This brief is one of a series based on a review of broadband deployment policies in all 50 states, published in Pew’s State Broadband Policy Explorer.
States play a crucial role in efforts to expand broadband to the millions of Americans who still lack access to this vital service. Nearly all states have responded to the growing demand for reliable, high-speed internet by creating broadband offices or designating responsibility for broadband to a state agency, task force, or council. While their structures might vary, state programs share many similarities, including working with local officials and other stakeholders to close gaps in service, managing data on broadband access, and administering grant programs.
Nearly three quarters of states have created a dedicated broadband office within an agency or designated an existing agency—such as departments of economic development or information technology—with authority for expanding broadband. Others have formed broadband task forces or councils. In some cases, these entities are tasked with overseeing broadband efforts, while in other states, they serve as a first step toward establishing a broadband program.
The choice of where to locate a broadband program reflects many considerations, including the agency or department’s relationship with policymakers and other stakeholders and experience with program priorities, such as geographic information systems or grant management.1 Minnesota and California are among the states that have created dedicated offices, housing them in the Department of Employment and Economic Development and Department of Technology, respectively.2
About one third of states have tasked an agency or agencies with achieving broadband goals. Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer is responsible for streamlining, consolidating, and coordinating access to and availability of broadband and related infrastructure and administering the state’s broadband grant program. And Alabama has given the Department of Economic and Community Affairs responsibility for overseeing the state’s broadband efforts.3
Still other states have structured their efforts across multiple agencies. Colorado tasked the governor’s Office of Information Technology with overseeing and coordinating state agencies’ broadband activities, which include grant programs funded by the Department of Local Affairs and regulatory agencies.4 And Georgia created a coordinated multiagency effort, led by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Technology Authority.5
Many states have set up broadband task forces and councils, which can complement their broadband program’s efforts or serve as an important part of those efforts. These entities are charged with facilitating coordination, identifying opportunities for expanding broadband deployment and adoption, and making policy recommendations to the governor and legislature. The composition of task forces and councils varies depending on their goals and mandates, and may include representatives of state agencies, internet service providers, local officials, nonprofit organizations, and state legislators.
Despite their similar charges and membership, broadband task forces and councils have a few key distinctions. Broadband task forces study the scale of the challenge and make recommendations on how to move forward. Kansas, for example, established a broadband expansion task force in 2018 to make recommendations on broadband deployment efforts, including developing criteria for creating a statewide map showing where reliable, high-speed internet is available and identifying funding sources to support broadband deployment. The task force’s 17 members include internet service providers, state legislators, local government advocacy organizations, and ex-officio representatives of state agencies.6
Or they may be formed to help advance a program’s goals. In 2019, North Carolina’s governor created a task force that included many department heads to offer recommendations for closing any gaps. It evaluates the state’s progress on meeting targets in its broadband plan, which the Broadband Infrastructure Office is responsible for implementing.7 As with some other task forces, its duration is limited: it is to carry out its work through 2021. Kansas’s task force is scheduled to sunset in June 2020.
Broadband councils often have a more formalized and centralized role. Some serve as a part of a broadband program, coordinating the activities of multiple entities or agencies engaged in broadband efforts. The California Broadband Council is composed of state agency chairs or their designees and a member each of the state Senate and General Assembly. It’s tasked with facilitating information sharing and coordination across state agencies to advance broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas.8
A council may also be the primary entity responsible for broadband. West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council, which is supported by the West Virginia Development Office, is charged with exploring opportunities for expanding broadband service and use, leading data collection and mapping efforts, and overseeing the disbursement of federal funds to support planning and deployment. Its membership includes representatives of state agencies and residential and business broadband users from both rural and urban communities, as well as members from the state Senate and House of Delegates.9
Although state broadband programs may have different administrative structures, all are engaged in these activities to connect more homes and businesses
Beyond these four functions, some state programs are engaged in additional activities to advance their broadband goal. For example, Georgia has a Broadband Ready Site designation to certify industrial and commercial sites offering service at speeds that can support business, education, health care, and government applications.14 And in Nevada, the office that coordinates the state’s broadband policy has worked with the Department of Transportation to put policies in place requiring that conduit—the empty pipe that internet cables run through—be installed when the state builds or upgrades transportation infrastructure.15 It also helps the Telecommunications Advisory Council evaluate applications from telecommunications providers to access this conduit in exchange for expanding fiber infrastructure in other areas of the state.16
State broadband programs take a variety of forms. But regardless of how they are structured, the programs reflect policymakers’ recognition of the critical importance of reliable, high-speed internet access in the modern economy and the need for effective coordination among agencies to bridge the digital divide. By engaging stakeholders, collecting and analyzing data, planning for local and statewide buildouts, and supporting deployment efforts through grants, states are making progress toward closing the digital divide.