States Broadband Offices Outline Plans for Billions in Broadband Funds

Officials from Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico outline how they are preparing for broadband funding.

States Broadband Offices Outline Plans for Billions in Broadband Funds
Photo of Thomas Tyler from the Louisiana Broadband Office

KEYSTONE, Colo., June 13, 2022 – Representatives from the state broadband offices of Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine and New Mexico last month at the Mountain Connect conference outlined plans for how they expect to use and distribute billions in upcoming federal dollars.

Louisiana’s state office plans to stretch its funding by structuring the scoring criteria for its grant program to incentivize additional matching funds from grant applicants. When distributing capital project funds, the state received about 170 applications offering 40 percent matching funds on average, with some applicants contributing a match as high as 80 to 90 percent. “We were thrilled to see that by heavily incentivizing the match, it boosted match percentage by an additional 20% of the project,” said Thomas Tyler, deputy director of ConnectLA.

One of the state’s current priorities is building reliance on local businesses. To help achieve this goal, applicants will receive additional points for contracting with a small business or a better-known business, or if the applicant themselves is a small business or better-known business. Another priority of the state is workforce development.

“We have worked with all of our providers to work with our local community and technical college systems, to help identify and structure curriculum in the state to get people trained on how to build these networks and provide services to keep them running. We want to keep these jobs in our state,” said Tyler.

Other ways states are maximizing funds is by weighing the cost-efficiency of using different technologies, encouraging efficiency in the middle-mile, and awarding projects that will result in the most households served.

The scoring criteria state offices are using varies and tends to reflect the state’s development priorities.

The state of New Mexico used eight major criteria to score CPF applicants, according to Sandeep Taxali, program advisor to the Illinois and New Mexico broadband offices. The categories include broadband impact, community participation, financial stability, organizational capability, project radius, cost efficiency, service options, and open access. New Mexico CPF applicants received extra points for incorporating the needs of public safety networks in their designs, including customized letters of support from community members, as well as offering Gigabit service and offering three to four Internet service tiers.

In Idaho, the office is putting effort toward finding in-kind matches that can benefit cities and counties, including waiving permit fees, and streamlining processes, according to Eric Forsch, broadband development manager at Idaho Commerce. “Communities need to have skin in the game, but make sure you’re not financially burdening them with money they don’t really have,” said Forsch.

The states will also use different systems and structures to distribute the funding.

In Maine, the broadband office will be distributing the state’s broadband funds through two public instrumentalities, or quasi-government agencies, according to Peggy Schaffer, executive director of ConnectME. Public instrumentalities have less rigorous requirements on how the state can distribute the funds, which allows the broadband office to move faster and respond more quickly, as money rolls through the system.

Meanwhile in Idaho, CPF and Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment funding will move through the Idaho Broadband Fund administered by the state’s Department of Commerce, while grant approval will fall to Idaho’s Broadband Advisory Board.

In Louisiana, the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity will disperse funds through the state’s competitive grant program, the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program.

The states of New Mexico, Illinois, and Louisiana will be implementing different requirements and scoring criteria before distributing BEAD funding in order to comply with the NTIA program’s provisions.