Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) is pushing states to establish broadband offices to avoid wasting new grant funds. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is preparing to disburse $42.5 billion in state grants for broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. The money was appropriated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in November.
Fischer, speaking Monday on a webinar hosted by the American Enterprise Institute think tank, stressed the money must be disbursed wisely. “States need to be very organized,” Fisher said. That means having a robust awareness of what the local broadband buildout needs are by establishing a broadband office or designating one state agency to conduct oversight, she added. As of November 1, 20 states lacked a centralized office for broadband projects, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts
Close interagency coordination at the federal level also will be crucial, Fischer said. The infrastructure law requires the FCC to track where the money is going by consulting with all relevant federal agencies, including NTIA and the Agriculture Department, which has its own broadband program. The FCC also must complete maps detailing broadband availability in the country to avoid duplication. Unserved areas—versus underserved areas—are “the number one priority,” Fischer said. FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel last week told lawmakers the maps would be ready by the fall.