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Observers Concerned Infrastructure Bill’s Other Objectives Could Distract from Broadband Goals

Billions in funding from the infrastructure bill could go toward states for other objectives like cybersecurity.



Screenshot of Evan Feinman, Top Right

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2022 – Experts expressed concern Tuesday that billions in funding from the infrastructure bill that will go toward states for other objectives like cybersecurity will draw focus away from the primary objective of connecting to broadband service unserved areas of the United States.

“One of the issues is that all of these things are distractions to the main point, which is reaching unserved areas,” Michelle Connolly, professor in economics at Duke University, said at a Technology Policy Institute webinar on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the details of its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which includes $42.5 billion for broadband infrastructure. But critics said the NTIA’s objective to deliver funds to the states for other initiatives, like cybersecurity and job creation, may act as a distraction to the broadband goal.

“My fear is that with all these other policy concerns that we’re interested in,” Connolly said. “There is no requirement that unserved gets taken care of first.”

Paroma Sanyal, senior consultant at The Brattle Group, said that, “It’s appropriate to recognize that it’s a mix of policy objectives and not just a pure broadband deployment policy,” said. “There are other objectives that this plan is getting towards.”

Evan Feinman, director of the BEAD program at NTIA, added that BEAD “has guardrails wide enough for there to be a compliant Alaska plan and a compliant Arizona plan which means that there’s also room between those guardrails for states to make unwise choices.” Because the BEAD program is designed to allow states to modify their five-year digital connectivity plan for individual needs, states are allowed more leeway that might produce a tendency to be distracted from the primary objective.

Feinman indicated that NTIA is pursuing a staffing model where highly trained experts will be placed on the ground in each state and territory as a guide for planning, outreach and office capacity management. He said he hopes that staff will guide states and territories to focus on connecting unconnected areas first.


Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’



Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment

Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’



Photo of John Horrigan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.

“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.

Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.

First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.

“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”

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States Must Review ISP Capabilities When Awarding Federal Infrastructure Funds

‘[State] decision makers in this program need to be careful about who is the qualified and experienced provider.’



Photo of Paul Garnett (middle) and Alex Minard (right)

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2022 – States should ensure telecoms trusted with billions in federal infrastructure funds can do the job before giving them the money, according to experts at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation webinar on Tuesday.

“[State] decision makers in this program need to be careful about who is the qualified and experienced provider and who is going to be able to actually deliver,” said Alex Minard, state legislative counsel at the NCTA, Internet and Television Association.

State broadband offices should look at the ISP’s broadband deployment plans and company track records to determine whether the provider has sufficient capacity to complete the project, said Paul Garnett, CEO of the broadband consulting firm the Vernonburg Group.

An ISP’s customer base and experience in broadband deployment can help states determine whether to invest in the company, added Garnett.

Minard added that ISP’s that provide a matching fund demonstrate their desire to work with the state and follow-through with their commitments.

He added that states must consider the costs of the project in regard to available funds, the likelihood of sign-ups from community members, and who will run the cybersecurity of the network in the long term.

State partnerships with ISP’s have been said to be essential for broadband deployment.

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