With the ongoing implementation of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, all levels of the public sector are currently working with private companies, nonprofits, and cooperatives across the country to meaningfully close our broadband infrastructure gaps. 

States and territories are required to first target the unserved areas — those lacking service speeds of at least  25/3 Mbps — for new deployments, and these deployments will most often use fiber-to-the-home technology because fiber is considered the most future-proof telecommunications infrastructure.  

Building “future proof” means planning for the future

Fiber is considered future proof because of its ability to scale to accommodate faster and faster bandwidth needs, and the fiber cables themselves are likely to have a useful life of 30-40 years  

Building infrastructure today that is meant to last introduces a host of challenges and uncertainties, especially considering the evolving frequency and severity of natural disasters. 

Accounting for natural disasters

Natural disasters can severely damage broadband infrastructure, causing network failures that interrupt the continuity of many vital commercial, governmental, and social activities. Recent notable disasters have led to multi-day — or longer — outages of internet and mobile broadband, which have severely hampered rescue efforts, the coordination of recovery work, and the ability for governments to issue text and phone-based evacuation orders. 

The BEAD program requires that states and territories, as well as the ultimate funding recipients, take into account climate-related disasters. However, the program does not offer significant guidance on how to do so.

New resources for this process

Our report and the accompanying Broadband Climate Risk Mitigation Tool are intended to help policymakers understand how to encourage deployment of broadband networks that are more resilient to natural disasters. 

Recognizing that every region in the United States encounters infrastructure risks associated with  natural dangers, the tool associates broadband access and anticipated BEAD deployment areas with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Risk Index, a foundational risk appraisal tool, at the census block level.

The report, “Understanding disaster resiliency factors for broadband deployments,” contains further research that illuminates the breadth of vulnerability in the continental U.S., and widespread relevance of taking resiliency into account when deploying telecommunications infrastructure.  The report also offers a list of disaster impacts on broadband deployments, as well as possible mitigation efforts, and highlights some fundamental concepts about resilience of broadband infrastructure in disasters that public sector leaders should understand, such as:

  • Different disasters require different mitigation strategies during construction of networks. 
  • Power resiliency and broadband resiliency are linked. Power outages can render otherwise undamaged broadband networks unusable.
  • Some disaster mitigation strategies are expensive, and there will always be tension between building expensive but more resilient networks, and building cheaper but less resilient ones. 

The research methodologies created for the report also informed the creation of the accompanying Broadband Climate Risk Mitigation Tool, which is meant to help public sector officials of all levels and prospective BEAD subgrantees understand disaster resilience and broadband vulnerabilities in their region down to the census block level.  

Be sure to explore each of these resources to better understand how to assess climate risks that could jeopardize broadband infrastructure deployment in areas that need it the most.

This post was made possible by support from Connect Humanity.

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At the Center on Rural Innovation, we are working with rural communities across the country to help position them to thrive in the 21st-century tech economy. 

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