Overall, broadband has become a utility and is increasingly inequitable. Thankfully, the digital divide is receiving the national and local attention it deserves so that social and economic challenges can be overcome. The private and public sectors will require a thoughtful market understanding, identification of issue areas, clear solutions and novel approaches, such as P3s, to effectively address the digital divide.
Enabling infrastructure programs, usually through P3, has advantages of making service cost effective in hard-to-reach areas and, if conditions are right (such as availability of state-owned rights-of-way), can be realized at low cost through P3 structures. Grant programs have the advantage of speed to market but present more complexity in terms of tracking success and benefits. Many states choose hybrid programs, targeting the best of both worlds.
Best practice in broadband program implementation
Putting together an effective plan requires commercial, operational and technical knowledge: it will need to include a market assessment, geospatial mapping, strategic analysis and planning, financing, program structuring, procurement, technical deployment, IT deployment, program management, post-construction support, compliance, impact tracking and reporting.
Those that are successful will need to execute three main phases of program implementation.
- Complete a needs assessment to create a baseline for which broadband deficiencies can be identified. This would be analyzed on a local, geospatial basis and serves as the foundation for developing thoughtful and practical solutions on which the public and private sector can act.
- In addition, a solid understanding of the commercial opportunity associated with each of the identified areas, the cost to enable that opportunity and the potential subsidies required to address any private sector shortfalls is critical to engaging realistic solutioning between the private and public sectors and generating the most value for each funding dollar.
- Finally, the planning phase often creates a market-tested approach to address those deficiencies and create value with processes that can lead to stronger grant program evaluation and allocation, better tracking and reporting, and tangible outcomes.
Never has so much discretionary funding been available to state and local governments in such a short period of time. While state governments have grant allocation systems designed for steadier and smaller flows of funds, most do not have teams and structures that can scale appropriately to manage the influx of one-time funding while still meeting additional federal compliance and reporting requirements. Although each state’s program will differ based on its needs, all federal funding is accompanied by strict rules, processes, procedures and oversight, making a solid implementation plan critical to program success.