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State Broadband Programmes in the U.S.

To help states leverage the $65 billion in federal funds allocated toward broadband infrastructure via President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), 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 cornerstone of the IIJA’s vision for broadband equity is the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The BEAD program will primarily fund broadband infrastructure projects that increase access and improve affordability.

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.

The goal with this Playbook is to provide a valuable resource to the states and territories to help them accelerate the availability of funding, provide best practices from state broadband programs that work well, and help provide some consistency in the process nationwide. This once-in-a-generation funding opportunity warrants an effective and efficient approach that will deliver networks and services providing value for generations to come.

In the playbook, the first chapter looks at the needs of the state broadband office, the roles and responsibilities, what resources the state broadband office will require. In the second chapter, they focus on the application process. 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.

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 fibre 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 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.

The playbook also looks at project prioritisation, 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.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, when it comes to the quest for an equitable distribution of services in states and localities as well as diversity and inclusion in their workforces, the specifics of the challenge varies from place to place. But one common theme has emerged: To truly understand the problems that need to be solved, leaders must have the necessary data in hand.

The study of city, county and state data informs leaders not just how taxpayer money is spent, but also how it is raised and how it is invested in neighbourhoods. It also is needed to determine whether government employees, high-level officials, board members and vendors reflect the demographic composition of the entity and are equitably compensated.

One other promising tool was recently introduced through a partnership between the Government Alliance on Race and a software firm that specialises in geographic information system software, location intelligence and mapping. The new social equity analysis tool provides a geospatial mapping approach that can be used to visualise areas of focus, evaluate the community-level impact and guide government decision making. It will enable governments to use an intersectional lens to identify patterns of need and opportunities to enhance equity through an examination of geography, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and other areas of interest.

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