Google Fiber shares guidance for state broadband leaders

Google Fiber is giving its two cents to state broadband leaders as they plan for funding from the federal $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program to become available for deployment.

Mostly, GFiber is stressing that a “close partnership” with transparency and communication will be needed among state broadband leaders, local governments and broadband deployers.

State leaders are currently busy structuring their BEAD five-year action plans and initial and final proposals for the program’s overseer, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA announced allocations in late June, and each state has until the end of this year to assure the administration that their share of the pot will be used effectively.

In an open letter this week GFiber’s public policy and government affairs manager, Ariane Schaffer, addressed what state broadband leaders “can do right now to remove barriers for broadband deployment.”

Here's the GFiber take.

Before shovels hit the ground, broadband project managers should check in with the national phone number 811 designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Each state’s 811 center, often a nonprofit, ensures that utility companies or entities with infrastructure in the ground mark their assets before any new excavation projects to prevent construction near underground facilities like gas or water lines.

It should be considered that the “current locates system is not designed to handle the vast amount of new project work anticipated in the next few years,” Schaffer wrote. That said, GFiber suggests that state broadband leaders pursue open communication with 811 centers, and maybe even put some of their BEAD funds toward the locates process.

Permitting is another one of the “biggest challenges” to broadband deployment, noted the GFiber letter, echoing a long-standing grievance among broadband deployers. “Long and opaque permitting processes delay broadband deployment and are a disincentive for providers to come to your state,” wrote Schaffer.

To streamline the permitting process, GFiber recommends state broadband offices create an online “one-stop shop” for submitting permits and support automatic online tracking tools. Broadband offices might even distribute a “requirements checklist” for local governments to use when working with broadband deployers.

“Urge local governments to identify a single point of contact within one department to coordinate all approvals. This will make it easier for broadband deployers to get the permits they need,” said Schaffer.

If cities and municipalities are understaffed or under resourced (many are, data shows), states can also consider assigning a designated state official to liaise with city offices on best permitting practices, and/or set up task forces that meet regularly.

“This unprecedented effort to connect every household will require information sharing. A taskforce can discuss best practices, brainstorm solutions and share timely updates.”

The Gfiber guidance also advocates establishing a "Broadband Innovation Resource List" for state and local governments to stay informed about the latest technological advancements in broadband. It emphasizes the importance of exploring deployment approaches like microtrenching to accelerate access expansion. The letter highlights the need for communities to assess past deployments and ask questions to determine the most suitable method for their specific needs.

Ultimately, broadband leaders will need to let people know about the services being built, specifically the choice available between multiple internet service providers (ISPs).

GFiber notably made a point in favor of state leaders restricting exclusive marketing agreements, meaning ISPs participating in BEAD wouldn’t be allowed to pay owners of multi-family homes for making residents aware of only one service option.

“Exclusive marketing agreements hurt consumers by limiting choice and disincentivizing competition,” the GFiber letter stated. “We urge state leaders to encourage transparency by restricting ISPs’ ability to implement these agreements when they have been awarded public funding.”