DENVER, Colorado, August 8, 2023 – State broadband leaders are focused on forging lasting relationships with stakeholders that will continue to engage in digital equity initiatives post Broadband Equity Access and Deployment funds, said state leaders at a Mountain Connect panel on Tuesday.
Matt Schmit, chair of the Illinois Broadband Advisory Council, said that Illinois is working to achieve universal access for all residents in a sustainable way. The goal is to solve this public policy challenge once and for all, he said, referring to the digital divide between Americans who are connected to high-speed internet and those who are not.
To do this, Illinois is forging partnerships with stakeholders and giving them the resources they need to continue digital equity work after BEAD funds have run dry. Digital literacy, cybersecurity, awareness, and adoption will be an ongoing effort for many states, said Schmit.
Director of the Utah Broadband Center Rebecca Dilg added that Utah is working with community agencies on the ground that can help work with people and address digital equity concerns. She is hopeful that the money from the BEAD program will connect most, if not all, Utah addresses and expressed her hope that community anchor institutions will continue to support adoption beyond deployment.
Utah’s broadband office has already met with “every” internet service provider in the state to ensure the office knows how to best address the needs of its residents, said Dilg.
For Louisiana’s broadband office, the primary concern is improving the lives of the residents and the outcomes they can foster for themselves through better connectivity, said Thomas Tyler, deputy director for Broadband and Connectivity in the state.
The BEAD program is the opportunity for Louisiana to change the quality of life for its residents and improve its economy, said Tyler. If residents start improving their lives, their careers, and their family situation, that is how we, as the Louisiana state broadband office, will know we succeeded, said Tyler.
Louisiana is “moving as fast as possible” through the BEAD grant process, Tyler continued. The state was the first to release its digital equity and 5-year action plan in June and was the first to release the first volume of the BEAD initial proposal. The state is preparing to release volume two of the proposal in the next week. It will be open for public comment for 30 days.
Tyler expressed his hope that Louisiana will be a leader for the BEAD program and that other states will use its plan as a springboard for their own plans.
The BEAD program is accompanied by the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, also authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. State officials agreed that it is essential that the BEAD program also accounts for digital equity goals. BEAD regulations allow for surplus funding to be funneled into digital equity initiatives after all unserved, underserved, and community anchor institutions are connected.