Executive Summary

The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act marked the most significant infusion of federal resources for public works projects in decades for states and local communities. The year-old law included $65 billion to expand broadband services to communities that have little or no high-speed internet access, which has become key for economic growth and job creation.[1] Broadband’s importance was underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic and the problems it caused for the economy and communities.

All states are preparing plans that will prioritize the broadband projects supported through new federal funds. These funds will unlock economic and educational opportunities for millions of people in underserved rural and urban communities.[2] Maximizing these funds will require states to build a strong structure of technical leadership, engage outside stakeholders and experts, and leverage broadband lessons from the last decade. 

While a sustained investment in technology is required to successfully deploy broadband, states will need to look beyond laying fiber and hiring internet service providers. The new federal assistance may seem narrowly designed, yet states actually have significant latitude in deciding how to use it. Some of the planning funds can help states better understand why people and communities remain unconnected, while other funds can be used to deliver the secure and affordable digital systems these areas need.


This memo lays out actions states can take in the first 200 days of 2023 to start bringing broadband to more communities and make sure it’s done effectively. 

Build technical teams to make effective broadband investments 

The first step is for states to put together robust technical teams — a necessity in our modern, digital world. These teams must be able to roll out broadband investments that work over the long term. Governors can build expertise within their administrations and rely on national and local expertise to supplement their teams. 

Use effective data and analysis to drive broadband decisions

States can prioritize gathering data that will let them produce a reliable statewide broadband map showing access gaps. These will be critical for understanding residents’ broadband needs. Officials must understand how people interact with technology and services, identify problems and address them. This can help states decide how to best distribute funds and workers for broadband projects. Broadband mapping data is also essential for determining if state broadband goals have been met.

Prioritize ensuring that all individuals and communities get connected

States need to ensure that their digital services and products are inclusive and accessible to all. Consider access, digital literacy and meaningful use of digital technologies for different groups, particularly from underrepresented communities. States can also utilize funds such as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program to boost digital equity efforts. 


The passage of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 marked the most significant infusion of federal public works money for state and local governments in generations. The measure provides $65 billion to expand broadband to communities with little or no high-speed internet access, which is necessary for economic growth and job creation.[3] Broadband’s importance was only underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic given the sudden shift to online services for government, businesses, schools, and healthcare providers.

As federal and state governments map broadband access nationally, figures on the exact number of people living in areas that lack internet access vary significantly. Current estimates span from 14.5 to 42 million people,[4] with all sources recognizing that a significant number of Americans lack what is largely considered today a basic utility. This doesn’t include the number of people who live in places with broadband coverage with slower speeds or higher costs.[5]

One of the primary sources of funds for states is the  $42 billion contained in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Each state will receive an initial allocation of $100 million with additional funding provided based on the number of unserved and underserved communities. In order to receive funding, each state must submit a five-year plan that identifies locations that should be prioritized for support; outlines how to serve unconnected locations; and assesses how long it would take to build out universal broadband.[6] States receive the first 20% when their initial proposal is approved and the other 80% when they submit their Final Proposal. An overview of funding opportunities and a timeline are here

In 2023, states will need technical telecommunications and community development expertise to develop their broadband plans. States may also need to collect their own data relative to unserved and underserved communities to ensure they are targeting their investments effectively. 

States focused on best practices will look beyond laying fiber and hiring internet service providers to successfully deploy broadband. A crucial step will be understanding the barriers to connecting communities, such as affordability for individuals, lack of access to devices and digital literacy. 

States can take effective action early to deliver implementation goals that will benefit residents over the next decade and beyond. States can create technically proficient leadership and equip them with financial, human and institutional resources to connect every resident with usable and affordable broadband. They can supplement these internal teams by engaging key stakeholders and building strong partnerships with outside stakeholders and experts. 


The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided the largest federal investment in state broadband access to date, with $65 billion[7] for state broadband investment projects:

  • $42.5 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, a new grant program providing formula funding to states for broadband deployment. Governors will need to develop plans in 2023 to prioritize projects and communities, including how to make broadband more affordable for low-income families;

  • $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, an existing program to enable broadband access in tribal communities;

  • $1 billion for middle-mile broadband, support for infrastructure that does not connect to an end user;

  • $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which provides grants to states and nonprofit entities for digital inclusion;

  • $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides monthly subsidies to support low-income individuals with affordable broadband services.

As of the end of 2022, all 50 states as well as DC and Puerto Rico received their BEAD 5 Year Planning Funds and their Digital Equity Funds.[8]

The infrastructure measure is not the only federal resource for states to jumpstart their broadband programs. In response to COVID-19, the federal government provided billions of pandemic relief dollars for infrastructure investment, including broadband access.

  • Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund: This provides $10 billion for states to help communities get needed equipment and systems, including projects that would improve employment, education and health care, such as remote monitoring of patients. Broadband infrastructure projects and digital connectivity are covered in this program.

  • Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund: This includes $350 billion for projects to counter COVID-19’s economic fallout and facilitate recovery.[9] The program gives state, local, territorial and tribal governments significant flexibility to allocate the funds based on local needs, including for broadband infrastructure.

States are already using COVID-19 relief funds to improve broadband access. More than half of states have made improvements to high-speed connectivity or have created new broadband programs. Here are some notable trends in broadband spending by states:

  • Expanding access to underserved communities by connecting public buildings and infrastructure to high-speed broadband. States have been prioritizing public space connectivity — or establishing Wi-Fi hotspots in public places like libraries and parks — as a way to provide free and easy access to broadband for individuals and communities. Other investments include Wi-Fi connectivity throughout school systems; curb-to-home broadband, as was done in Connecticut to expand service to households; and expanding broadband access along highways like in Arizona to reach more remote areas of their state.

  • Providing grants to contractors and organizations to build broadband systems. Many state and local governments are turning to public-private cooperation to deploy needed infrastructure. From Washington to Georgia, states are using money from last year’s pandemic relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act and the Capital Project Fund, a Treasury-led program that allocates funds to states to invest in their infrastructure. These investments include building physical fiber optic infrastructure (referred to as middle-mile broadband) and connecting providers’ networks to end users (known as last-mile broadband) in unconnected areas.

States working with private companies should consult with procurement experts to be sure key contract provisions are being followed, including minimum speed guarantees, benchmarks for connecting communities and getting reimbursements when justified.

  • States’ technical and administrative capacity for handling broadband projects is critical. Many grants to states are being administered by state technology or broadband offices. Many of these offices also handle state broadband coverage mapping, or the process of determining what areas of the state are not connected to broadband, as is the case with Colorado’s Broadband Office (CBO) and ConnectMAINE. States should consider allocating some ARPA or infrastructure funds to improve their oversight of these projects. This includes tracking whether internet service providers (ISPs) and other partners are fulfilling their commitments.


Below are meaningful steps that state leaders can take at the beginning of 2023 to start expanding broadband access for their residents. In the first 200 days:

  • Build technical teams with the ability to roll out investments that work over the long term;

  • Use effective data and analytics to drive decisions;

  • Prioritize ensuring that all individuals and communities get connected.


From telework to telehealth to telelearning, the COVID-19 pandemic required widespread shifts to digital service delivery at a pace and scale never seen before. This unprecedented reliance on technology revealed the huge benefits of living and working in communities that are connected to the internet. It also revealed the disabling reality of not being connected, especially in low-income rural and urban areas. Some connectivity gaps are due to a complete lack of access to a high-speed internet connection. Others are caused by the absence of devices or affordable service plans. 

States will be hamstrung without the right technical teams to lead planning and implementation, even with an influx of federal dollars to tackle these problems. During the first 200 days of 2023, states can build these teams. This will likely require hiring for internal expertise and relying on outside experts where hiring does not make sense. 

Appoint a state broadband director with technical and management expertise

As of August 2022, all 50 states have active broadband programs. Their sizes and structures vary considerably, with some offices housed centrally in a state broadband office and others distributed across agencies. Regardless of the state’s approach, the broadband director role is critical to effectively improving a state’s connectivity. They are responsible for developing the vision, setting strategy and building strong relationships with key stakeholders. A successful director will have appropriate operational and technical skills, the power to make decisions and support from the state executive team. 

Critical skills for a broadband director include:

  • People-centered management and delivery: The measure of a successful state broadband program will be whether people are actually connected to the internet. It will not be based on how quickly fiber is laid or how many internet service providers offer plans. The most successful broadband directors will drive their teams to root every decision they make, contract they sign or stakeholder they engage in the experience of the end user. They will have experience in delivering programs and processes that engage the public early and often.

  • Tech-informed decision-making: The most effective directors will be familiar with the basic practices of using technology to deliver for everyday people and ensure that other technical leaders are involved when policy, planning and implementation decisions are made.[10]

  • Operational strategy and oversight: Building and using a broadband infrastructure plan is complex. It includes everything from applying for funding to managing stakeholders to negotiating contracts. An effective broadband director will have experience overseeing operations and leading digital improvements. This will ensure they have the skills to build and manage teams, define and measure success, and react to changing circumstances.

  • Stakeholder management and community building: Delivering broadband will require states to work with a diverse group of public and private stakeholders who have different priorities. To be successful, the state broadband director will need relationship savvy to understand stakeholders and bring disparate groups together to achieve broadband for all.

  • Preventing financial and digital loss;

  • Insuring and de-risking organizations;

  • Creating multiple lines of defense across state agencies;

  • Preparing plans for conducting business if a cyberattack forces a state system to be taken offline.

Even a broadband director with the right skills and experience can only be successful if they have the authority they need and direct support from the governor’s office. To ensure that their broadband directors can be successful, states could:

  • Have the broadband director report directly to the governor. This will send the message that broadband investment is a statewide priority. It can also help remove obstacles that arise as the broadband director fulfills their role as an agent of change.

  • Centralize broadband work into an office that can be staffed for the long term. While a surge of broadband planning and spending will happen over the next 24 months, states’ work on broadband connectivity will stretch through the next decade. Maintaining service and infrastructure and making steady progress on digital access and equity will require sustained attention and resources. The broadband office will need to collaborate across state agencies. Centralizing functions into a single office with staff can help states use resources effectively.

Identify and use shared resources from the nonprofit community

Many states struggle to staff broadband offices, so philanthropies and nonprofit organizations have helped provide resources. States could reach out to the following organizations to help build capacity for policy, research, mapping and planning.

Some key resources include:

  • Bloomberg HUB, for cities and mayors: The HUB is a collaboration of nonprofits and foundations that connect cities and towns with expert advice on accessing funds and drawing effective plans.

  • EducationSuperHighway: This organization connects the most underserved households by driving eligible household adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program — an FCC-administered $30-per-month discount on broadband service plans — and providing free Wi-Fi networks to low-income and public housing apartment buildings. They provide pro-bono support to help states integrate these programs into the broadband funds they get from Washington.

  • Heartland Forward: Heartland Forward provides advice and support to states in the center of the country to improve broadband and drive economic renewal.

  • National Broadband Resource Hub: The National Broadband Resource Hub contains hundreds of memos and guides created by broadband experts. Government leaders can book time with experts for free at the Help Desk to ask broadband questions. The Hub also can connect offices to talent recruitment nonprofits that can help staff up teams quickly.

  • National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA): NDIA advances digital equity by supporting community programs and equipping policymakers with the research and technical knowledge to act.

  • Pew Charitable Trusts: Provides research, best practices and technical assistance to states seeking to leverage infrastructure dollars effectively.

  • U.S. Digital Response (USDR): USDR helps jurisdictions ensure equitable access to high-speed internet. They build capacity by pairing government teams with experienced technology specialists.

Use existing teams and resources from different state agencies 

When households are connected to internet services, governments can serve them better and use staff resources more efficiently. State agencies like social services, housing authorities and economic development have a stake in successful broadband delivery. The broadband director can collaborate with these agencies to assess existing technical resources and address staffing gaps. To the extent resources like geographic information systems (GIS) mapping (or systems that combine location data with descriptive information like income levels or broadband accessibility), digital services and analytics teams exist in other agencies, states can leverage them to support broadband planning and delivery until they can build the staffing they need.


The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that states need to collect and analyze data to understand what is happening in their communities and respond to people’s needs. States need real-time information to make informed decisions about policy, resource allocation and how processes are working.

It is impossible to make investment decisions about broadband without data. Leaders must understand:

  • Where the current infrastructure is and who manages it;

  • Who is and is not connected;

  • Why are people not connected?

This kind of data will let states maximize their ability to get federal funds, implement broadband access effectively and evaluate the success of their work with outside partners. Data helps a state hold contractors and other third-party partners accountable. Most states procure data from companies to build broadband coverage maps. The National Broadband Resource Hub can help states vet companies and proposals.

Many states lack the technical expertise and tools they need to understand their data and use it to make decisions. The following are early actions states can take to build data capacity.

Hire a broadband data director with technical expertise

Building the ability to use broadband data effectively is a substantial undertaking that includes:

  • Collecting complex broadband coverage data that is not always publicly available;

  • Geographically mapping that data alongside demographic information; and

  • Applying it to prioritize resources.

A state’s broadband office requires strong, modern data leadership. A data director can ensure that internal and external stakeholders have the information they need to make decisions and implement them effectively by:

  • Driving data strategy;

  • Managing data assets;

  • Ensuring strong oversight of data and data privacy;

  • Building timely access to accurate, secure and high-quality data.

Historically, overseeing government data systems might have been considered a job for middle management. But in an age when detailed information drives nearly every government interaction, data leaders have become critical members of state and agency leadership teams. The responsibilities of a data leader have expanded not just to data management using new technologies like cloud computing, but also data governance — the stewardship and protection of end-user data.

The broadband data director should have hands-on experience delivering data tools and software products and a track record of building multifaceted teams. The data leader will likely need a small team of analysts and engineers to support data collection, analysis and development of tools necessary for data use. 

If a state already has a chief data officer, they can work directly with the broadband director instead of hiring another person. This person would need to be well resourced to support broadband delivery efforts effectively. 

Collect and analyze geographic broadband data for insight on who is not connected, where and why 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is releasing data that will drive the amount of money states receive to improve broadband access. The primary window states have to submit challenges to the FCC location-level map closed on January 13th and NTIA expects to announce BEAD Program allocations by June 30, 2023.[11]

The FCC’s methodology can overstate how well communities are connected. For example, it considers a census block — the smallest area for which the Census Bureau gathers data — served if at least one household or business has broadband access.[12] Because census blocks can range from a single city block to hundreds of square miles, thousands of households may find themselves excluded from investments.[13] This has led to pockets of served and unserved communities scattered across the nation. These will be expensive to upgrade because providers must now move across service areas to upgrade small portions of communities.

Without local mapping capabilities, many households will be left out of new state-facilitated service offerings and upgrades due to lack of information on where resources need to be directed. States that are leading on broadband, gather and use data to understand barriers to connectivity, such as:

  • Service affordability;

  • Limited English proficiency;

  • Affordable Connectivity Program uptake (dashboard for state leaders here);

  • Access to devices.

Gathering data to understand connectivity barriers can help states build a data-informed vision for the success of their broadband efforts. It can also be used when states are making decisions about partnership agreements and contracts with vendors. 

Many states have already begun prioritizing broadband coverage mapping. For instance, in 2018 Georgia worked with service providers and county officials to verify access in individual households in three counties. Unlike the FCC’s approach, Georgia considers a census block unserved if at least 20% of households do not have access. Georgia’s pilot program completed its mapping effort in June 2020 and found that the FCC had misidentified half of Georgia’s locations as being served by broadband providers, when they actually lacked broadband access.[14] Maine also takes data on the speed and reliability of broadband connections into account to create their data maps instead of relying on the speed-testing data that internet service providers report.[15] These approaches are critical to accurately mapping broadband data. 


Last year’s federal infrastructure bill provided $2.75 billion that was spread across three programs for digital equity project planning and implementation.[16] Digital equity means investing in the broadband infrastructure necessary to ensure all individuals and communities — regardless of socioeconomic background — have full access to the internet and can participate fully in American society and the economy.[17] As a part of this, states must also improve outreach to tribes and consider supporting tribal-specific strategies for outreach and digital equity. 

Planning grant applications for Digital Equity Act funds — a grant program established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to promote digital skills education to low-income populations and improve the online accessibility of social services — were due in July 2022, and project implementation grants will launch in 2024.[18] While states are not required to take advantage of Digital Equity Act funds, it is hard to see how states can meet their broadband connectivity goals without using these funds to reach unserved and underserved populations.

Conduct discovery sprints to quickly understand resident challenges and test solutions

Discovery sprints are a tool leveraged frequently in modern software development. They let technical teams developing a product work directly with the product end users to understand what their problems are and get feedback for proposed solutions or prototypes. Involving users early in the process can help a state solve the most important problems and ensure that solutions will actually work for the people who need it. 

To better understand what problems they must address to help unserved and underserved communities, states must think about:

  • Access: The availability and affordability of high-speed, reliable internet and related equipment. This includes having internet connections and technology at home or in community institutions, such as providing free public Wi-Fi and public computer centers.

  • Digital literacy: An individual’s ability to use the internet and technology like computers and smartphones.

  • Meaningful use: This refers to how an individual uses their digital literacy skills to enhance educational and employment opportunities.

Hire a digital equity director

Laying fiber and ensuring coverage by internet service providers can be completed in a few years. Making sure a state’s residents are connected will take decades or more. A state’s digital equity director can play a key role in developing relationships with communities and businesses reliant on strong broadband access, understanding community needs and developing partnerships and projects to shrink the digital divide. Ideally they are a partner to the state’s broadband director. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) also recommends that states consider establishing a Digital Equity Office to coordinate digital equity efforts across the state.[19]

A successful digital equity director will have expertise in technology and working with underrepresented communities. They also have a track record building and delivering programs to support underrepresented communities. These include people of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, retirees and rural residents. They should also be centered on users’ needs and prioritize community engagement. 

To be effective, the digital equity director should have the authority and resources to:

  • Convene stakeholders;

  • Conduct research;

  • Collect and analyze data;

  • Define strategy and priorities;

  • Develop and implement projects — and evaluate their impact.

The NDIA’s Digital Inclusion Startup Manual and State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit are  powerful resources that digital equity directors can use to jumpstart their programs.

Hold listening sessions in communities to build trust and increase visibility

States that have begun listening sessions are making progress.[20] For instance, Maine’s Connect Maine Authority holds stakeholder engagement meetings and runs workshops to gain feedback on grants and align programs with user needs and state priorities.[21] The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity has created a statewide survey assessing broadband availability. It also has an outreach guide to encourage communities with limited broadband access to take the survey.[22]

To reach all residents effectively, it’s critical to identify the needs and challenges they face. State leaders could consider partnering with community organizations that are trusted in the communities they serve. States can hold listening sessions to:

  • Learn what residents need;

  • Build trust and demonstrate to community members that their voices matter;

  • Let residents know what to expect and by when.

This kind of engagement with communities can help states identify the right problems and build plans and systems that can solve them. Ultimately, state leaders can use the information from listening sessions to inform planning, drive prioritization and test ideas.


The first 200 days of a new or returning administration is a critical time to build the momentum needed to deliver on policy priorities. But it is the daily work that goes on for months and years that will determine whether the government serves its constituents well. In the case of broadband infrastructure development, there are several areas for long-term focus.


Broadband expansion requires continual studies of the access communities have to it. To keep track of places that need help, access studies let states measure how progress is going. States that conduct regular broadband access studies will learn what is working and can adjust their plans accordingly. As organizations and states receive more feedback on how to measure broadband access, states should update their analysis to reflect this feedback.


Broadband team members should ideally have technical expertise creating and working with vast quantities of data, and should have expertise working with broadband technology. While it can be difficult to identify the proper talent necessary to equip these broadband teams, some states have made progress.

To open the door to new and diverse talent pipelines, states can build mutually beneficial relationships with institutions that train technology specialists. This can help states engage with new graduates by doing things like attending career fairs and offering student loan forgiveness, based on years of service, if they accept state job offers. 

One important resource for states is the Public Interest Tech University Network (PIT-UN). PIT-UN has brought together nearly 50 colleges across the country to build the field of public interest technology and to help support young technologists interested in public service. 

Another example is Louisiana’s broadband office, which is working to address state broadband workforce needs. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, the state has encouraged internet service providers applying to its Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) grant program to work with community colleges to fill broadband infrastructure job vacancies and develop broadband-specific training programs. The office is also hosting regional workforce summits to support cooperation between industry and other programs.