Five Things to Consider When Expanding or Setting Up Your State Broadband Office

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Five Things to Consider When Expanding or Setting Up Your State Broadband Office

states-broadband-mapThe Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program will soon appropriate an initial allocation of $100 million to every state to help close the digital divide. Following that could be millions more, depending on the number of unserved locations in a State. This funding is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in broadband infrastructure that will connect millions of unserved and underserved Americans, and each State will have a huge part in determining how those funds dispersed.Unlike some previous Federal programs to expand broadband in the U.S., the money for BEAD will be granted to the States, not directly to the service provider.  The States will be responsible for making sub-grants to the providers who will then deliver the service to the end-user, whether that be a residence, business or anchor institution. This makes sense, since the States know much better what their local situation is and how those funds can best be used. It will be a big job, though. There are several things a State should focus on now to make sure this infrastructure investment yields maximum results:

Expanding Your State Broadband Agency
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the agency under which the Commerce Department that will manage and dispersing BEAD funds, and they will work directly with the States to make sure that sub-grants are done properly and efficiently. It's imperative that each State has the people, resources and policies in place when those funds become available. This may require expanding the State Broadband Office, or in some cases even creating one.

State broadband offices and their programs take on a variety of forms. Most states have created a dedicated broadband office within an agency such as the Office of Economic Development or the Department of Community Affairs. However, some states have set up a dedicated broadband task force or council made up of state agency representatives, internet service providers, local officials and state legislators. No matter how the state broadband programs are structured, all are engaged in the common objective of expanding high-speed internet access to unserved areas of the state. 

Establishing a Mission and Strategic Plan
A state broadband program requires clear objectives to establish accountability, support effective governance, and build to stakeholder trust. Execution is key—it is critical that a State plans not just for today’s needs by patching gaps, but also by building networks that will meet future broadband demands. Creating a measurable and time-defined strategy that outlines the state’s connectivity goals, the steps to achieve objectives, and a baseline to measure progress are all essential parts to ensure success.

Engaging Stakeholders
State broadband programs play an important role in engaging with stakeholders at both the state and local level. Collaboration between state broadband offices, local governments, communities and providers is critical to the success of the project. Effective outreach establishes the success of the project through buy-in, open dialogue, and transparency. States should begin by identifying the groups and individuals that have a vested interest in the success of the project. This could include incumbent service providers, government and community officials and organizations, residents, activists, and program beneficiaries. And, not only is this an important step important to ensure the best use of broadband funds. It is required. The NTIA is encouraging stakeholder engagement throughout the process, and they require that states document a high level of engagement in their proposals, specifically stating how those engagements "informed the selection" of the activities that the funds will be used for. 

Communicating to Stakeholders
Stakeholder prioritization helps define the best communication and marketing tools to reach all  the stakeholders and identify the correct frequency for outreach activities. Developing communication channels and establishing frequent outreach objectives can raise awareness about the project and provide valuable content outlining how it will benefit the community. State outreach tactics should include print, electronic and broadcast communications, special events and social media posts. Fortunately, these activities are also funded. Each state will receive $5 million dollars for initial planning, and one of the approved uses for that money is "publications, outreach, and communications support related to broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity and adoption."

Executing and Managing the Plan
Each State will need to work closely with their sub-grantees—the entities who will deliver the service to the end-user customers. This is a big job that will a require review of sub-grantee capabilities and plans. Technical planning should follow the steps defined in the Strategic Plan and will consist of network design, business planning, and submission of applications for funding. Deployment planning includes the specific activities required for connecting reliable, high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas, correcting the economic failures that have left many people without access. Requiring scalable technology and prioritizing projects that meet speed requirements can help ensure that funded projects can meet future usage needs without additional state investments.  

Research has shown that when State broadband programs provide support for planning and capacity building, actively involve stakeholders and provide competitive grant funding, they are more likely to have success in achieving State access goals. Regardless of how the State broadband program is formed, it must recognize the importance of the need for effective coordination and planning among various entities to ensure efficient use of public funds to bridge the digital divide.

About the Author: Rick Yuzzi

Rick Yuzzi
Rick is ZCorum's Vice President of Marketing. He has over 30 years experience in sales, marketing and management. Hired in 1995 to establish the sales department for a fledgling Internet Service Provider that later became ZCorum, he is now a key member of the executive team, overseeing the company’s marketing efforts.

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