State Broadband Offices Outline Plans for Billions in Broadband Funds: Broadband Breakfast
KEYSTONE, Colorado, June 13, 2022 – Representatives from state broadband offices in Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico last month at the Mountain Connect conference presented plans for how they plan to use and distribute billions of federal dollars to come.
The Louisiana State Office plans to expand its funding by structuring its grant program scoring criteria to incentivize additional matching funds from grant applicants. During the distribution of capital project funds, the state received approximately 170 applications offering 40% matching funds on average, with some applicants contributing as much as 80-90%. “We were pleased to see that by heavily incentivizing the match, it increased the match percentage by an additional 20% of the draft,” said Thomas TylerDeputy Director of ConnectLA.
One of the state’s current priorities is to rely on local businesses. To help achieve this goal, applicants will receive additional points for contracting with a small business or better known business, or if the applicant is a small business or better known business themselves. Another state priority is workforce development.
“We have worked with all of our vendors to work with our local community and our technical college systems, to help identify and structure the curriculum in the state to train people on how to build those networks and to provide services to operate them. We want to keep those jobs in our state,” Tyler said.
States also maximize funds by evaluating the cost-effectiveness of using different technologies, encouraging efficiency in the middle mile, and awarding projects that will serve the greatest number of households.
The scoring criteria used by state offices vary and tend to reflect the development priorities of the state.
New Mexico State used eight main criteria to score CPF candidates, according to Sandeep Taxali, Program Advisor for Broadband Offices in Illinois and New Mexico. Categories include broadband impact, community involvement, financial stability, organizational capacity, project reach, profitability, service options and open access. New Mexico CPF applicants received additional points for incorporating public safety network needs into their designs, including personalized letters of support from community members, as well as offering Gigabit service and offering three four levels of Internet service.
In Idaho, the office is working to find in-kind matches that can benefit cities and counties, including waiving permit fees and streamlining processes, according to Eric Forsch, Head of Broadband Development at Idaho Commerce. “Communities need to have a say, but make sure you don’t financially burden them with money they don’t really have,” Forsch said.
States will also use different systems and structures to allocate funding.
In Maine, the broadband office will distribute state broadband funds through two public instruments, or quasi-governmental bodies, according to Peggy Schaffer, Executive Director of ConnectME. Public bodies have less stringent requirements on how the state can distribute the funds, allowing the broadband office to act faster and react faster as money moves through the system.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, funding for CPF and broadband, equity, access and deployment will flow through the Idaho Broadband Fund administered by the state Department of Commerce, while grant approval will rest with the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board.
In Louisiana, the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity will distribute funds through the state’s competitive grant program, the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program.
The states of New Mexico, Illinois, and Louisiana will implement different scoring requirements and criteria before distributing BEAD funding to comply with NTIA program provisions.