How states can streamline broadband grant administration
A new playbook aims to help states understand their broadband needs, determine which projects deserve priority and design and run a successful state grant program.
To help states leverage the $65 billion in federal funds allocated toward broadband infrastructure via President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, industry associations have released a guide for implementing the IIJA's Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which will fund broadband infrastructure projects.
The Broadband Infrastructure Playbook, developed by the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association and telecom consulting firm Cartesian, aims to serve as a comprehensive resource to help states ensure their grant programs are compliant with key IIJA objectives. It offers examples of successful, high-performing state broadband initiatives from the past few years and is largely focused on addressing the digital divide and overcoming obstacles with wider broadband adoption, FBA President Gary Bolton said.
During a March 4 webinar introducing the playbook, panelists from the FBA, NTCA and Cartesian offered a breakdown of how the playbook can help state officials.
“We've organized it in four chapters. The first chapter looks at the needs of the state broadband office, the roles and responsibilities, what resources the state broadband office will require,” Cartesian VP Michael Dargue said. “In the second chapter, we focus on the application process. How do you get the federal dollars to start building this new infrastructure?”
The third chapter includes recommendations for designing a grant program that will align with the BEAD program. Deployment and service requirements are often complex, and failure to hit all the targets can result in underserved communities being left stranded for years, panelists said.
For example, checklists require broadband speeds of at least 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 mbps for uploads, latency low enough for “reasonably foreseeable, real-time, interactive applications” and regular conduit access points for fiber projects. In the past, states have not had the funding to deliver this level of broadband. In Maine, for example, the state broadband office only required a service of 10/10 mbps as recently as 2020; after the latest round of funding, the state changed its requirements to at least 100/100 mbps, ensuring the infrastructure will be able to meet future needs.
Dargue said the playbook also looks at project prioritization, which includes distinguishing a low-cost option for broadband – which is another BEAD requirement. The fourth chapter features recommendations for “designing a grant program that understands future connectivity needs, both for households and businesses,” he said.
“We are on the precipice of once-in-a-generation funding, and we need to help make the most of this broadband moment,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said. “If done right, the IIJA could provide a digital foundation for economic growth and innovation across the country through infrastructure that is built to last.”