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NSC Releases State Planning Resource for Federal Broadband Funds

The National Skills Coalition has released an informational resource to support states in their implementation of the Digital Equity Act and Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program.

Digital illustration of blue arrows moving from the right side of the image towards a target on the left side of the image.
A resource published by the National Skills Coalition (NSC) last week aims to guide states through the implementation of the Digital Equity Act (DEA) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

States have been working to prepare for the federal funding becoming available by staffing up and engaging partners. While states have been preparing for an influx of federal funding for broadband since the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, being well-informed and planning will help states maximize the impact of these dollars.

NSC’s latest resource offers recommendations both for state officials and for workforce and education advocates and practitioners.

As explained by Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, senior fellow with NSC and co-author of this report, there were two audiences — state government officials and advocates outside of state government — that were looking for additional clarity on the implications of this legislation.

“We know that digital equity is just absolutely integral to so much of daily life and to social and civic and economic life,” she said.

Of the 10 recommendations, the first six are focused on helping states develop a process for implementation, while the remaining four focus on policy. As Bergson-Shilcock explained, NSC thought it was important to help state officials think about both the short-term and long-term tasks related to digital equity and how to institutionalize the work so that when these federal funds are no longer available, the work can continue.

“As much money as is in the DEA and even the BEAD program, there are still going to be things that may not be able to be covered out of those,” she said. “We want to encourage states to be thinking with their policy hats on in terms of how best to approach that piece.”

She underlined Washington and New York as examples of states passing effective legislation related to digital equity.

The recommendations for state officials include gathering input from a diverse group of partners that includes workforce and education partners, using knowledge already gained by those working in this space to shape state digital equity plans, including organizations that represent communities of color in the planning and implementation process, and creating channels for continued input.

In many cases, state broadband offices are both new and small, contrasting other state agencies like state departments of education or labor. Bergson-Shilcock recommended that officials within these newly formed broadband offices work with other agencies that have been doing work related to digital equity, as they can help officials access existing relationships with organizations in this space.

In addition, she recommends publicizing whatever public engagement plans states come up with — whether that be listening sessions, a task force or otherwise — using existing information networks to announce news.

Recommendations on the policy side include dedicating a significant portion of BEAD funding to workforce development, as well as reviewing other workforce and education policies to help align with digital equity goals.

According to Bergson-Shilcock, there are two main ways that digital equity work and strengthening the workforce go hand in hand. First, workers in most occupations and industries now require digital skills, so digital equity helps bolster economic vitality with a qualified workforce. The second piece of this is that there are workforce needs surrounding the building process for new broadband infrastructure, from broadband tower technicians to fiber-optics technicians and more.

The nine recommendations for workforce and education advocates and practitioners focus more heavily on educating state officials. To do this, they must make themselves part of the digital equity planning process, share best practices from their experiences and advocate for a method of submitting input during and after the process of finalizing state plans.

“There have been some great nonprofit advocates and others who have been on the ground doing the work for years,” she said. “So, we really want them to be able to share their expertise, share their data — as appropriate with privacy protections as needed — so that state officials can really benefit from this pool of experts.”

She further elaborated on how the various pieces of the digital equity puzzle — from digital skills for seniors to digital skills for English language learners — may require different methods to teach. As such, she underlined the importance of a holistic approach to the work.

And as this resource suggests, the work that is being done with this federal funding is not something that can be written off once the plans and processes are created.

To effectively improve digital equity and maximize the impact of this funding, there must be a method for evaluating and improving processes, she said. For state officials, this means creating a formal evaluation process to measure impact and guide future investments — for example, creating an annual report card. For workforce and education advocates and practitioners, it will mean both advocating that relevant data is made widely available and allowing stakeholders to provide ongoing input.

It’s easy to measure how many people sign up for broadband service, Bergson-Shilcock said, but this metric alone is insufficient in measuring digital equity. To holistically measure impact, she recommends identifying a community’s primary needs. And to do so, it comes back to bringing the voices of those doing the work to the table in planning processes.

“Being really intentional about our vision for digital equity and who gets to help shape that vision is critically important,” she said.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.