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Partnerships Likely to Be Deciding Factor in State Distribution of BEAD Funds, Say Experts

State and federal broadband policy experts agreed that partnerships would be instrumental to spending $42.5 billion in broadband funds.

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Photo of Sandeep Taxali, Sarah Bleau, Bill McGuire and Lori Adams (left to right) by Jericho Casper

KEYSTONE, Colo., June 7, 2022 – Public employees working at the state and federal level to distribute $42.5-billion available through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment  program said during a panel at the Mountain Connect 2022 Conference in May that applicants who prioritize meaningful partnerships will be more successful in their pursuit of funding.

When creating the scoring frameworks for the states of New Mexico and Illinois, Sandeep Taxali, program advisor to the Illinois and New Mexico broadband offices, said that he designed the grant scoring framework so that applicants gain extra points for partnerships.

“We want partnerships between ISPs that want to share a middle-mile network, partnerships between local ISPs and community stakeholders and the [program] champions [and] partnerships to foster adoption once the networks are built,” Taxali said.

In addition to partnerships that require local, state, and federal governments to work together, successful applicants are likely to be those that partner with individuals in-the-community to collect speed test data, said Sarah Bleau, broadband specialist at NTIA.

Further specific partnership advice

In many communities, municipal-owned network partnering with a private ISP to operate the network will provide solutions for communities that Taxali said have been ignored by traditional service providers. “We’d like to see more of those [partnership models],” he said.

He also urged a room full of hopeful applicants to be aggressive about seeking high levels of matching funds: States will award communities that bring money to the table or that combine government funding programs. “It’s imperative [that] communities step up and apply either their [American Rescue Plan] dollars or other government dollars,” Taxali said.

“All of the guidance that you need to develop the kind of proposals that will be easiest to fund are in the [notice of funding opportunity],” added Bill Maguire, who served as chief of staff for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program at NTIA during the Obama administration.

“It’s no surprise that there are all these specific guidelines around local community engagement and stakeholder engagement, because the [NTIA] team that wrote the NOFO has been working with local governments over the past five to seven years. They understand how critically important these words like ‘stakeholder engagement’ are.”

But he urged applicants to make their “proposals easy for the program officers to say yes to. The way you do that is by making sure that your application suggests that the authors read the NOFO and understood the limitations and the expectations.”

Funding

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.’

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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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Funding

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.’

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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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Funding

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.’

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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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