In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress laid out a bold plan to bring broadband to every remaining unserved corner of the nation. That plan authorizes distribution of grants totaling $42 billion in Broadband Equity and Deployment (BEAD) money to benefit each state and territory. The process for distributing those funds has already begun, and the first transfers are expected early next year.
The BEAD investments are vital to close geographic gaps in broadband coverage. But the job of connecting communities to broadband does not end with laying cables and installing hardware. Success requires a long-term commitment to the technological, economic, social, and civic vitality of each community.
Congress has made capital funds available only for building these broadband networks. Operating and maintaining them — and keeping them secure and innovative — will require continuous investment. As Brookings recently explained, “If a government decides to greenlight a project by only looking at the upfront sticker price, it’s a recipe for deteriorating infrastructure.”
The job of connecting communities to broadband does not end with laying cables and installing hardware.
In most communities, particularly those that have lacked broadband until now, success is best assured by building public-private partnerships with established and experienced ISPs. Community leaders should carefully consider which partners have a real track record that can be relied upon to make broadband successful beyond the build – long after the federal grant dollars have been spent.
Six Key ISP Capabilities that Communities Should Prioritize in Potential BEAD Partners
- Superior Scale. Selecting a partner with vast resources and networking experience facilitates more rapid and extensive rollout of broadband infrastructure, and also brings assurances of quality network management in the future. Whether it is conducting routine maintenance and upgrades or coping with critical natural disaster recovery or supply chain shocks, an ISP with superior scale is best equipped to meet the ongoing demands of operating critical infrastructure and to keep costs down.
- Financial Stability. Companies with strong balance sheets have superior access to capital, are better able to manage rising interest rates and to withstand uncertain economic conditions, and have the resources to operate networks for decades. When companies with flimsy balance sheets take federal broadband subsidies but prove unable to follow through on their commitments, it wastes the public’s money and leads to costly delays in serving communities. Prime examples can be found in any of the many recipients of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grants who have defaulted even before beginning construction, affecting one-third of RDOF census blocks.
- Continuous Innovation. Partners who are at the forefront of technological advancements can keep pace with the changing digital landscape, innovating continuously to meet consumer demand. Internet traffic is growing incredibly fast - up over 20% in the last year alone. Broadband speeds are up over 3x since 2017. Leading innovators like Comcast always keep their networks and services ahead of the curve and bring those capabilities to their public sector partnerships.
- Seamless Security. In 2022, cyberattacks against tech and telecom companies more than doubled. Investment in cybersecurity is essential to protect American businesses and consumers, and it already carries a price tag of over $200 billion a year worldwide. While no ISP is immune to cyberattacks, companies may underinvest in network security, creating serious risks. We have one of the deepest cybersecurity teams in the world, with hundreds of employees dedicated to minimizing cybersecurity harms. Small, inexperienced ISPs cannot match this.
- The Skills to Promote Broadband Adoption. A local community can have good broadband infrastructure, but if its citizens are not taking the service that’s not success. A company with a proven track record in driving higher adoption rates can ensure that many more households reap the benefits of broadband. We have been the industry leader in meeting the adoption challenge for over a decade, with our first-of-its-kind Internet Essentials program as well as our successful participation in the bipartisan-supported Affordable Connectivity Program, which has helped millions of low-income households connect to the Internet.
- Track Record for Serving Communities. Efforts by local governments to go at it alone in building broadband, or choosing inexperienced partners, are riddled with failure. Whether it’s participants in BTOP, RDOF or state subsidy programs, we have seen scores of ISPs over-promise and under-deliver. At Comcast, we have an unmatched track record: We meet our commitments, and we bring service to all neighborhoods in our footprint.
The Broadband Future Depends on Effective Collaboration
Community leaders who understand the complexity and risk associated with building and maintaining a broadband network will value a partner that can help them deploy digital infrastructure that is not just built to last, but built to lead.
Comcast brings to local communities its deep-rooted commitment to high-quality technology, widespread adoption, and services that are stable, secure, and innovative.
We are ready and able to work with communities to maximize the value of their broadband investment to every household. With Comcast, communities can be sure they will have a steady and reliable partner who will ensure their success beyond the build for decades to come.
David Don is SVP, Public Policy at Comcast.