Access to the Internet is critical to the way forward, not only for the economy, but for public safety and education. The “Internet for All” initiative is a federal effort to bridge the “digital divide,” even allocating some funding based on the level of unserved locations in each state.
The BEAD Program
The Broadband Equity, Access And Deployment (Bead) program is a federal grant program that will offer up $42.5 billion to expand high-speed internet access. This program is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), also known as the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and “aims to get all Americans online by funding partnerships between states or
territories, communities, and stakeholders to build infrastructure where we need it to and increase adoption of high-speed internet.”
Funding is distributed in phases, first initiated when states (as well as DC and territories known as “Eligible Entities”) submitted Letters of Intent by July of 2022. They could then request “Initial Planning Funds,” and more funds being provided over the course of several years.
Why This Is Important
The potential impact of this funding is far reaching. According to McKinsey, “Federal broadband funding through BIL marks one of the largest public investments in connectivity since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. This ambitious public work could spur innovation, create jobs, and launch the country toward a more equitable and prosperous future.”
In today’s connected world, a lack of access to the internet means a lack of access to opportunity. And that gap disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations, increasing other existing gaps.
“Those without reliable ICT access miss out on valuable job opportunities and cannot participate in the global digital economy. Students can face significant barriers while completing schoolwork or participating in remote learning programs. Additionally, lack of internet access and poor digital literacy can have a major impact on society, contributing to deeper stratification, inequality, and misinformation.”
The Impact on Telecommunications, Utilities, and IT
For the industry, these programs represent major opportunities in building the connected world of the future. The Treasury identified three categories that funds are likely to be applied to for eligible projects:
- Broadband Infrastructure Projects (construction and deployment of broadband infrastructure)
- Digital Connectivity Technology Projects (purchase and/or installation of devices and equipment to facilitate broadband Internet access)
- Multi-Purpose Community Facility Projects (construction or improvement of buildings that are designed to jointly and directly enable work, education, and health monitoring)
These are significant because they can potentially address key challenges the industry faces in infrastructure development, such as turnover. With average turnover rates of 56.9% for construction and 54.9% for utilities, combined with the high capital expenditure required and regulatory challenges, among others, the digital divide does not have an easy or speedy solution.
The Role of Fiber and HNM
BEAD is designed to support all-fiber network builds, as the federal government’s preferred means for meeting the program’s goals, even requiring providers seeking to use alternatives to bear the burden of proof for what those platforms make more economic sense. Fiber Optic Networks/Fiber Connectivity is the backbone for high-speed data transmission that supports 5G networks and IoT applications. “By combining the immense capabilities of 5G with the efficiency of fiber optic routing, we can create a truly seamless communication ecosystem.”
Increased demand and the availability of unprecedented funding will mean not only new opportunities but also immense competition and innovation in the space. “This will undoubtedly result in increased competition and more options for consumers, resulting in better service, lower prices, and more jobs,” says Amelia De Jesus, WWLF Past President, Wireless Infrastructure Association, VP of Workforce Solutions.
The infrastructure builds necessary to provide high-speed internet access for all, combined with the unprecedented influx of funding, will create a nationwide demand for the type of skilled labor that HNM Systems specializes in staffing. And staffing will play a significant role in the ability of businesses and states to maximize funding dollars, considering “the telecommunications workforce has declined every year over the past decade, down 23% from 854,200 in January 2013 to an estimated 656,700 workers in January 2023.”
The Internet for All initiative is expected to create more than 150,000 telecom jobs, and The Brookings Institution estimates that $80 billion in spending to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide “would create approximately 200,000 job-years in about 130 occupations.” To support the industry in achieving the connected, equitable future with fiber and 5G, HNM Systems will partner with businesses to compete for awarding of BEAD project bids and to meet high-volume, highly specialized hiring demands.
“In partnership, we will leverage the necessary resources to foster innovation, ensure our continued mutual success and, most importantly, enhance millions of lives. We couldn’t be more excited about the future,” says Heather Moyer, president and CEO of HNM Systems, Inc.