On March 10th, the Missouri Office of Broadband Development held a listening session in Kansas City as part of their Connecting All Missourians public engagement process. The purpose of the listening session was to gather feedback from the public about broadband and digital inclusion needs in the community, and share more information about the work that is being done by the Broadband Office across the state.
Updates from the Office of Broadband Development
The Broadband Office began by outlining the measures and opportunities included in the Digital Equity Act (DEA), passed by Congress in 2021. As part of this act, the state of Missouri received $800,000 to support their work developing a state digital equity plan. This plan will describe the barriers that Missouri communities are facing as they work to get connected, and outline the state office’s priorities over the next five years in tackling these issues. The Broadband Office is currently collecting data and beginning to draft this plan in collaboration with the University of Missouri system and Regional Planning Commissions across the state. The office will release the plan in October of this year.
The Broadband Office also decided to use a portion of its planning funds to award a series of grants for digital demonstration projects across the state. Specifically, these grants will fund between 10 and 50 projects aimed at training and deploying digital navigators, providing affordable devices to eligible individuals, and promoting enrollment in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Data on the outcomes of these projects will be integrated into the state’s digital equity plan. Applications for the digital demonstration projects closed on March 1st, and winners will be announced by April 3rd.
This fall, after the release of Missouri’s digital equity plan, the Broadband Office will submit a request to the federal government for Missouri’s share of the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. The state capacity grant program was created by the DEA to fund digital equity projects and the implementation of state digital equity plans. The Broadband Office will administer Missouri’s portion of these funds, which will be distributed to community organizations via a grant process. Also launching in 2024 will be the $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, another program funded by the DEA that will allow community organizations to apply directly to the federal government for funds to support digital inclusion efforts.
The Broadband Office also gave a presentation on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which will fund the construction of broadband infrastructure throughout the state. Missouri is set to receive its funding allocation for the BEAD program in the coming months, with the amount awarded possibly reaching as much as $1 billion. In making decisions about where to award funding, the Broadband Office will be utilizing maps released by the FCC showing which households do and do not have access to broadband internet. Currently, the state is involved in an ongoing challenge process to determine where there may be mistakes in those maps that could result in some areas being inappropriately denied funding. The Broadband Office is looking to residents and community organizations to help submit challenges to this map to ensure its accuracy, and has released a document, an instructional video, and an FAQ providing more details about the process. In particular, the Broadband Office is seeking feedback into how to identify units in apartment buildings or other multiple dwelling units (MDUs) that may show up as served in the FCC’s map, but which in reality lack access to high-quality broadband options. The Broadband Office is hoping to identify these locations so that providers can be awarded grants to upgrade their service.
Highlights from the Community Listening Session
After giving program updates, the Office of Broadband Development solicited feedback from meeting attendees about the current status of digital equity initiatives in the KC metro, the needs that the community still has, and how best to measure success going forward. Key issues and suggestions highlighted by attendees included:
- Highlighting the gap that often exists between counties in terms of the resources available to confront digital inclusion challenges and the importance of upcoming funding efforts at closing that gap.
- Emphasizing that while rural areas are often made the target of broadband funding, there are still many households in the urban core who do not have access to high-quality broadband and are badly in need of funding for both infrastructure and digital inclusion projects.
- Noting that community organizations often have on-the-ground information that the Broadband Office can use to prioritize its funding decisions.
- Raising the question of how to take lessons learned in places like Kansas City and adapt that knowledge in a way that is valuable to other communities and geographies with their own challenges and restraints.
- Suggesting that more deliberate and strategic engagement by the local business community could significantly bolster efforts around digital skills training and affordable device access.
- Highlighting the particular importance of developing workforce training programs to meet the upcoming need for broadband network construction and the opportunity for ISPs to partner with local training agencies to build those programs.
- Suggesting that the Broadband Office consider the diversity and inclusivity of teams when considering who to fund for digital equity projects, as well as whether a project emphasizes collaboration with other actors in the community.
- Emphasizing the importance of having a strategy for reaching households who are not connected and showing them the value of getting online, getting a device, and improving their digital skills.
- Suggesting that the state measure the success of its programs based on the extent to which households go on to utilize the internet for healthcare, education, remote work, and other similar applications.
- Highlighting the potential role of community health workers in serving to promote digital inclusion in their communities.
If you have further input you would like the Office of Broadband Development to consider, please contact D’Mitri Farthing at DMitri.Farthing@ded.mo.gov.
B.J. Tanksley, Director of the Office of Broadband Development, D’Mitri Farthing, Digital Inclusion Specialist for the Office of Broadband Development, and Adam Thorp, Community Development Specialist for the Office of Broadband Development, presented to the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion on March 10, 2023.