With New Funding, State Broadband Offices Boost Recruitment Efforts

State and territory broadband offices have grown significantly in size over the past year as they deploy billions of dollars in economic stimulus funds and begin managing a historic federal investment in broadband expansion. debit. Thanks to money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), these offices now have enough funding to cover everything from infrastructure deployment to literacy. digital.

The decisions leaders make about how to increase their internal capabilities and organize their offices will play a significant role in bridging the digital divide and shape their ability to sustain momentum beyond the current investment cycle. .

In 2020, more than half of all states operated broadband offices, although many only had one or two employees. Today, each state and territory has officially designated an office or agency to serve as the primary broadband entity responsible for coordinating efforts to expand high-speed Internet access.

Although new federal programs provide funding for the administrative costs of state broadband offices, these initiatives often have specific statutory limits set by their statutes of establishment in each jurisdiction on the number of full-time employees they can employ. they may have. That said, the number of state broadband office positions has steadily increased as legislators authorize new jobs in their budgets and federal programs begin to disburse administrative funds.

Pew’s Broadband Access Initiative tracked public job postings for state and territory broadband offices and identified 68 such postings in 29 states from September 2021 to September 2022. This data provides a sampling of positions posted during this period rather than an exhaustive catalog of every new broadband office job in the state and does not include consultant or contractor positions.

The analysis revealed that states that have established their broadband offices in the past year account for the bulk of recent job openings, with hiring focused on key positions such as office managers and administrators. At the same time, offices already operational have increased their capacity in more specific roles or posted for positions in response to turnover.

Although job titles and specific duties may differ from state to state, Pew has categorized positions into three main categories: Broadband Office Manager, Program Specialists, and Office Administration. Program specialist positions include subcategories such as jobs in community engagement, digital equity, geographic information systems (GIS), grants, law, and a generalist group for positions that cover several areas.

Figure 2 shows that state broadband offices are hiring managers while holding a range of other positions.

Many states have sought administrators to lead broadband expansion efforts

States appoint administrators for broadband offices

State Broadband Directors are essential to the operation of offices and are responsible for managing hundreds of millions of dollars across multiple federal and state programs. Additionally, many administrators are responsible for developing and administering their state’s broadband plans in collaboration with many stakeholders. The Pew tracker found 15 director positions that were posted in the past year.

Salary ranges for broadband managers vary from state to state, ranging from a base annual salary of $68,760 in New Mexico to a high of $170,000 in Oklahoma. The average midpoint was $120,000.

Average Salary Ranges for Jobs in State Broadband Offices

A need for digital capital specialists

Under the IIJA, a new Digital Equity Act (DEA) program has been created with both formula and competitive funding for state offices. The program aims to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology and capabilities to take full advantage of high-speed Internet connections. In addition, programmatic rules established by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for the DEA and the Broadband Deployment and Access Program require state broadband offices to include equity activities. digital in their broadband plans and subsequent programs. As such, more State Broadband Offices have begun to advertise positions for Digital Equity Specialists, which range from management positions to coordinators and associates.

Responsibilities for these positions may include designing and executing the state’s digital equity planning process, engaging and coordinating with stakeholders around digital equity issues, and administering digital equity programs such as Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment efforts or device distribution and digital navigation programs.

Technical skills also essential

State broadband offices are also increasing their technical capacity, in part by hiring GIS and data specialists to support mapping efforts and grant management specialists. GIS and data management have long been essential components of state broadband programs with dedicated staff. But those positions are becoming a priority as states seek to verify and supplement the federal broadband map, which is based on provider-submitted data and has historically overrepresented service availability and quality.

Skilled grant management professionals are needed to manage programmatic reporting requirements and individual projects. The grant funding landscape has become more complex, with state broadband offices serving as both recipients and distributors of several federal programs as well as some state-funded programs.

Bridging the digital divide requires permanent staff

Over the past decade, broadband offices have become essential parts of state governments. Federal funding will help them make meaningful progress in bridging the digital divide, especially in unserved and underserved areas. However, the task will likely take much longer than the next five years for which federal funding is now available.

Initiatives and programs will need to address the persistent demographic factors that exacerbate this divide, including people’s income levels and where they live, as well as the country’s history of delays in building infrastructure and perpetual innovation in the use of the Internet. State broadband offices will therefore need an immediate increase in staff as well as ongoing capacity to ensure they are able to support efforts to bridge the digital divide now and in the future. .

Anna Read is senior executive, Jake Varn is associate director and Lily Gong is associated with The Pew Charitable Trusts Broadband Access Initiative.