation with local communities, because we know that communities are the ones who really understand, where are the gaps? Who are the communities that are unserved? How do we get local partners involved.
Alan: And so that communication, just as we said, it was gonna be critical. So it's gonna place a lot and also mention that there's a Digital Equity Program that we're gonna be running. The states, we're gonna be very involved in that, as a component of that so there's a lot for them to do.
Drew: Right, Jase Wilson here, of Broadband.money highlighted the really importance of local and that's why we're so excited to be partnering and working with Broadband.money because it is about making sure that funds go to local entities. Now, again, I know there may be some preferences for local, right? But there's no bar, against local cities or communities or coops getting funds, correct?
Alan: That is absolutely correct. The statute is very clear on that, and that there is no bar on those entrance into the program. But like I said, there's also going to be requirements for consultation, states will need to consult.
Drew: Consult with people?
Alan: No, with local communities.
Drew: So how does that work? How does that work? What do they need to do exactly?
Alan: Well, it's something we've actually asked for comments on and we're thinking about how we would put this in. But the statute, again, is pretty clear that it has to be for the initial plan that gets submitted to us the final plans about how money is being spent, that needs to be both of which need to be approved by us, need to include a local consultation component. And so that's been a very active area and we've gotten a lot of comments about that.
Drew: And so these are consultation for the sub applicants who are applying for the states, right? Or is it a requirement for the applicants meaning the state broadband?
Alan: It's a requirement for the state broadband entities in the statute.
Alan: And that's what I was talking about. But we're hoping there'll be a lot of constitutional along the way.
Drew: No, you said several times here and in other forums, that the statute is very clear. Of course, it's complicated. It's clear. So what are the open questions that you all are in the midst of finetuning as you prepare the notice of fine opportunity?
Alan: That's a great question. I would look to, as a good answer, the requests for comments that we put out, and we received a lot of them, and no surprise, I mean, there are areas that we do want people's input on and I've gotten a lot of input on. One area of course is around affordability and the low cost option, there is a requirement in the law that states include a low cost option as a requirement for their grantees. How that should be defined, who should be eligible? That's an active area of conversation we're quite interested in getting input on. This issue of local consultation, which is a requirement of statute but not heavily defined. So how would you think about that? Those are the kinds of issues that... And then we're also kind of really working through the questions of timelines and processes. Some of it is kind of mechanical pieces, but they make a big difference about how we help with as well.
Drew: Do you have any more insight into timelines other than that May 16th date that is the deadline?
Alan: Well, and I should say at the stop, I certainly not able to share any nonpublic information [chuckle] here. We stay tuned for more.
Drew: You can make news.
Alan: I could make news but we're being quite careful. You know, the biggest thing is, the starting gun for us will be May 16th, right? That's our statutory deadline for putting out these notices. And it's not just the notice on the B program on the state grant program, but our digital equity program, our middle mile program will also have notices coming out. I know our digital equity program is due a little bit later. But that's gonna be the starting gun. And if you look at the statute, it does spell out a process where we get letters of intent from states. We hope they'll be submitting them very quickly, we expect that some of them will. Then immediately, we're able to give them $5 million planning grants so that they can immediate that, which like, it will... Such a very wise thing to add into one. We actually have money for planning, so states can do that. I'm sure you would have liked that back in the day and then we go from there.
Drew: When we had money for planning was just called mapping, right? It was called mapping and we... I mean, we used it. We did mapping too, but planning was part of that. Whereas now we've got this bifurcation where the mapping, so to speak is going over to the FCC and yet the planning is being done by the states. Do you want to comment anymore on the mapping piece?
Alan: Well, I'll just say, when you think about the timeline, and again, this is spelled out in a statute, but it's always not... It's not necessarily clear. And this is the way we... Is that, there'll be this letter... These letters of intent, we'll give out the planning grants, states immediately will be working on their five year plans and then they can work on their initial plans for... That they'll submit to us. But a lot of this is ultimately dependent on the mapping that's being done, as you said, by the FCC. And so our allocations, the way the statute works is, the way we will ultimately decide how much money each state gets depends on those maps, because those maps will tell us how many unserved locations are in each state. And that is the formal function.
Drew: So that...
Alan: Will depend on that.
Drew: Well, that's kind of the definitive word, so to speak on what's unserved, but there are mapping tools, obviously we've heard and seen about them that are available right now for people. So it's not a requirement for applicants to... I mean, this is more kind of a check, or is it really more central to the process, those maps that the FCC is doing?
Alan: I think the maps are pretty central to the process from our... I think the way we read the statute, we've all been tasked with using the FCC maps and there's a good reason for it, right? Which is that in the past, as many of you all followed this know, the maps have kind of sucked. Actually, that's a term of art, but the maps haven't been great and using census blocks as our basis has been kind of granularity that we need in this day and age. And so there was money given to the FCC, there's an approach, and we're gonna use the map, we'll have a source of truth in those maps, but it's gonna take a little while and that's where the... One of the gating items are. And so they are central by the way, because that's gonna be how we decide... How the government decides how allocations are given.
Drew: Every state gets 100 million and it's everything above that? Is that right?
Alan: Yeah. A $100 million for every state, less for territories are $25 million... Split, 100 million basically and on top of that, it will depend on a formula that is largely based on how many unserved locations there are relative to all the unserved locations in the country. So states with a lot of unserved locations, relatively speaking, will get more and money, will get well more than a $100 million.
Drew: What do you think the high amount will be?
Alan: I don't know. I have nothing definitive to add. People certainly... It will certainly be a lot. It'll be hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Drew: Okay, okay. We have the...
Alan: There are a lot of good estimates out there, I'll refer you to them.
Drew: We have a great opportunity here to have questions. We've been compiling questions at broadband.money. And of course we have the opportunity for each of you to ask questions before I open it up to you and to others here. I just want to quickly touch upon the unserved versus underserved distinction, Alan, okay? So the statute of course defines unserved as not receiving 25 megabits per second down three megabits per second up and underserved as not receiving 100 megabits down 20 megabits up. And of course again, the statute requires the 25 three areas, with lack of 25, three being filled in first and then the 100, 200 areas. But a lot of projects are gonna cover both unserved and underserved areas. So what's the current thinking on how you design a project that's going to serve underserved and unserved areas?
Alan: I think... Well, I'll start by saying you... I don't now. It's a really interesting area and it kind of gets to the complexity of the entire problem because we do... We are committed. Our goal is that 100% goal, right? Our goal that has been expressed, the president has said it, secretary Armando at the commerce department has said it, we are eager to get to our goal, is to get to everyone in America and to have access to high speed affordable broadband.
Drew: Everyone to have access to 120 broadband?
Alan: When we are done that is the mission we have been given. Is that, when this program is done, everyone in America will have access to high speed affordable broadband and that is defined in the statute as 120.
Alan: So, I mean, that is... It's an ambitious goal.
Drew: It's very encouraging, very encouraging.
Alan: That is... And so we are looking at it through that lens and it is about how can we use this money well to get there and it's ambitious, it's hard. And we all know that and we... So we're thinking about it and we wanna make sure that the projects are economical, but where our laser focus is on making sure that the unserved, those unserved areas get that upgrade or are reached.
Drew: Okay. We got a question here from Darren Farhan, "Alan, how will the intel preference specific groups, namely electric cooperatives?"
Alan: Well, I think the short answer is that we're not gonna be preferencing specific groups. I think our statute is very clear. And we are open to all commerce. And I think different states will build this in different ways. But what we're gonna be making it clear because the statute makes it clear, is there's a wide variety of participants that are desired. And in some places, it could very well be electric cooperatives. And in other places, it might be other new entrants it maybe existing players and maybe municipal partners, as we were saying its beginning. And the statute is very clear about this. Congress expressed its intent, and we wanna make sure we're making sure that there's space for all those folks because it will be different in different places.
Drew: Do you have any indication that some states won't file an acceptable plan?
Alan: Our fervent hope, we are gonna be working to make sure that every state is a participant here. And we can't get to our goal. We can't meet our mission if every state is not there. So when I talked in the beginning, and that we're investing and the fact that we're investing so heavily in that work with the states, it's for that reason to make sure that we're working directly with the states, that we're bringing them on, we're giving them the technical assistance that they need to be able to be participants.
Drew: What would you like them to know or to do? What should states do to be as prepared as they could be?
Alan: Reach out, operators are standing by.
Alan: And actually, I don't think they need to say that because I know that our teams are in touch with them. We had a state Broadband Leaders Network meeting. Last month, we had 46 of the 50 states participating. I think maybe all the territories participating. We've got a network already, that we've built. But I do think there is a need for, probably for political leadership to be engaging too and understand the importance of this. This is a win... This is such a win I think for... There's not a state in this country that's not gonna win in some way from this project.
Drew: What do you say to those who believe that the NTIA is gonna have to inevitably step in and put really strong guidelines at least? You have to emphasize this is not a one-size-fits-all, maybe more rural states might come in with more acceptable use of wireless whereas Rhode Island, for example, was probably not gonna... Could you just talk a little bit about this state versus NTIA federal role?
Alan: Well, I mean, we expect that there will be the flexibility that it's not again, not a one-size-fits-all, we know you said it well, the needs of a state like Rhode Island, which we talk about a lot in our buildings. My boss was a former governor in Rhode Island. But the needs of a place like Rhode Island probably isn't gonna end up having a lot of unserved, right? Are gonna be really different... The way they use their $100 million will be very different than the way, I'd say $100 million, it could be more, but I suspect that's probably what they'll have. Fortunately, our formula is very clear. So how they use the money in Rhode Island is gonna be vastly different than we expect in Alaska or my town. And so we just have to, we know we have to give that flexibility. At the same time, there are a set of requirements in the statute we've got. And we expect states to meet those requirements. If they submit plans that don't meet those requirements. We won't be approving.
Drew: Let's just talk as well about the issue of the match right now. Is it 20 or 25%?
Drew: Twenty-five. And I think you've said that that's a floor, not a ceiling. Could you elaborate on that, Alan?
Alan: Well, you may have heard me speculate on this question, I should say, but it is an interesting thing. And in the statute, the statute talks about the match requirement. And it's a 25% match requirement for projects funded, again, by our state grant program. And a lot... There's been a... We noticed that we've gotten a lot of comments about when we might leave the statute. So there is a lot of commentary about that. But we also got a lot of comments about, and have gotten input on the fact that in some cases 25% match might not be the right number maybe it shouldn't be more. Maybe state should seek a high... That 's what states really should be thinking about 'cause, well, I say the backdrop for this is we are keenly focused on the fact that $42 billion doesn't go as far as it used to.
Alan: No, I shouldn't say. That we wanna be good stewards of this money, but also we are really clear-eyed about that fact that the money we've been given, it's gonna be hard to do that 100% mission. And we wanna get every American the best broadband that we can. So to do that, we have to use this money wisely. And we have to make it go as far as we can. And we know that in some places, a provider might be willing to do a build-out with less than a... With more than 25% match. They might be willing to pay half, if they could get half the cost of the project covered by the government, they're more than willing to do the other half of the project, which makes sense, there's projects that are not happening now that are very close to economically viable.
Alan: Right. So...
Drew: It's almost like a little reverse auction thinking here.
Drew: Would you use this?
Alan: Well, I'd say the reverse auction, which the FCC did...
Drew: In the rural digital Opportunity Fund, right? That has been much criticized.
Alan: It has been much criticized. But one of the interesting takeaways from this as just an observer of that is it gave us some interesting data about what providers that we said they would be willing to do. And I don't know the exact number, but I've read that it's somewhere north of 50% match on average in that part of program in that FCC program. So that tells you that there are a lot of folks out there who if you just gave them a little bit more support, they would be willing to do that next deployment. We know there's gonna be a broad range. So I think you can see how some states have approached this in other settings where they really focused on...
Alan: The cost to the state of getting the project filled out, and I think that's gonna be an important metric. So anyway, so that's where...
Alan: That's the thing think you...
Drew: Well, this is a fascinating topic, and I think it's a good one just to linger on for one more moment, which is to say a state could say, "We're gonna set a threshold of 50% match." Correct? The state would be permitted to do that.
Alan: The states are gonna submit plans. I don't know that we're gonna... That's certainly not something where... The Statute is very clear, 25% matches...
Alan: Minimum, is what's in there, but the question of whether different states would approach that in different ways or how to the climbing scales would for work, that's gonna be something you could imagine states could do for sure.
Alan: So that will be interesting to see what plans we get from states.
Drew: And how are you thinking of trading state plans on the separate question of their reliance on the map, the FCC map. So for instance could a state say, "Well, we're gonna go by our map as supposed to the FCC map." Is that gonna be allowed or not?
Alan: I don't know the answer to that question. I think that may be something that we... Well I just... I actually just don't even know what the... It strikes me that the statute is... I know the statute's clear about allocation, I actually don't know the answer about whether... My impression, I should say from the statutes is that, states will also need to look to the FCC maps for authoritative information about where unserved locations are. Anyway, beyond that I think we've been... This is an area where we've been accepting comment, and interested in... Yeah.
Drew: Well, this builds on a question that Sarah Sterling the Deputy Editor at Broadband Money asked, which is that...
Alan: Hi Sarah. [laughter] Yeah, Hi Sarah...
Drew: And you know Sarah, she wrote about you once. She was moved over to Google and of course, at National Journal...
Alan: Former colleague.
Alan: Yeah sure.
Drew: So Sarah is talking about how if broadband.money were realizing that many community members are worrying about endless legal challenges by incumbents endlessly challenging grant applicants from smaller, less funded competitors. And are there any mechanisms that you can see or can imagine in... Within the constraints of a high IIJA that would limit those challenges?
Alan: That's an interesting question. I know that it's been raised. It's something that the team is thinking about. I guess I would just say my hope is that will... That it will be very clear to everybody how valuable these programs are and to the state too. And that our hope is that there'll be a lot of participants here and a lot folks who can participate, and it would be a real shame if litigation got in the way. We're of course, gonna do everything we can to make sure that... Again, that's why you hear me talking about the statutes so much. We've been given clear guidance by Congress, we believe we're gonna be putting out a program that fits in that... That follows that guidance, that framework really closely. And I think the law is pretty clear.
Drew: Yeah, yeah. Let's also give an opportunity for our folks in the room, if any of you have any questions, just raise your hand. We'll try to include you in the mix. Okay, I see a hand in the back. So go ahead and identify self. And speak loudly so we can hear.
Louise Berets: I will. [laughter]
Louise: Thank you very much, Alan. Mr. Davidson and Mr. Wilson.
Alan: Alan, was okay.
Alan: Yeah. That is great.
Louise: And so I am the Louise Berets Vice President in Policy Focus Wireless Transactions Broadband Association. I wanna thank you and your staff. Folks like Catherine Bates, Sarah, I'm gonna mess up her last name. It starts with a B, we're also very, very high on activity and growth, has been as in very generous with their time and meeting with us even before, people think we're requesting request for comments. So... And if there's anyway that we can be a resource to you or to your staff, please let us know. But I did wanna ask about yet another obligation that you have that stuff they gave you, which is to determine where their high cost areas is. So high cost areas that are not just subject to the $30 subsidy, but could also be entitled to $75 subsidy. The IIJA also does some people the first time in terms of requiring you to coordinate with the FCC on that. They have filed comments with the FCC. And so we're just trying to find a little bit more information about how you plan to coordinate with the FCC in determining which areas meet the definition of high cost, and therefore will be entitled to $75 subsidy.
Drew: A great point, high cost that's a term of art now.
Drew: How do you... How are you parts with for that?
Alan: So that's definitely an area that we're working on, that's gonna be part of the guidance that we'll be putting out. There is that 10% set aside for high cost locations. And really all I could say we've been talking... We are now... But we put a lot of energy into our conversations with the FCC. And our relationship with the FCC I will say as an aside, that hasn't always been perfect between the [chuckle] NTIA and FCC, from what I understand and before my time, but I've... The Chairwoman and I have invested quite a bit in... I called her on my second day in the office, we've been talking regularly, pretty... Very regularly, I should say, on a range of issues including these Broadband issues. So this is an area where we're gonna be collaborating quite a bit. And I'd also just say thank you for the shout out to the team. You kind of named some... Name checked some of our star players. And we do have a team that's really...
Alan: Cares about engaging the folks... Hopefully, many of you have a chance to talk to them. They've been just deeply committed to this and in this field for years, and it's a cause, as much as a job. But to your point though, that's gonna be a very important determination for us and understanding, and I do think states will treat those high cost areas probably in different ways, we expect that, but that's gonna be, I think, an area where different states are gonna have different numbers of them and really have different challenges there.
Drew: Let's talk a little bit Alan about cost, digital equity and some of the issues associated with adoption of broadband. So the 42.5 in the program is pretty much in access, infrastructure and access, although you have pointed out there's a low cost requirement to that. Could you speak a little bit about how the Digital Equity Act, the 2.75 billion that's included in IHA works with and connects to the broader BEAD program?
Alan: So we have this Digital Equity Act, $2.75 billion, so there's a state grant part of it, and there'll be a competitive grant part of it, the way the statute works is it rolls out over several years, starting with the state capacity grants, and the purpose is there are quite broad around addressing, the sort of structural issues around digital equity. So I like to say that I think the Digital Equity Act is kind of like the beating heart of our effort, and it goes back to our idea that many of you know that this has to be about more than just access and deployment. We can get a wire or a connection to somebody's home, but if they can't afford it, it doesn't do them any good if they can afford it, but they don't have a device to get online, it doesn't do them any good if they have the device, but they still don't... There's no reason for them to get online. They don't understand what to do when they're online, there are no applications that are helping them online, they're not in their language online, then we haven't met our goals.
Alan: So our ultimate goal here is meaningful adoption, and these are the tools we're gonna be using along the way. The beauty of being given these set of programs is we can, we're trying to braid them together, and we're not just thinking about affordability and adoption and equity in the context of the Digital Equity Act, we think about it in the context of the BEAD program too, right? Because we have this affordability of Option, A low cost option, I should say. We're thinking about structural affordability and how we can support that in the program, and we're keenly interested in using other programs too. Let's take something like the middle mile program.
Drew: Yeah, let's talk about that, billion dollars.
Alan: A billion dollars, which normally for NTIA, that would be a very, very exciting program, and it's been dwarfed by these other programs, but the truth is, we're extremely excited about the middle mile program. I actually close... Well, that is, you look at the timelines in the statute, and it's all in the statute right now, that happens quite quickly, there's not a planning process it's not waiting for match from the FCC, so we anticipate that program moving forward pretty fast, and it's a real force multiplier, if we do good middle mile, it enables us to do... It enables those last mile connections, and so in some ways the sequencing is quite lucky for us, like from our point of view, the fact is middle mile looks like I say, a force multiplier that will help us with these affordability and deployment projects down the road.
Drew: So the Recovery Act of 13 years ago really ended up being a middle mile program, and this one, by contrast is a last mile program with this one billion middle mile tacked on. Could you just speak a little bit about that and tie it in, if you don't mind, Alan too, what's your vision for the program, what does success look like? How will that be measured in 5, 10, 20 years?
Alan: It's a great question. I think success for all of this has been... Is based on that mission that we've been given, which is to start by connecting everyone in America that everyone understood everyone with affordable high speed internet service, and that's a pretty ambitious goal, right? And I hate to put the bar so high for us, but that's the bar, that's the mission we've been given right? And so that's our starting point. I would say that's not our end point though... I think the goal, as I said, is also meaningful adoption, meaningful use in that space right? But it can't just be about a wire to a house... And not just a wire, a connection to somebody's home, it's gotta also be the tools for them to be able to participate in the digital economy.
Alan: So no pressure, but that's the bar, that's how we'll measure success, and we will have milestones, we... We've got a lot of milestones along the way.
Drew: And I wanna ask about the milestones that are recorder, Sodor asks, what challenges do you foresee. And if I could add something to that, specific challenges in this point we've been talking about Digital Equity Act and integrating into the BEAD program.
Alan: So I'd say part of it is... Part of our challenge is gonna be complexity. I do think that the program that's been put in place by Congress is complicated, just even as we're talking about it today and you folks are all pretty informed. And to think about how are we going to help states... I think the biggest challenge will probably be that state challenge, we know that some states are very far along, very sophisticated about this have invested a lot in their broadband offices, we know that other states are just beginning, and so that's gonna be one of the biggest challenges you have for sure. And then you know helping them really with the technical assistance they need the same thing with communities, we know that communities, local communities are going to be important and not as nationally providers. What I mean is, as partners as helping give input to the state to be part of the program, be part of these digital equity programs and do they have the capacity. Do they have people who understand right? High speed Internet?
Drew: We have just a few more minutes for Alan before you have to let him go to other commitments, we have opportunity for one more question from the audience. I see a hand back there. Go ahead and speak loudly.
Audience Speaker: What’s a critical piece of information for partners, we started out recently. So a two part question, one, why were we in debt. Being in debt, do you think that's enough mone?
Alan: Not enough money in what?
Jase: Middle of [muffled] Fibers from the federal government, what role do you see private capital playing in that secondary [muffled] pun intended, to some degree to partner private investors.
Alan: I think we view private capital as an essential component here, and when you hear us talking, for example about the match in the... I know those are the last mile programs a lot, but that's us thinking about how can we make sure where that the capital we know is coming in is being employed wisely, and then we're taking the advantage of what we know is coming in. Our hope is that people see the opportunity that there's gonna be a lot of funding for CapEx here from the federal government, and that there's... Our sense is that's attracting the cap...
Drew: Is it just CapEx or can it also fund OpEx too?
Alan: Well, that's an interesting question. I probably misspoke when I said that.
Drew: It was a question I was thinking to ask when you ask CapEx, I was on... It obviously will be for capital expenditure.
Alan: Right, right. But the question of what are the other uses? It's that what we will be spelling out in our program.
Drew: Yeah, well, we're really grateful that you've joined us for this time, Alan, and we're wanna give you an opportunity to share any final thoughts you have about what our audience here and online and in the Broadband Money Community can be looking towards in preparing for the IIJA.
Alan: I'll just say, I think we need real partnership. I think we view this as a... We keep calling it an all of government approach to start, because we know there's a lot of different parts of the government involved here where NTIA is a big piece of this, but we're working with the FCC, we're working with treasury and culture, and there's a lot of other funders out there, but we're hoping to make this easy for people because we know the American people aren't making a distinction between whether the money comes from NTIA or FCC or whoever, they just know that they need access. And it's gonna require a lot of partnership with states and it's going to require really all of you. I think it is about making sure that we get participation from private providers, that people are engaging and doing the build-out on these things, and I just keep thinking it's incredible on some level for those of us who've been given this things for a while to think, here we are in 2022, in a country as successful as our country, and that there's still all of these communities that are not online, and how can that be true in this country at this time.
Alan: COVID has shown us how important this is, and this is a generational moment. Generations before us, electrified the country, built the interstate highway system. This is going to be our moment, this is our thing, this is our chance to connect people to really, to address these long-standing inequities in our society, rural communities that have been left behind, low income communities, communities of color that have been left behind, this is a huge tool for addressing those big problems in our society and making our economy more resilient. So all of those things, this is an incredible moment, and it's gonna take all of us. The people who gonna be making the policy, with people who are gonna be building the network. The workers who are gonna be out there, the new workforce that we need, the tens of thousands of people who are gonna be building the network thats part of it, all of us together connecting everyone in America. It is a generational moment and we wanna partner as well.
Drew: Those are truly inspiring words, there's so many questions we didn't have a chance to get, what can we do to get those answered later. Are there people you would recommend the questionnaire...
Alan: Well, I have a hunch so I wouldn't say... We are going to... That is a huge part of what we're trying to do. So I'd say, visit our website, there's a lot of opportunity for comment and for engagement with us. We're going to be in the weeks ahead, you can expect to see a lot more information coming out of those. The starting gun would be May 16, but that's just you know it's just the starting gun.
Drew: And before we thank our guest, I wanna just remind our audience that every Wednesday at 12 noon were back for Broadband Breakfast Live Online. And on the second Wednesday of the month, we have Broadband Breakfast for Lunch, you will have counterparts including Chris McClain from USDA will be appearing in the Future Month, and we're hopeful to get Jessica Rose as well since she's recovered from COVID. And on behalf of each of you, all of Broadband Breakfast sponsors and broadband.money, we wanna give Alan Davidson a wonderful thanks for spending his time.
Alan: Thank you. And congratulations, Drew, on this project, you've been ahead of the curve for years and now it is really all of this moment.
Drew: Well, thank you. Very kind of you, Alan. Alright, take care.