Aug 25 2022

States Take Different Approaches to Establishing Broadband Offices

Stakeholders provide input to high-speed internet authorities wherever they reside.

In August, The Pew Charitable Trusts updated its tracker for states that have dedicated broadband offices, task forces, agencies or funds. With this most recent update, Pew determined that all 50 states administer active broadband programs. But how they manage those programs varies widely.

Some states place their broadband office inside a business or economic agency, while others house it within their technology agency. Some states coordinate broadband from the governor’s office or across agencies.

However they are structured, these state authorities are handling billions of dollars in federal broadband investment through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

EXPLORE: How New York is investing in emergency wireless communications.

The National Conference of State Legislatures summarizes the need succinctly: “Because access to the internet is unavailable or inadequate in parts of the country, states and the federal government are focusing on deploying broadband — the technologies that allow internet data to be transmitted at high speeds — as universally as possible.”

Regardless of the structure, Pew states that “a state-level broadband office with full-time staff” is a core component of a successful broadband program. These offices must possess “the structure, support and authority to execute the planning, capacity building and competitive grant programs that increase service availability,” Pew notes.

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Illinois' Commerce Department Is Setting a Broadband Standard

In Illinois, the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is the parent agency of the Office of Broadband. The office is the single administrator for broadband grants and programs. It runs Connect Illinois, an ambitious program to provide “ubiquitous statewide broadband access.”

By 2024, the state seeks to provide every home with “basic” broadband access that offers download/upload speeds of 25/3 megabits per second. By 2028, it seeks to expand that universal access to “high-speed broadband” with service speeds of 100/20Mbps. (Both measures are federal standards.)

The Connect Illinois program receives guidance from a 25-member Broadband Advisory Council consisting of internet service providers, state officials and legislators, and other broadband stakeholders. Within the council, five working groups tackle distinct challenges related to access, economic development, education, infrastructure and technology, and telehealth. The Illinois CTO sits on the council.

DIVE DEEPER: How to remember digital equity as broadband expands.

How Nevada's Officials are Leading the Way

In Nevada, the broadband program office sits within the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation & Technology. The office manages a new program called High Speed NV, which aims to provide universal broadband access throughout the state by 2029, capitalizing on state and federal funding (including IIJA and ARPA grants).

The office receives guidance from the Nevada Telecommunications Advisory Council, which seeks input from telecommunications providers and Nevada residents. It then works with the Nevada Department of Transportation to clear physical access for telecommunications firms to build infrastructure.

A chief IT manager who works for the state CIO at Nevada Enterprise Information Technology Services serves on the council.

These state authorities are handling billions of dollars in federal broadband investment.”

California's Push for Statewide Broadband

In California, the Office of Broadband and Digital Literacy resides within the California Department of Technology, headed by the state CIO. Its current goal is to gain 90 percent statewide adoption for high-speed broadband by 2023. The office manages the 12-member California Broadband Council, which includes the state CIO and 11 other officials among its members.

Under an executive order, CDT works with the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development and the Department of General Services to meet with private sector companies regarding broadband needs and thus allocate state resources to California's Broadband for All initiative.

LEARN ABOUT: New York's ConnectALL initiative and aims to increase broadband access.

According to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, this arrangement is somewhat rare. The NASCIO survey of 2020 found that only 23 percent of state CIOs lead their state’s broadband efforts. All of them have some responsibility for adoption and deployment of broadband. In NASCIO’s 2021 survey, 59 percent of state CIOs said their states have a cross-agency broadband office; 41 percent did not.

Regardless of whether a state’s Department of Technology or the Department of Commerce leads broadband efforts, the broadband office must establish required core competencies and a forum through which to gather informed input. California, Illinois and Nevada demonstrate there is more than one path forward to address these challenges.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.


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