Ramón Hobdey-Sánchez, Broadband Director, Idaho

Spend a little time with Idaho’s State Broadband Program Manager, Ramón Hobdey-Sánchez and it’s easy to see his enthusiasm for his home state.

“I have a passion for public service and there are few things that I love more than the State of Idaho,” Hobdey-Sánchez tells Telecompetitor in a recent interview. “Broadband and internet connectivity is something that we can all agree is good for individuals, communities, and the state. Whether it is improving the economy or delivering access to things previously unavailable.”

It’s a good thing that Hobdey-Sánchez has a positive, half-full attitude, because up until the recent hire of two project managers, he’s been the sole member of Idaho’s Office of Broadband (IOB). Residing in the Department of Commerce, the IOB has been a single person endeavor since it was founded in 2020.

“Philosophically in Idaho, we’re lean in government,” says Hobdey-Sánchez. “The entire Idaho Department of Commerce is all-hands-on deck. I have colleagues who have made significant sacrifices to contribute and make this program a success.”

Despite this, Hobdey-Sánchez and the Idaho “office” accomplished quite a bit in 2023, including the tentatively award of $119 million in Capital Projects Fund (CPF) dollars to 14 different applicants for 17 separate projects. Hobdey-Sánchez anticipates that CPF funds will connect approximately 35,000 homes and businesses.  

Earlier in the year, Idaho awarded more than $26 million to projects that included a north-south middle mile backbone to connect commercial, non-profits, local communities and rural internet providers.

The funds were directed by the Idaho Broadband Advisory Board (IBAB), a group of nine formed in 2021 to oversee broadband policy, funding, and project selection decisions. The IBAB is a political group made of six sitting state legislators (three state house, three state senate) and three additional individuals appointed by the governor.

Hobdey-Sánchez explains that while this group is “political” in nature, the IBAB uses stakeholder feedback to set the guidelines and policies.

“There’s a big consideration for where the money [state and federal funding dollars] is coming from; this is taxpayer money,” says Hobdey-Sánchez. “The board makes sure to focus on investing back into communities with a holistic approach versus simply directing all the money to the private sector. That’s one reason public-private partnerships are looked at favorably. They ensure everyone can participate.”

BEAD Plans

Turning to BEAD, the NTIA has allocated $583 million to Idaho. Presently, comments for Idaho’s Initial Proposal Volumes 1 and 2 are closed and being reviewed to be incorporated into the final state plan before the end of the year.

As of today, Hobdey-Sánchez says Idaho is approximately 18-24 months away from BEAD dollars flowing. He breaks it down by explaining that most of 2024 will be used to implement the state’s Initial Proposal, followed by reviewing applications for funding that the state expects to begin accepting in the late fall of 2024.

He anticipates awards to be announced in the first half of 2025. Idaho is only planning to have one phase of awards and the state interprets the BEAD project completion deadline being within four years of approval of the state’s final proposal approval from the NTIA.

“Our objective is to close Idaho’s digital gap when it comes to the unserved and underserved. We are going to need to work together with communities, stakeholders, and ISPs to come up with a way to get to serving 100%,” explains Hobdey-Sánchez.

Today, there are as many as 120,000 unserved and underserved locations in the State. Hobdey-Sánchez explains that while Idaho challenged approximately 22,000 locations, many were rejected in large part due to the FCC’s process. He explains that Idaho is resubmitting challenges in order to improve the FCC’s maps in hopes that locations will be reconsidered to increase the number of homes in Idaho that can be connected through BEAD.

Hobdey-Sánchez says the award criteria for BEAD allocation, much like CPF awards in Idaho, will be fair and equitable whether you are a large or small provider or a local jurisdiction. He emphasizes that approved projects will align with the Idaho Broadband Strategic Plan which focuses on infrastructure being built in unserved and underserved rural communities, delivering previously unobtainable benefits like telehealth and telework.

He anticipates that, while there is always contention regarding who receives funding, the IBAB will be neutral and fair when it comes to ownership and simply identify the best projects, regardless of project ownership.

Primed and Ready

Hobdey-Sánchez is excited that many communities in Idaho have been organizing and planning broadband deployments for years, lacking only the financial resources now available. “They are primed and ready to go,” says Hobdey-Sánchez. “All of a sudden, there is a windfall of money that can actually help broadband action plans become more than dreams. These communities have put years into planning to be ready for a day that they could not know was coming, but it’s here now.”

In the context of how unserved and underserved in Idaho can all become served within the fiber-first BEAD program, Hobdey-Sánchez says that “a majority realize that a mix of technologies will need to be deployed in order to achieve our objective.”

He’s encouraged by the NTIA’s recent flexibility in loosening “letter of credit requirements” as a proof point that the NTIA is listening to feedback.  

Hobdey-Sánchez’s perspective is informed by both a short and long-term view. He says that “Twenty years from now we’re going to see significant changes as a result of the work we’re doing right now. This will leave a lasting impact on the state.”

As for how he gets through seemingly overwhelming days, he explains that he takes the same tact as one would if they had to sit down to eat an elephant… one bite at a time.

Additional information about Idaho broadband, including links to state resources, previous Telecompetitor coverage and more can be found on the Broadband Nation web page for the state.

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