Just about six months into his appointed role as broadband director for Nebraska, Patrick Haggerty is upbeat, positive, and taking on Nebraska’s BEAD deployment with a smile. Haggerty assumed his new duties under Governor Jim Pillen in mid-2023, shortly after the state created its first broadband office.
Haggerty comes to his new role with more than three decades of telecommunications experience in the private sector, critical in a state that’s considered to be friendly toward providers.
“It’s important that our office is able to be provider-friendly and speak the same language as ISPs,” explained Haggerty to Telecompetitor in his first national interview as Nebraska’s broadband director. “There are no requirements in BEAD that providers engage and participate, so without them we’re sunk.”
A veteran of both CenturyLink and Charter Communications, Haggerty has held almost every role conceivable in an ISP, with an emphasis most recently in leadership and government affairs.
Haggerty and his team quickly got rolling and met NTIA’s deadlines for the BEAD program in under six months. The team of six is taking applications for additional grant administration and policy support. Unique to Nebraska, the broadband director is a member of the governor’s cabinet and reports to Governor Pillen, allowing the governor to influence broadband policy directly.
Partnering with ISPs
Haggerty said that historically, Nebraska’s ISPs have been quick to step up and offer service to Nebraskans. Presently, no ISP has raised its hand and said it is ‘all in on BEAD’ and committed to apply for funding, meaning the office still has work to do to encourage ISP participation.
“Providers are on the fence. It’s our job to figure out a way to partner and engage with them so we’re not creating obstacles, but rather building compelling runways for them,” said Haggerty. “I’m so proud of the staff we have here. Their ability to partner with the telecom sector is invaluable.”
Haggerty tells Telecompetitor that everyone in the Nebraska Broadband Office is fully committed to his three tenets of transparency, accessibility, and being easy to work with.
He expressed optimism that the state’s BEAD allocation of $405.3 million would be enough to reach the underserved and unserved of Nebraska.
“At first, our numbers exceeded 109K eligible locations, with 67K unserved and 42K underserved,” said Haggerty. “Since then, working through the numbers, this has dropped significantly.”
Haggerty explained that the reduction was a result of the FCC’s Enhanced ACAM program, funding for rural rate-of-return telecom providers, that sees Nebraska having one the highest percentages of “ACAM accepted” locations in the nation. Currently, nearly 25,000, or 23%, of the total unserved and underserved locations in the state are slated for enhanced ACAM funding. That’s a big weight lifted, as it will allow dollars to go farther to achieve universal service in the state.
Haggerty had thought Nebraska would need twice as much as the state received in BEAD funding, but he is encouraged with the newer versions of the fabric and says that “the composition has changed dramatically for the better by E-ACAM.”
Finally, Haggerty expresses additional optimism as 93 percent of Nebraska operates on public power, which should make pole negotiations simpler than they are when power is operated by the private sector.
Haggerty anticipates that Nebraska will begin taking applications for round one of BEAD program funding in late summer to early fall.
In the meantime, Nebraska will open a “Letter of Intent” (LOI) process to pre-qualify applicants and speed up the funding process. LOIs will be scored, and preapproved entities will be eligible to participate in the proposal process.
Presently, optimization tools are being utilized to define project areas with the goal of spreading out low- and high-cost locations to arrive at an attractive median “cost per pass” project area. Haggerty anticipates there will be some $30K+ passings in project areas that will be offset by enough $2K passings to bring the average down to $5K per pass.
“We’re obviously a really large state with a lot of population sparsity,” said Haggerty. “Our goal is to cover the entirety of Nebraska so we can stop the practice of rural kids doing homework on public Wi-Fi networks in parking lots across Nebraska.”
Haggerty laid out the state’s plan in three phases, with initial projects underway by the end of the year.
“We’re really looking at our application process, starting where the first round will inform later rounds,” said Haggerty. “Unbid project areas will be the focus of round two, where we will most likely need to re-optimize unbid project areas and open bidding to alternative technologies. Round three might simply be a list of what’s left, and we’ll lean on low earth orbit satellite technology to achieve coverage.”
In spite of dire predictions about how many homes in Nebraska will receive fiber, Haggerty says that “I think the percentage that won’t get fiber will be a lot smaller than people are anticipating.”
A Rich if Not Long History of Broadband Investment
Prior to the opening of the Nebraska Broadband Office, the states’ public service commission had laid considerable groundwork, including administering Nebraska’s Broadband Bridge Program. Since 2021, the state has provided $20 million annually in matching grants to expand broadband access for unserved and underserved areas of Nebraska.
The State’s $87.7 million in CPF funds were administered by PSC prior to Haggerty’s appointment, in a manner similar to what was done for the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Program.
Haggerty accepts midlife challenge in Nebraska
After a long career in telecom that included several senior leadership roles, Haggerty found himself considering the role of broadband director for Nebraska. As he kept considering the idea, he questioned, “Is this what I want to do with the back half of my career?’
“It’s funny,” Haggerty shared, “My dad bought a Corvette when he hit midlife. But for me, I decided to go work for the state.”
“I was raised by Nebraska, it’s my ‘home’ no matter where I live,” said Haggerty. “These are my people and after thirty years, I’m able to apply my experience to this. It’s both humbling and exciting.”