Open access networks host multiple ISPs on one fiber network on a nondiscriminatory basis. These types of networks are economically challenging at smaller scales and typically require more passings and more customers to be financially sustainable, compared to an owner-operator ISP.

However, there is a variety of structures that can be considered to provide elements of open access on a smaller scale. 

The NTIA encourages states to support proposals that include open access networks, but it is not a requirement. Some states have incorporated open access into their secondary criteria, accounting for less than 10 percent of the total points in most cases.

Most states opting to support open access will require networks to retain open access policies for the operational life of the network. Applications need to include narratives describing the applicant’s open access policies, including pricing. Some rules also require network owners to prove that ISP partnerships are in place with memorandums of understanding or signed commitments, while others only ask a yes/no question to allocate points. 

In some cases, scoring rubrics might not include open access requirements unless a proposal incorporates middle-mile components. If your proposal includes a middle-mile plan, make sure you clarify open access rules with your state broadband office. 

Questions to ask before you start your application

Have you done due diligence to understand the scale you will need to achieve for financial success, and can you communicate that thoroughly in your grant application? 

  • Even if you think your open access deployment is economically feasible, keep in mind that in many states, you may be awarded some but not all broadband serviceable locations in your project area, which would reduce the scale of your deployment. 

How flexible is your state’s definition of open access?

  • Some states will provide a very specific definition of open access, while others will allow applicants to propose variations of open access models. 

Strategies for success in this category

Running a traditional open access network is difficult. Infrastructure owners and ISPs who already operate open access networks are best positioned to score points in this category while traditional ISPs or newly started networks may find it very challenging to switch to an open access model.

However, depending on how your state defines open access, applicants may be able to score points by adopting elements of open access models, such as offering wholesale data on a nondiscriminatory basis to other entities (including ISPs) or making any middle-mile deployments associated with the build available to other ISPs for data transport. 

Questions? Get in touch. 

If you have any additional questions or would like help with your BEAD application, please contact us.