Colorado BEAD plan is ‘agnostic’ to fiber versus fixed wireless

DENVER, CO — Fixed wireless is "absolutely part of the equation” for Colorado’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding plans, according to Brandy Reitter, executive director of the state’s broadband office.

Colorado secured $826 million in funding from the federal BEAD program, which according to state lawmakers will help connect over 99% of homes in the state by the start of 2027.

Reitter said that fixed wireless will be an asset to the state given its difficult topography, which includes mountainous areas and box canyons where fiber buildouts would be high-cost and difficult to execute. She noted that opening BEAD funding to fixed wireless solutions will serve smaller internet service providers (ISPs) in Colorado, who can bring the technology to those areas easier, faster and at a lower cost than fiber.

The state is working on its plans to serve high-cost threshold areas, she added, and although many programs are "fiber-preferred," it will use analysis to determine where fiber "makes sense."

Joining Reitter at today’s Mountain Connect 2023 keynote, Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper said he is “agnostic” to fixed wireless over fiber.

Sen. Hickenlooper noted that Colorado’s landscape and rural communities will have to depend on a variety of technologies to reach its goal of near-ubiquitous broadband access, including "some of the massive satellite constellations" that could soon bring connectivity to hard-to-reach areas.

Colorado’s broadband expansion plan is more open-minded than those of some other states, which have limited their BEAD deployment plans to fiber at the guidance from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Following the NTIA’s lead, California is one state that has leaned toward a “fiber-above-all” approach for its government-subsidized buildouts instead of opting for a tech-neutral approach that would allow for more fixed wireless and other fiber-alternative projects in the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) presented its draft 5-year plan to connect the state’s unserved with broadband using the $1.86 billion BEAD funding it received, and at the same time warned the total $4 billion available in state and federal funding won't be enough.

Critics of “the fiber-above all” approach have called the CPUC’s concerns “unsurprising.”

“The fiber lobby has done a great job of pitching itself as kind of the end-all, be-all, and it does have a lot of great case study for it. But there are other opportunities that can come along,” said the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association’s (WISPA) state advocacy manager for California, Steve Schwerbel. 

Schwerbel previously told Fierce: “When we talk about the overall landscape, each state and each project individually needs to be considered on its merits, rather than saying we need to put our finger down on one technology versus another.”

While WISPA “supports fiber,” Schwerbel said a lot of the association’s members decide when to deploy fiber and when to deploy fixed wireless on a case-by-case basis, where each one of those pieces makes sense.

“We really want to disincentivize a conversation about what is the best technology and say, does this technology work to deliver what somebody needs to get online and participate meaningfully in modern society or not? And fixed wireless is just as able to do that as fiber is,” Schwerbel said.