The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association say they will collaborate to create a “Broadband Infrastructure Playbook” for U.S. state governments and their broadband offices in the lead up to implementation of the $42.45 million Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program (see "$65B earmarked for broadband as U.S. House passes Infrastructure Bill"). The playbook will contain information on best practices for broadband program oversight based on a review of successful broadband programs. The associations aim to make the playbook available to the states, who will be responsible for BEAD funding distribution, ahead of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Notice of Funding Opportunity, which association sources expect will occur in May 2022.
The BEAD effort will see all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories receive at least $100 million from the NTIA as well as additional funding based on the number of unserved locations each recipient has. With the May 2022 kickoff approaching rapidly, several states don’t have the necessary infrastructure and resources to efficiently deploy their funding, say Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the FBA, and Michael Romano, senior vice president of industry affairs and business development at the NTCA. Even states with existing broadband funding initiatives likely will need to adjust to the requirements of the BEAD initiative, they add.
To help streamline such efforts, the two associations have hired telecom, media, and technology consulting firm Cartesian to study several broadband programs and derive a set of best practices for program administration. Points covered likely will include developing a program plan, including sequencing and timing of activities; how to best incorporate federal grant programs into their efforts; important process and information requirements; organizational issues; and how best to interface with state government departments and other stakeholders.
Bolton and Romano say that they’ve provided Cartesian with “six or seven” programs to examine first. They declined to reveal the programs selected, as not all might make the final report and others may be added to the review list. The report is expected to focus squarely on program administration and not such state policy issues as municipal broadband efforts, pole attachment, and permitting, they add.
Interest in the project appears high, as Bolton and Romano report that they’ve already been contacted by representatives of several states who want to be part of Cartesian’s study efforts. The associations are looking for other participants; those interested can email [email protected] for more information.
Bolton and Romano hope to have the handbook completed during the first quarter of 2022. The associations plan to host a webinar to discuss the contents of the handbook once Cartesian has finished its work. They also expect to leverage their respective memberships and existing relationships with state governments to formally present the handbook’s recommendations to state leaders.