With New Funding, State Broadband Offices Boost Hiring Efforts
Increased staffing needed to manage major federal investment in closing the digital divide
State and territory broadband offices have dramatically increased in size over the past year as they deploy billions of dollars in economic recovery funds and start to manage a historic federal investment in broadband expansion. With money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), these offices now have sufficient funding to cover everything from infrastructure deployment to digital literacy.
The decisions that leaders make on how to increase their internal capacities and organize their offices will play a significant role in closing the digital divide and shape their ability to continue the momentum beyond this current cycle of investment.
In 2020, more than half of all states operated broadband offices, though many were staffed by only one or two employees. Today, every state and territory has formally designated an office or agency to serve as the primary broadband entity, responsible for coordinating efforts to expand access to high-speed internet.
Although new federal programs provide funding for the administrative costs of state broadband offices, these initiatives often have specific statutory limitations set by their establishing legislation in each jurisdiction on the number of full-time employees they can have. That said, the number of postings for state broadband offices has steadily increased as lawmakers are authorizing new jobs in their budgets and federal programs begin to disburse administrative funds.
Pew’s broadband access initiative has been tracking public job postings for state and territory broadband offices and identified 68 such postings across 29 states from September 2021 through September 2022. This data provides a sample of positions posted over this period rather than an exhaustive catalog of every new state broadband office job and does not include consultants or contractor positions.
The analysis found that states that established their broadband offices within the past year account for the bulk of recent job postings, with hiring focused on key positions such as office directors and administrators. At the same time, already operating offices have increased capacity in more specific roles or posted for positions in response to turnover.
Although job titles and specific duties may differ across states, Pew sorted positions into three primary categories—broadband office director, program specialists, and office administration. The program specialist positions include subcategories such as jobs in community engagement, digital equity, geographic information systems (GIS), grants, legal, and a generalist group for positions that cross multiple areas.
Figure 2 shows that state broadband offices are hiring directors while filling an array of other positions.
States bringing on directors for broadband offices
State broadband directors are critical to the operations of the offices and are tasked with the stewardship of hundreds of millions of dollars across multiple state and federal programs. Additionally, many directors are responsible for crafting and administering their states’ broadband plans in collaboration with numerous stakeholders. The Pew tracking found 15 director-level positions that have been posted in the past year.
Salary ranges for broadband directors vary across states—from a base annual salary of $68,760 in New Mexico to a maximum of $170,000 in Oklahoma. The average midpoint has been $120,000.
A need for digital equity specialists
Under IIJA, a new Digital Equity Act (DEA) program has been created with both formula and competitive funding for state offices. The program is intended to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of high-speed internet connections. Further, the programmatic rules set by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for both DEA and the Broadband Equity Deployment and Access program require state broadband offices to include digital equity activities within their broadband plans and subsequent programs. As such, more state broadband offices have begun posting positions for digital equity specialists, which range from manager-level positions to coordinators and associates.
Responsibilities of these positions may include designing and executing the state’s digital equity planning process, engaging and coordinating with stakeholders around digital equity issues, and administering digital equity programs such as enrollment efforts for the Affordable Connectivity Program or device distribution and digital navigator programs.
Technical skills also essential
State broadband offices are also increasing their technical capacity, in part by hiring GIS and data specialists to support mapping efforts and grants management specialists. GIS and data management have long been core components of state broadband programs with dedicated staff. But these positions are becoming a priority as states look to verify and supplement the federal broadband map, which is based on provider-submitted data and has historically overrepresented the availability and quality of service.
Qualified grant management professionals are needed to manage programmatic reporting requirements and individual projects. The grant funding landscape has become more complex with state broadband offices serving as both recipients and distributors of multiple federal programs as well as some state-funded programs.
Closing the digital divide requires permanent staffing
Over the past decade, broadband offices have become critical components of state governments. Federal funding will help them make significant progress in closing the digital divide, particularly for unserved and underserved areas. However, the task is likely to take significantly longer than the next five years for which federal funding is now available.
Initiatives and programs will need to contend with the persistent demographic factors that exacerbate this divide, including income levels and where people live, as well as the nation’s history of infrastructure construction delays and perpetual innovation in how the internet is used. State broadband offices therefore will need an immediate surge in staffing along with permanent capacity to ensure that they are able to support efforts to close the digital divide now and into the future.
Anna Read is a senior officer, Jake Varn is an associate manager, and Lily Gong is an associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative.
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