The Treasury will continue to disburse funds to states and territories to support locally-inspired economic recovery and connectivity programs in response to the pandemic. In Part 1: A State-Sized Tsunami of Federal Funding, we provided an overview of funding opportunities and highlighted a sample of current state projects. Below we explain the role of state broadband offices, where to find them, and how to initiate a successful partnership.
Where is my State Broadband Office?
With the 2010 Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association’s (NTIA) State Broadband Initiative (SBI) created State Broadband Offices to support efficient and creative use of broadband technology to improve states’ digital economic competitiveness. When the SBI grant program officially ended in 2015, many State Broadband Offices thrived through local funding, while others closed. In some states, the governor (or head of the territory) assigned responsibility to similarly-purposed agencies like Economic Development Offices, Departments of Commerce, Education, Tourism or Technical Services. In some cases, states contracted third-party organizations to fulfill the duties of state broadband offices that included:
- Conducting research and collecting/creating resources and state broadband maps
- Grantmaking for broadband projects
- Optimizing regulations to foster connectivity
See this easy-to-use NTIA resource for a look at each state’s broadband office contact and activities list.
With an expanded role in the 2022 Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), these broadband offices, along with agencies, task forces, and councils, are set to define most statewide broadband strategies and activities. Therefore, communities need to know how to locate and work with them, particularly as new funding opportunities emerge.
"It’s no secret that sometimes localities are not aligned with state government and vice versa, so we [at NTIA] are focused on that, and our vision is that there will be formal opportunities and requirements with respect to state/local interaction" Russ Hanser, Director of Communications Policy Initiatives, NTIA
Why does this matter?
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law on November 15, 2021, assigned $48B to the NTIA to help close the digital divide and expand affordable and reliable broadband access. This funding, set for release in the summer of 2022, includes allocations specific to state broadband offices through the following programs:
- Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) – $42B total. A minimum of $100M guaranteed per state and territory to support planning efforts such as building capacity in state broadband offices and outreach and coordination with local communities. The remaining funds will be distributed based on a formula that considers the number of unserved populations and the number of high-cost locations in the state as identified by the FCC maps.
- Digital Equity Act Programs – $2.75B of distributions based on formulas for three programs. The two state-focused programs are:
- State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program – $60M in grants for states and territories to develop digital equity plans.
- State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program – $1.44B in grants distributed over five years to implement state digital equity projects and support the implementation of digital equity plans.
This windfall of funding assigns the power (and the reporting responsibility) to state broadband offices to transform the digital landscape of local communities, while also presenting an opportunity for local officials to help shape statewide broadband efforts.
What should my community do?
Here are four suggestions we think will guide you in engaging your state broadband officials.
1. Define your project needs. Every journey begins with a step. The first and most important step is to identify the existing challenges in your community and design responsive projects. As a community leader interested in shaping broadband efforts and deploying transformative projects, an approach that addresses critical connectivity challenges with broad local support is especially valuable to state agencies.
2. Contact your state office. Take the time to identify and reach out to your state’s broadband officials, learn more about their interests and their work. Use this NTIA resource as a starting point.
3. Contribute to the process. Participating in state-level committees that shape the understanding of local issues and networking with other stakeholders ensures that the state plan reflects local perspectives. Reach out to your state broadband office and find out what opportunities exist for you to participate. Demonstrate your ability to deliver value by leveraging the list of the members of your local group, collaborative, or partnership.
4. Find your fit within the overall strategy. To identify project funding from the ecosystem in your state working with the broadband office, present your project as a concept note or summary paper* of around two pages of content that includes:
- Abstract: A brief description of the project and partners/stakeholders
- Problem statement and background: Show your understanding of the issue and supporting data and resources
- Solution/Project: A short narrative of your potential solution and expected impact/outcome
- Reasoning and Impact: Public policy justification for the project, demonstrable local support, expected project impact
- Budget: A list of costs associated with project implementation and funding already secured
*Make this document as engaging and brief as possible – just enough to gain interest and open the door for further conversation.
State-level broadband plans must ultimately address the connectivity needs of the local unserved and underserved communities. Get started right! Engage your local partners and define your project, find your state broadband office, and learn how your work can ensure this funding windfall addresses the greatest local needs and delivers a meaningful and lasting impact.
Need support getting your local engagement process up and running? US Ignite is happy to answer any questions and support communities across the country. Feel free to contact us at [email protected].