One of the key things that keeps state broadband officials awake at night is the possibility that there may be unserved areas of the state where no provider wants to deploy service—even with a subsidy. The good news is that at least one state — Georgia — found a way to get bids for, and ultimately get service to, the state’s most unserved areas.
Telecompetitor talked to Jessica Simmons, Georgia’s Deputy State Chief Information Officer and Executive Director of the Georgia Broadband Program, about how the state achieved that – and about the state’s plan for $1.3 billion in BEAD rural broadband deployment funding that will be coming its way.
The funding program that was so successful was Georgia’s Capital Projects Fund program, which awarded funding in two rounds.
As Simmons explained, in one of the rounds, “we didn’t put every county out for bid; we just targeted the most unserved.”
The program was successful.
“We had applications for every project area and made an award in all areas that were eligible following a challenge process,” said Simmons.
The vast majority of funding awarded will go toward fiber broadband deployments, Simmons said. In addition, a few providers will use hybrid fiber coax and a few locations will receive fixed wireless service.
When we spoke to Simmons in late August, the state had obligated nearly all the funding it received for broadband deployments through the U.S. State and Local Fiscal Recovery program and the U.S. Capital Projects Fund – about $660 million in total.
Service providers also will contribute to project costs, yielding a total budget of about a billion dollars.
Still remaining in Georgia’s budget is $5 million in CPF money that the state aims to use for hotspots in a program targeting the state library system.
A Helpful Map
The $1.3 billion in BEAD funding that will be coming to Georgia is one of the highest allocations for any state. The broadband map that the state created likely played a role in ensuring that the state received its fair share.
The state was able to file challenges to FCC availability data in time to impact the BEAD allocations. The state challenged availability data for tens of thousands of locations and the FCC accepted the vast majority of them.
The state was not able to challenge the location data in time to impact allocations, but according to Simmons, location data in version two of the FCC map – the one that was used for BEAD allocations – was more accurate in comparison with the first version.
The plan to establish the Georgia broadband office came in 2018. Simmons joined in 2021.
The office has four dedicated employees, but as Simmons explained, the agency works closely with other state agencies to accomplish its goals.
“What Georgia has done is take advantage of economies of scale and pull resources from other state agencies that have knowledge and expertise.”
She noted, for example, that the University of Georgia worked on the broadband map.
The Georgia broadband office is largely focused on the BEAD program today. The state already has submitted its five-year plan to NTIA for approval and is in the process of drafting volume one and volume two of its Initial Proposal.
“Georgia has been able to move quickly,” Simmons said.
For more information about Georgia broadband, including funding programs and links to state resources and previous Telecompetitor coverage, see the Broadband Nation page for Georgia.