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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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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.”

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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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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Funding

Private-Public Partnerships Require Trust, Say State Broadband Officers

As federal funding rolls out, states and local communities must consider partnerships with local service providers.

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Photo of panel at Fiber Connect by Drew Clark

NASHVILLE, June 14, 2022 – State broadband officers at Fiber Connect said Monday that developing trust between private and public sectors for partnerships will be essential for broadband builds in the wake of new federal funding programs.

“I don’t know how any of us can do our jobs at the state level if we didn’t want partnerships,” Tamarah Holmes, director of Virginia’s office of broadband, said Monday.

Partnerships exist when the public sector, or government agencies, hire private companies to build broadband infrastructure, though there are a variety of models that states may choose from.

“Building trust and responsibility with each other” will be essential, added Godfrey Enjady, president of the National Tribal Telecommunication Association. Providers and communities must be able to talk and coordinate with one another, he said.

It is encouraging, said Laura Spining, deputy associate administrator at National Telecommunications and Information Administration, that partnerships are shifting the dynamic by leading conversation with how they will meet public needs. The NTIA is tasked with handing out to states $42.5 billion as part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Jessica Simmons, deputy CIO for broadband at the Georgia Technology Authority, said she recognized the importance of partnerships and has developed a program, called the Broadband Ready Program, for communities to increase attractiveness to broadband providers. The program helps ensure that communities are connected to the state resources that will enable them to effectively deploy broadband and make it available more widely in the communities.

The program also includes ensuring that communities don’t impose to infrastructure investments by, for example, restricting pole attachments for fiber deployements.

“Partnerships will be tough,” said Enjady, “but, if you can forge them, I think you’ll see a lot of good come out of it.”

This comes after panelists at the Mountain Connect 2022 conference said last month that states that prioritize partnerships will be more successful in their pursuit of funding from the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

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