Governors can help spur broadband deployment in their states through a range of best practices, according to a new report from the National Governors Association and Western Governors University. The report also looks at how some states used federal CARES Act funding for broadband.
As the authors note, the COVID-19 pandemic drove more people to work, learn and conduct other activities online, driving many policymakers to make broadband availability and affordability a key priority. Although there are several federal broadband programs, there are many things that can be done at the state level, according to the report, titled “Governor Strategies to Expand Affordable Broadband Access.”
The report identifies nine state broadband best practices and key strategies, including:
- Establishing robust, cross-cutting governance structures
- Initiating partnerships with other state agencies, local and county governments and other entities to kickstart broadband investments
- Leveraging anchor institutions to provide rapid community internet service
- Leveraging existing infrastructure projects with dig-once coordination
- Leveraging electric utilities’ infrastructure and services to facilitate deployments of broadband networks
- Coordinating and expanding broadband affordability programs
- Deploying innovative procurement strategies
- Improving broadband coverage maps
- Identifying funding and financing sources for broadband deployment
The report gives examples of how specific states have implemented each of these strategies and best practices. It also indicates whether the examples represent short-term or long-term solutions.
As the authors note, “Governors have many policy and programmatic tools at their disposal to provide both immediate and long-term access to broadband.”
State-Level CARES Act Funding for Broadband
The CARES Act sought to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through a wide range of federal initiatives and by making funding available for states to use as they saw fit. Broadband was one of numerous initiatives funded through the act.
As Telecompetitor previously reported, the CARES Act provided $300 million toward federal broadband programs. In addition, some states used some of the funding provided to them through the CARES Act for broadband initiatives. The report from the National Governors Association and Western Governors University identifies 21 states and one U.S. territory that did so and describes how the broadband funding was used.
Some states directed CARES Act broadband funding toward the construction of network infrastructure or allowed it to be used for that or certain other purposes. Examples include Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, and Mississippi.
Other states focused more on specific broadband use cases such as telehealth and remote learning by, for example, supporting the cost of devices and connectivity for school children and/or healthcare institutions.
The two different approaches – funding deployment and funding specific use cases – were not mutually exclusive. Some states directed CARES Act funding in both directions.
States that directed the most CARES Act money toward broadband included Alabama, which allocated “up to $300 million for expenditures related to remote learning” and $53 million for remote work, and Mississippi, which allocated $275 million toward broadband, including $65 million to state electric cooperatives for broadband expansion.