Best Practices Can Help States Plan for Broadband Expansion

On Nov. 29, 2021, The Pew Charitable Trusts sent a memo detailing the broadband expansion planning process to state broadband offices that are participating in Pew’s broadband education and training initiative. The memo included a checklist—informed by comprehensive broadband plans and best practices from leading states—of key steps that states should take as they develop their own plans.

The full text of the memo is below.

Checklist for Elements of a State Broadband Plan

The state broadband office, as the recognized broadband policy authority, may be tasked with creating a plan to meet the specific needs of the state, build local capacity, and identify necessary resources. A strong plan results from a process that engages stakeholders and defines measurable goals and metrics for broadband infrastructure deployment, adoption, and data collection. State broadband plans can address the strategy and responsibilities of the broadband program within the authority of the office, or guide interagency efforts to develop the policies and strategies for state agencies and authorities. The checklist below sets out key elements of broadband planning, with specific details for an office-centric approach to the planning process. 

A comprehensive and effective broadband planning process starts with:

  • Engagement with relevant stakeholders that:
    • Occurs at the outset and throughout the planning process.
    • Includes local governments, all levels of educational institutions, state agencies, communications companies of all types and sizes, municipal and investor-owned utilities, elected officials at all levels of government, and leaders of social and economic groups in urban and rural parts of the state.
    • Involves diverse methods, such as focus groups, surveys, public comment, local media, and workshops.
  • Data-based assessments of existing conditions that answer initial planning questions, such as:
    • What does your current public and commercial broadband infrastructure look like?
    • Who is using the existing infrastructure? What services are offered and for what purposes?
    • Who currently funds and supports public policy and purpose programs for broadband access?
    • Where are there unmet needs and gaps in availability and adoption of broadband? (broken down by key segments including public sector, anchor institutions, and residential and business customers)

The answers to these questions will frame the planning process, identify necessary elements of a plan, and begin to bring short- and long-term goals into focus.

A comprehensive and effective broadband plan consists of:

  • Tools and resources that can help determine how to leverage existing expertise, funding, and capacity at all levels of government and within communities throughout the state, include:
    • State and local agency capacity, including existing infrastructure and adoption programs.
    • Federal and state funding and public/private partnership opportunities.
    • Data collection and mapping to support the measurement of key indicators and metrics on a short- and long-term basis, with milestones to assess progress.
  • A defined vision, usually set by the governor or the legislature, that outlines long-term visions and aspirations (e.g., achieving universal broadband access by 2024) before the planning process. These long-term visions set the overarching mission for the plan. Identifying the core components and key dates necessary to achieve the vision will guide the plan’s goals and action steps.
  • Measurable and concrete goals that are realistic, attainable, and aligned with long-term visions and aspirations. Broadband planning goals can fall into three general categories:
    • Definitions and levels of broadband service and goals for infrastructure deployment and service availability.
    • Goals for adoption and utilization of services to spur economic and social development.
    • Goals for operation of the broadband office, such as:
      • Collaboration and partnerships.
      • Innovation and effectiveness of new projects. 
  • Actionable and strategic recommendations to address:
    • Infrastructure deployment goals.
    • Adoption rates (including affordability, skills, and device programs).
    • Ongoing data collection to support milestone tracking, analyses on gaps in availability, and lessons learned.
    • Sustainable resourcing and operations of the broadband office.
    • Key performance indicators and metrics to measure progress and to create meaningful impact analysis.
    • Timelines, milestones, and budgets for all recommendations.
  • Outreach plans can generate initial input and foster ongoing education and support for the plan. Stakeholder feedback can take many forms and include a wide variety of sources. This two-way, ongoing feedback allows for recalibration and adjustment of the goals and recommendations:

Pew’s State Broadband Policy Explorer

Library of current state broadband plans

National Broadband Resource Hub

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