States throughout the country have created programs to expand broadband connectivity for their residents. And although the configuration of these programs varies, research has indicated that the most successful ones include the same core components: a state-level broadband office with full-time staff, systems to support local and regional planning and technical assistance, and well-funded competitive grant programs for internet service providers, such as telephone and cable companies, wireless internet service providers, electric cooperatives, and municipal utilities.1 Together, these elements foster community engagement, enable effective stewardship of public funds, and ensure that state and local activities remain focused on achieving universal broadband access.
A “broadband office” is a centralized entity within state government with a full-time focus on expanding highspeed internet access, including distributing funds and providing planning and capacity-building support to communities. To ensure that these offices can effectively fulfill those functions, states must provide adequate funding and dedicated, full-time staff who understand broadband issues, can manage grant administration, and can work with the wide range of affected stakeholders.
What do broadband offices contribute to efforts to expand access?
When undertaking a broadband expansion effort, communities must first engage in a variety of planning activities, and states can support these efforts by providing, ideally via their broadband offices, funding and technical support. Planning typically happens in two phases: strategic and technical. Strategic planning involves defining goals, cultivating stakeholder buy-in, identifying existing assets, conducting surveys or other demand (economies of scale) research, reaching out to internet service providers, and examining potential models for deployment, such as working with the incumbent provider or launching a publicly owned and operated network. Technical planning follows those steps and consists mainly of network design, business planning, and, if applicable, submission of applications for funding. Ideally, planning should be directly tied to funding.
However, local governments’ capacity to conduct this sort of extensive planning varies widely across jurisdictions, and many communities, especially rural and underserved ones, may not have the necessary expertise, staff, or financial resources. State programs that provide support for or lead planning efforts can help build the capacity and provide the resources that communities need to be successful.
What do planning and capacity building contribute to broadband expansion efforts?
Competitive grant programs provide limited subsidies to internet service providers to extend service into rural and unserved areas and, when well-designed, can correct the market failures that have left many people without access to high-speed, reliable internet.
What do well-designed competitive grant programs contribute to broadband efforts?
Many states have broadband programs that are working to close the digital divide. Achieving universal access to high-speed internet service—within a community or state or the country—is a complex process that requires careful consideration. Research has shown that when state programs have a dedicated office, offer localities support for planning and capacity building, and provide competitive grant funding, they are more likely to have success in achieving state access goals.
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