WASHINGTON, September 25, 2023 – State broadband leaders addressed on Friday their key areas of focus as they look to allocate billions in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grants.
The conversation took place at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit, along with panels of other federal grant program officials, service providers, and investors. The $42.5 billion program is getting under way, with states releasing their initial proposals for implementing it and hearing public comments. Those proposals are due to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27.
Broadband heads cited engaging with communities – especially around challenges to broadband map data and fostering internet adoption – as being essential to the success of the program.
In New Jersey, broadband office leader Valarry Bullard and her team organized a listening tour. They go to churches and community centers to explain how high-capacity internet can play a role in people’s lives and local programs, without, she emphasized, jargon or acronyms.
“You kind of meet people where they’re at, you know?” she said.
Arkansas broadband director Glen Howie said his team went to all 75 counties in the state to explain how mapping challenges will work and work with counties to set up local broadband committees.
“You go into a county and you tell folks they have an opportunity to challenge their internet availability, they get fired up,” he said.
Mapping and data
As part of their proposals to the NTIA, states are required to outline a process for accepting challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s map of broadband coverage. That map, now on its third iteration, is based on coverage reported by internet service providers, which is widely considered to be overstated.
Those map challenges will be crucial, both for BEAD and other federal broadband programs, the panel said.
“It’s the foundation of all of our programs. We spend a huge amount of time on mapping,” said Angie Bailey, North Carolina’s head broadband officer. “We can’t do this work without strong, location-level mapping.”
In Maine, Andrew Butcher and the Maine Connectivity Authority have been investing in broadband mapping efforts for years, he said. A parallel mapping process to the FCC’s has helped them allocate previous broadband funds and confirm coverage reported by providers.
“It has allowed us to have a data-driven conversation, as opposed to a policy of dibs,” he said. “We want to understand where there’s service and where there’s not.”
Deadlines, both for submitting initial proposals and awarding subgrants, are on broadband leaders’ minds. Those initial proposals are being submitted in two parts, and states have one year from the approval of part II to award their entire BEAD allocations.
That has Howie’s office in Arkansas worried about completing the challenge process, grant awards, and state rulemaking before the deadline
“The one year, arbitrary timeline that we’re all under at the moment is a huge concern for us,” he said.
Taking time on the initial proposal deadlines is helping states with smaller and newer broadband offices, like Bullard’s office in New Jersey, she said, learn from other states and prepare for the task ahead of them.
“Our plan will be submitted December 27, probably at 11:59,” she said. “It’s giving us some more time for that investment. We’re learning more about our counties… we’re connecting with our community anchor institutions.”
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