WISPA underwrites tool for state broadband offices to calculate high-cost thresholds

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) has been telling everyone for a couple of years that some unserved locations in the U.S. will be too expensive to reach with fiber broadband, and trying to cover these locations with fiber will waste BEAD money. And now, WISPA has underwritten an analysis tool to help state broadband officers set their extremely-high-cost thresholds.

WISPA has underwritten the new Broadband Funding Optimization Tool, which was created by the Vernonburg Group. The tool is designed so broadband officers can change settings and assumptions to determine where best to set their extremely-high-cost per location thresholds.

Greg Guice, Vernonburg Group’s chief policy officer, said, “The key to success is setting a reasonable upper per-location limit on what states are willing to spend on fiber builds.”

Vernonburg is offering the tool for free for anybody to use. Guice said, “A lot of people are saying, ‘We don’t have enough money.’ But we’re trying to demonstrate that there is a way to get there. We can take a deeper dive into any individual state.”

To create the high-cost-threshold calculating tool, Vernonburg used data and models from a number of organizations, including the fiber models from Cartesian and Tarana. “We dug into actual bids from the ReConnect program, for example to get real-world estimates of costs to serve rural areas,” said Guice.

The Vernonburg tool also takes into account the mix of aerial and buried fiber, which will vary from state to state, because the cost difference between aerial and buried can be quite substantial.

In terms of focusing on the extremely-high-cost thresholds, Guice said, “That’s where states are going to be challenged to serve unserved and underserved, striking the right balance for fiber and other technologies.”

When Fierce spoke to Guice a few weeks ago, the Broadband Funding Optimization Tool was showing an optimal high-cost threshold in Arizona of about $15,300 and $16,660 in Colorado. The numbers will be different for each state and territory. And the variables can also be adjusted by each state.