Mike Sanders, Executive Director-Oklahoma Broadband Director

When Mike Sanders started his job as executive director for the Oklahoma Broadband Office about two months ago, the state’s broadband office had four employees. When Telecompetitor talked to Sanders at the end of June, he expected that number to hit 15 as of yesterday.

“We have moved mountains in the last two months,” he told us.

Previously, Sanders served six terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where he chaired the House Utilities Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, was vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, and served as House Majority Leader. Prior to that, he worked for President George W. Bush and served in senior management with the USDA.

Among the projects on Sanders’ Oklahoma broadband to-do list:

  • Spearheading the award of $382 million that the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for broadband deployments. Oklahoma received 133 applications requesting $4 billion in funding for the ARPA-funded program. Decisions will be made by a governing board and Sanders expects awardees to be announced in late summer or early fall. Those applicants that don’t receive funding will be able to apply for BEAD or Capital Projects Fund dollars, he noted.
  • Implementing the state’s plans for how it will use Capital Projects Fund (CPF) dollars. The state is still waiting for the U.S. Treasury’s approval of the plan.
  • Planning for and administering the $797 million that will be coming from the federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program for broadband deployments.

Getting Ready for BEAD

The BEAD program entails numerous responsibilities. Among these: developing the initial proposal that must be submitted to NTIA for approval before any funding can be released and seeking input about broadband needs from citizens across the state, including numerous Oklahoma tribal entities.

“We’re right in the middle of developing a five-year action plan using information from the field,” Sanders told us. “We’re in the final stages of our tour and tribal consultations and should have [that completed] by mid-July.”

The Oklahoma Broadband Office coined the name “Let’s Get Digital” for its listening tour.

Determining how to define high-cost areas also will be an important task. States are responsible for setting thresholds which, in turn, will determine which areas will be slated to receive fiber broadband and which will likely receive lower-cost options such as fixed wireless.

“Fiber is the gold standard,” said Sanders. “It’s more expensive up front but will last longer.”

He added, though, that “other technologies will have to be deployed.”

One approach is to set a threshold of around $9,000 per location as a cut-off point for receiving fiber, Sanders noted.

“That sounds like a lot,” he said, but added that there are areas in rural western Oklahoma where the cost per location can get close to $30,000.

“We’re in the process of working with our internet service providers on high-cost areas,” Sanders said.

The state was pleased with the $797 million in BEAD funding that it was allotted.

“We thought anything more than $750 million would be great,” said Sanders.

Oklahoma was able to maximize its allotment by challenging FCC broadband map data. The state is doing its own map, which is expected to come out early next month.

“As we drill down and compare our map to the FCC map, it may help define other areas that hadn’t been covered,” Sanders said.

Sanders speaks passionately about the importance of making broadband available to everyone in Oklahoma.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we have to have the ability to connect and to run our business from our kitchen table,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it for decades. This is our moment to close the digital divide.”

Additional information about Oklahoma broadband programs will be posted on the Oklahoma Broadband Nation web page when available.

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