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What Is a State Broadband Advisory Board?

At its core, a broadband advisory board is made up of individuals from different sectors who advise state broadband programs, governors or legislatures. However, not all advisory boards are the same.

Broadband fiber cables pugged into a board.
To help coordinate broadband efforts at the state level, lawmakers have turned to legislation and executive orders to create statewide broadband advisory boards, task forces and other similar agencies. But what exactly do these groups do, and how long have they been around?

Anna Read, senior officer of the Broadband Access Initiative for Pew Charitable Trusts, said that a broadband advisory board is “a type of entity that has multiple members that represent different sectors that provide some level of advice or play an advisory role to either the state broadband program or to the governor and legislature.”

However, not all advisory boards are the same — some serve as a temporary entity that guides the outset of a broadband program for states, while others are long-serving advisory entities that are helping to create new state broadband offices. While the overarching goal of almost all of these agencies is the same — to help state government get high-speed Internet access for its residents — the approaches, makeup and longevity of state broadband groups tend to vary.

For example, Read said, Kansas and Alaska initially had temporary task forces that put together reports and offered recommendations about the states’ different programs. Based on that work, each state then used the findings to create more permanent solutions.

In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently signed House Bill 363, which establishes a state broadband office, a broadband parity adjustment fund, and a statewide broadband advisory board. Meanwhile, Kansas established its own broadband office in 2020 after Gov. Laura Kelly signed executive order No. 20-67.

Other states also have different types of advisory boards, including ongoing and formalized groups.
One example of an established effort is Colorado’s broadband deployment board, which focuses on providing funding recommendations. Another is California’s Broadband Council, which operates as an interagency collaborative council to help guide the state’s broadband efforts.

The difference between temporary entities and these more permanent groups, Read said, is that the latter tends to focus on the state’s broadband needs, what other states are doing, and providing recommendations on a more ongoing basis, rather than as a one-off or a bridge to more permanent work.

Another difference, of course, is longevity.

California’s Broadband Council, for instance, has been around since 2010, and Colorado’s Broadband Deployment Board has been operational since 2014.

However, there has been an increase in states establishing broadband advisory boards since 2018, Read said. Typically, these advisory boards are created in conjunction with new broadband offices or after an advisory council shares its recommendations. One example of that is Idaho’s Broadband Advisory Board.

Idaho’s state Legislature created an advisory board in March 2021, in response to the governor wanting to allocate $30 million to broadband without any sideboards or oversight, said state Rep. John Vander Woude.

“The Legislature thought, yeah, that’s a good step to put money into broadband, but who’s going to oversee it? Who’s going to put out the money, and where does it go?” Woude said. “That’s why the Legislature created the broadband advisory board to oversee how that money gets spent.”

After the group was created, members quickly shifted gears to distribute CARES Act funding that was coming from the federal government. There is quite a bit more funding on the way from the federal government, and states need groups like this one to help get it to their communities quickly, while also meeting any requirements for obtaining and distributing the funds. Idaho taking action in this way led to quick facilitation.

“The appropriation committee put $10 million into the state’s broadband fund from the CARES Act, and our immediate response was getting this CARES Act money out by the end of the year,” Woude said.

As a result, the board spent its first couple of months outlining what could and couldn’t be done with the money, and then worked on selecting grants to distribute the funds.

Now, however, Woude said that he is looking forward to identifying the unserved and underserved areas throughout the state and getting grant money to those areas or getting Internet service providers and other people to start putting in bids for those areas specifically.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have this kind of funding for broadband, and there’s a real need for it,” Woude said. “Let’s make sure we do it right and not waste the money because there’s so much that we can do, like providing broadband to rural areas and schools and other important things like that.”
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.