Communities Need Governance Seat on Broadband Builds, Conference Hears

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2022 – Robust state and local leadership in coordination with federal support initiatives is key to the rollout of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s broadband funding, agreed officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and state broadband offices speaking at Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference Thursday.

Local communities understand their own needs best, said Glen Howie, director of the Arkansas State Broadband Office. Howie said his state will “go county by county,” encouraging ground-up leadership from the citizens of his state.

“It’s not really about Washington, and it’s not even really about Little Rock, it’s about (local communities),” he said. Before assuming his current position, Howie worked in Louisiana’s broadband office, another state which prioritizes community engagement.

In Maryland, state funding initiatives favor service providers who enjoy community support, said the state’s broadband director, Kenrick Gordon. One Maryland program even allows local jurisdictions to apply in partnership with a preferred provider, he said.

At the federal level, the NTIA is working with states to provide them the resources they need, said Phil Murphy, senior advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the NTIA. Speakers noted that many state broadband offices are only months old, understaffed, or both.

“We really want to be partners,” he said, “We want to work with (states) through this process and to help them leverage the capabilities that we’ve developed so that we’re all working towards the same goal.”

And beyond the IIJA funding initiatives, Howie said he is working to brighten his state’s future by seeking out technology innovators in many fields, including agriculture, education, and healthcare.

“I’m on the hunt for really cool, innovative things that could be disruptors…in Arkansas,” he said.

The IIJA, which became law one year ago Tuesday,  allocated to broadband infrastructure an unprecedented $65 billion. Congress designated the bulk of these funds – $42.5billion – for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, primarily a infrastructure deployment initiative, which will issue grants to the states based on relative need, as shown in the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map.

The NTIA administers BEAD funds and is scheduled to announce states’ grants by June 2023. Once states receive funds, they will operate sub-grant programs to allocate funding to individual deployment and related projects.

Beside the BEAD program, the IIJA funded initiatives to promote digital equity and adoption, middle-mile infrastructure, and tribal broadband.

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