States must ramp up to administer broadband funding
A new McKinsey report says states have a huge opportunity, but they will need a dedicated team to map existing broadband availability, address digital equity requirements and manage grants and funding.
The $42 billion in broadband funding the bipartisan infrastructure act will be sending to states is a huge opportunity to provide internet service to many unconnected people. But many states have a lot of work to do to make the most of the funds, according to a McKinsey & Co. report released on Wednesday.
The funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—including a commitment to give each state at least $100 million in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program dollars—is one of the largest investments in connecting people since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, the McKinsey report said.
However, a lot of governments face hurdles spending the money. “It’s unclear whether states have the administrative and planning capacity to take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity,” the report said.
Many states do not have a dedicated broadband team, and if they do, it’s often staffed by just a few people or a third party. “Yet states are expected to administer federal broadband funds on tight timetables, across multiple agencies and levels of government, and with deep involvement from private-sector Internet Service Providers,” the report noted.
As a result, the global consulting firm recommended states take a number of steps, starting with creating a broadband office to consult with stakeholders. The office will need specialists in geographic-information-systems mapping, digital equity as well as grant and financial management, it said.
To quickly staff up, states may need a strategy to expedite recruitment and to determine whether roles should be filled by full-time employees or contractors. They also should consider how the broadband office will collaborate with other departments.
First Step: Access Where Broadband Exists
As a first step, the new office should assess where broadband is available and what programs already exist. A key, the report said, is to address the inability of people of color and rural residents to get online.
The report noted that according to a Pew Research Center survey, about 30% of Black and Latino adults do not have broadband at home, compared with 20% of white adults. Those living in rural areas are also less likely to have broadband at home than adults in the suburbs.
“Once state broadband leaders have a clear understanding of the status quo, they will likely be in a good position to outline their strategic goals,” the report said.
Furthermore, states will need to base their action plans and maps in a granular way. The best geospatial maps examine a range of data to give a picture of how broadband is working in specific areas, as well as the demographics of the people in those places with and without service, the report said.
Federal funds will be distributed based on a map the Federal Communications Commission is creating that will look at the level of broadband service areas around the country. States should be ready to appeal the map’s findings if it shows areas have service when they do not.
In addition, the report said, states need to design a grant process to award the federal dollars to the private companies that will build out the broadband services, and then they must monitor their work.
“If states don’t adequately consider and dedicate resources to their broadband program efforts, they could fail to secure all the funding they deserve or make the most of the money they receive,” the report said.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.
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