The following is a recap of a presentation by Kimberlyn Jones, Kansas Office of Broadband Development, and D’mitri Farthing, Jr., Missouri Office of Broadband Development given to the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion on November 3, 2023.

Important Links:

Background

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $65 billion in funding from the federal government to expand broadband access and promote digital inclusion across the United States. To do this, the IIJA established two programs: the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD), which will fund the construction of broadband infrastructure in areas that lack access to high speed internet, and the Digital Equity Act (DEA), which will fund affordability initiatives, digital skills training, technical support, and other programming targeted at underserved communities in the digital divide.

Before states can begin to make use of the funding made available through these programs, they have been required to design a strategy and a process for how they will use the money to support the state’s connectivity and digital equity goals. Specifically, each state was charged with writing the following:

  • BEAD Five-Year Action Plan – Establishes the state’s broadband goals and priorities and serves as a comprehensive needs assessment informing the development of the state’s BEAD Initial Proposal. 
  • BEAD Initial Proposal – Describes how the state will use BEAD funding to ensure that every resident has access to high-speed broadband. The proposal identifies each unserved and underserved location in the state, details how the state will administer a competitive grant program to award funds for proposed broadband expansion projects, and describes the process for challenging grant applications on the basis of existing service quality.
  • State Digital Equity Plan – Describes the state’s strategy for promoting digital equity through strategic investments in human and community capacity. The plan identifies the barriers to digital equity faced by underserved populations in the state, articulates measurable objectives for promoting digital inclusion, and describes an implementation strategy for achieving those goals. 

The state broadband offices of Kansas and Missouri have spent most of the year developing these plans, which have now been released to the public (links available at the top of the page). The public comments process has closed for Kansas’ plans, but in Missouri it is still possible to provide feedback or suggest changes for the state’s digital equity strategy and BEAD initial proposal.

Once the states incorporate any feedback received through the public comments process, they will submit their plans to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for approval, and then move onto the implementation phase. On November 3rd, representatives from Missouri and Kansas’ broadband offices joined the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion to discuss the outcome of their planning process, the feedback they have been receiving from stakeholders and the public, and what comes next. 

Kansas

Having wrapped up the public comments process for their BEAD and digital equity plans, the Kansas Office of Broadband Development is now pivoting to consider implementation for the strategies they outlined. One area of focus is promotion for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program subsidizing the internet bills for low-income households. With only 28% of eligible households in the state signed up, the broadband office is looking to try and boost enrollment across the state, and develop a plan for sustaining affordability initiatives if funding for the ACP is not renewed next year.

The KS broadband office is also working on developing guidelines to implement two digital equity programs funded through ARPA: the Digital Connectivity Technology (DCT) program, and the Digital Equity to Connect Kansans (DECK) program. The DCT is a $15 million grant program focused on supporting device distribution and the expansion of Wi-Fi in apartment buildings and community anchor institutions like libraries, schools, health providers, and community centers. Guidelines for the program are currently being reviewed by the Treasury department, and should be released within the next one to two months. DECK will be a $5 million competitive grant program focused on promoting internet adoption in low-income households and digital skills training for underserved communities. The KS broadband office is currently working on the guidelines for the DECK program, which should be released shortly after the DCT. 

Missouri 

Missouri’s broadband office is currently focused on wrapping up the public comments process for its BEAD initial proposal and state digital equity plan, and has been holding a series of public convenings including the second annual Connecting All Missourians summit in order to support its planning process.

Like Kansas, Missouri has also been focused on trying to promote awareness of the ACP, and is currently working on a partnership with Dollar General and Family Dollar to help advertise the program in stores across the state. The broadband office has also been holding a series of calls with recipients of the FCC’s ACP outreach grant to coordinate best practices among the organizations working to provide enrollment assistance to households. 

Missouri expects the state to receive between $20-24 million through the upcoming DEA grant programs, and is currently focused on determining how to use that money to build sustainable capacity for digital inclusion work across the state. In particular, the broadband office is seeking feedback on how to make its upcoming grant programs as open and accessible as possible for applicants. The office’s recent digital demonstration grants saw only 20% of those who began an application file a submission. The broadband office wants to make future grant programs as inclusive as possible to help stimulate participation by local community organizations. 

Further Reading

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