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Broadband Funding

Panel highlights: Optimizing BEAD deployments from construction to connection

28/ 03/ 2024

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program earmarks $42.45 billion for delivering nationwide connectivity. As the funding program’s implementation looms, critical planning is underway and innovative solutions are being considered to solve the deployment and administrative challenges ahead.

At the Connected America event in Dallas this month, the following leaders from Irby Utilities and Render Networks shared key learnings from previous Federal and state-funded deployments and tips for optimizing construction for the upcoming BEAD rollout:

Josh Collver, Director of OSP Operations, Irby Utilities 
Fred Johnson, Construction Manager, Irby Utilities
Rob Laudati, VP - Product & Partnerships, Render Networks 
Tom Brooks, Director of GIS and Solutions Engineering, Render Networks.

Here are the key themes from the discussion:

1. Build flexibility into your resource planning 

The journey towards BEAD implementation has several known hurdles, from stringent timelines imposed by grant programs to the scarcity of contractor resources. With so many projects competing for resources,  Josh Collver from Irby Utilities emphasized the importance of meticulous planning and strategic resource allocation to meet the demands of the upcoming deployment boom. Rob Laudati shared that while upfront planning is critical with the cost and resource pressures, the ability to shift resources (and gears!) throughout the project is equally important.

"As that labor pool goes down, cost considerations will increase. We'll be back to a time when the contractors will name their price so you can meet these deadlines." - Josh Collver

"A lesson from previous funding programs is that the cost and labor availability assumptions were incorrect. As we enter BEAD, we should not assume stability over the next three years and be hypersensitive to all available efficiencies."
- Rob Laudati

2. Manage performance with unified data and systems

Some fundamentals with BEAD involve delivering to the right funded locations and ensuring the right speeds support these unserved areas. Aggregating and managing performance and completion activity can be challenging, particularly if multiple contractors and subcontractors have their own reporting practices and approaches. It is important to establish clear data and reporting requirements and have a system for aggregating and analyzing data and progress. 

3. Network design is a key enabler for construction success 

A recurring theme was having a comprehensive network design from day 1 to be able to see the entire project to build out accurate project and resourcing plans. With a complete GIS design and digital construction scope from the outset, teams can plan for and mitigate potential delays including poles, locates, and permitting, ensuring crews are assigned to areas ready to work and not restricted. Fred Johnson of Irby Utilities highlighted that keeping crews moving and only working on ready tasks speeds up deployment and maximizes the impact of every dollar spent, ensuring that rural communities access high-speed internet faster.

"Having that full design in front of you, knowing what crew resources you have or need, will be instrumental to success in BEAD."
- Josh Collver

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4. Consider all data and reporting scenarios

One of the biggest lessons from previous funding programs like RDOF is the need to easily report on funding areas or census blocks, completion status, and when it was or will be delivered. Each state will have its own reporting for BEAD, so having all of the granular build activity and location data available allows you to filter down to what may be required.

"With Render, we overlaid our grant locations on the map with target dates so we knew where to focus our construction efforts to meet those deadlines. Even the crews could see where the funding lines started and stopped.

On the reporting side, once we figured out what the state wanted and in what format  we could readily pull that information from Render at the snap of a finger - in minutes instead of hours or days."
- Fred Johnson

5. BEAD schedules are achievable with the right partners

Prioritizing the build order, being able to tag and filter all census blocks or funding locations, and tracking labor and materials by task were just some of the ways Render’s construction management technology has enabled Irby Utilities to meet all required funding milestones to date. Below are just a few deployment success results achieved with mutual customers, Connect2First, a subsidiary of First Electric Cooperative and Bolivar Energy Authority: 

Render's proven construction management technology has enabled several network operators to maximize their Federal and State broadband grants. 

Our latest guide outlines where Render drives value across the upcoming BEAD program stages:


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