Report Shows BEAD Funds May Not Be Enough Using Fiber-to-the-Home

Wireless 20/20, LLC, a broadband network consulting group and developer of the WiROI™ Broadband Networks Business Case Analysis Tools, this week published a white paper presenting research that shows Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funds may not be sufficient to bridge the digital divide using fiber-to-the-home broadband networks.

Utilizing their WiROI™ db Geospatial SaaS Platform, Wireless 20/20 has analyzed the capex required for fiber deployments in over 800 counties in the United States. In this white paper, Wireless 20/20 applied its fiber planning methodology to determine whether the available funding would be sufficient to provide fiber to all unserved locations in ten counties in Georgia. The chosen counties, which are generally south of Atlanta, represent a typical mix of exurban, and rural areas in Georgia where housing density is low, with an average of 1,795 unserved homes in each county.

“While BEAD funds are allocated on the basis of the number of unserved locations, the capex needed to serve these locations is calculated by the number of access fiber miles,” said Haig Sarkissian, Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20. “Wireless 20/20 has concluded that it is critical to have accurate data regarding the minimum number of fiber access miles needed to serve the set of locations to be analyzed.”

Calculating the number of access fiber miles is required to cover a specific set of unserved locations and determining the minimum cost paths among the locations requires sophisticated geospatial optimization software. With $5,000 available per unserved home, broadband operators have been incentivized to use BEAD funding. 

Wireless 20/20’s analysis shows that most states may not have sufficient BEAD funds to bring fiber to every unserved location in every county. States have to determine how to distribute BEAD funding in ways that maximize the number of unserved homes that ultimately receive broadband access. Service providers who plan to apply for BEAD funding will have to examine large areas and calculate fiber access miles needed for ROI analysis. Counties, locations, and subsidy levels have to be prioritized in each application. The use of next-generation, fixed wireless access could provide a lower-cost complement to fiber in closing the digital divide.

The Wireless 20/20 White Paper, “Will BEAD Funding Close the Digital Divide with Fiber?”, is available here. Maps are available for viewing here. An interactive dashboard with unserved locations for all states is available here.

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