Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
States are shoring up expertise in high-speed internet networks by creating or expanding broadband offices to prepare for an influx of infrastructure cash.
Why it matters: Ensuring that more than $40 billion in new funding connects every American to high-speed internet service is a job that’s falling to the states — and they need help.
Driving the news: Of all the job openings posted for states’ burgeoning broadband offices, the “director” position is the most common vacancy, according to data The Pew Charitable Trusts shared with Axios.
- Directors are often responsible for crafting state broadband plans and overseeing hundreds of millions in funding from multiple state and federal programs.
- The Pew tracker found 15 director-level positions posted, out of about 68 total positions since September 2021. Washington, Colorado, and Maine had the most job postings.
What’s happening: The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law, will provide $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and U.S. territories.
State of play: Before the pandemic, about half of states had a broadband office.
- Now, all 50 states have some sort of program, and many are trying to expand, Anna Read, a senior officer with Pew’s broadband access initiative, told Axios.
- “Many of these offices were one or two-person operations prior to the availability of federal funding,” Read told Axios. “Many states are hiring now, and growing the size of their offices to manage the federal funding.”
Between the lines: States have been able to use federal funding from COVID relief packages to start their broadband offices or add people to them.
- “All of this is sort of growing in anticipation of this big pile of money that’s coming from the infrastructure act, that hasn’t gone out the door yet,” Lynn Follansbee, vice president of strategic initiatives and partnerships for broadband industry trade group USTelecom, told Axios.
Flashback: Many states established broadband offices in response to the creation of the State Broadband Initiative program by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to the Pew report.
- But many of the offices shut down when federal funding stopped flowing, Pew noted.
Zoom in: Louisiana passed a law in 2020 creating its Office of Broadband and Connectivity, and hired the first executive director for broadband development and connectivity last year.
- In about a year, the state dedicated $170 million in funding expected to connect 80,000 locations to internet service via a new program, “Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities” (yes, GUMBO for short), executive director Veneeth Iyengar told Axios.
- Louisiana was the first state to secure federal planning dollars from the infrastructure package, and Iyengar said his three-person office views GUMBO as a pilot for how to spend that money wisely.
- “We hit the ground running,” Iyengar told Axios. “We’ve probably criss-crossed the state three times over. We’ve met with thousands of people, all to better understand what the situations are for broadband locally.”
Zoom out: Some states already had been using state funding for broadband ahead of the pandemic, but with federal dollars flowing, states are trying to make sure they’re ready.
- “The whole goal of this program to make sure that every single American has broadband,” Follansbee told Axios. “Regardless of whether it’s a small number in your state or a big number, you’ve got to make that happen — and quickly.”
What to watch: Applications for initial planning funds were due in August. Recipients of planning funds will have 270 days to create a five-year action plan, which should lay out their “goals and approaches to broadband access, affordability, equity, and adoption,” according to the program’s FAQ.