Adoption is at the Heart of Florida’s Broadband Internet Policies

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Digital Beat

Adoption is at the Heart of Florida’s Broadband Internet Policies

"[S]ustainable adoption of broadband Internet service is critical to the economic and business development of [Florida] and is essential for all residents of this state, libraries, schools, colleges and universities, health care providers, and community organizations."

— Florida Broadband Deployment Act of 2021

In May 2021, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Broadband Deployment Act of 2021, codifying the Florida Office of Broadband, which had been created in the previous year within the state's Department of Economic Opportunity. The law provided the office access to federal grant dollars and allocated $1.5 million for the office to develop geographic information system (GIS) maps of Florida’s broadband availability. 

The Florida Office of Broadband is responsible for:

  • Developing, marketing and promoting broadband internet services in the state;
  • Creating a strategic plan to increase the use of broadband internet services in the state;
  • Reviewing and verifying public input regarding transmission speeds and availability of broadband internet services throughout the state;
  • Building and facilitating local technology planning teams or partnerships; 
  • Participating in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceedings that are related to the geographic availability and deployment of broadband internet in Florida;
  • Establishing the Broadband Opportunity Program and rulemaking for the program to award grants to applicants who seek to expand broadband to unserved areas (subject to appropriations); and
  • Developing a map of broadband internet service availability throughout the state.

Florida's Digital Divide

In 2022, BroadbandNow ranks Florida 7th in the U.S. for internet coverage, speed and availability, estimating that 97.5 percent of Floridians are able to purchase an internet access plan of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. And 96.3 percent have access to 100 Mbps broadband; 61.9 percent to 1-Gigabit per second (Gbps) broadband. But less than half of Floridians (45.5 percent) have access to fiber-based broadband networks and just 28.3 percent are able to purchase broadband at a price of $60/month or less.

Florida’s legislature has designated 32 counties as rural, defined as a county with a population of 75,000 or fewer. Twenty-nine of these counties are organized into three Rural Areas of Opportunity (RAO). Rural counties are among the least served areas of the state and have among the lowest per capita personal incomes in the state. In the 29 RAO counties, more than 29 percent of households access the internet with no subscription or have no internet access.

The Florida Office of Broadband identified two impediments to expanding broadband infrastructure: 

  1. Unserved and underserved areas are currently difficult to identify due to a lack of detailed data. To complicate matters, providers are continually scheduling, deploying, or modifying broadband Internet infrastructure projects so that no dataset will capture the status of a network perfectly.
  2. Federal statutory restrictions, in some instances, prevent the use of funds from more than one federally funded, broadband Internet-related program in the same area. In addition to federal restrictions, Florida law prohibits the use of funding from the state’s Broadband Opportunity Program in areas where federal funds have been awarded.

Florida's Broadband Plan

On June 30, 2022, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity submitted the Florida Strategic Plan for Broadband to Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and the state legislature detailing the goals and strategies to improve and expand broadband Internet connectivity in the state. The plan focuses on increasing broadband availability, adoption, and use to yield a more robust workforce, enhanced educational opportunities, and healthier Floridians. The plan also promotes economic growth, workforce education and job training, and workforce housing, particularly in rural, unserved, and underserved areas of the state. 

The plan includes 25 strategies to meet 16 goals:

Goal: Develop local and regional partnerships to meet broadband internet goals and coordinate with those partners to effectively use federal broadband Internet expansion funds in unserved and underserved areas

Strategy 1: Continue to build and engage Local Technology Planning Teams (LTPT) where possible. In areas where previously organized entities may be able to act as LTPTs, designate them as such if they are willing to take on the LTPT role.

Strategy 2: Guide, encourage, and, where necessary, direct, local communities to coordinate infrastructure projects, such as roads and broadband Internet, to reduce overall costs.

Goal: Collect, maintain, and analyze up-to-date, reliable, detailed data with which to identify unserved and underserved areas of the state

Strategy 3: Develop an ongoing program to enhance the state broadband Internet dataset. Leverage other broadband Internet data resources, including data collected by LTPTs and local and regional organizations. Ensure the Office of Broadband collects and maintains data through its grant activity.

Goal: Identify areas of data and methods by which data is used to facilitate and document service expansion plans

Strategy 4: Use data to identify areas at a more granular level where federal broadband Internet expansion funds have been used or will be used to ensure compliance with state and federal law and to identify unserved and underserved areas.

Strategy 5: Develop and implement a method by which to acquire information about Internet service providers’ broadband Internet expansion plans to understand where, how, and when various Internet service providers will initiate or improve service in unserved or underserved areas.

Goal: The overarching economic challenge for making broadband Internet available

Strategy 6: Develop an approach to identify locations where sustainable broadband Internet expansion or improvement will not be economically feasible for providers in the foreseeable future due to low adoption levels or geographic barriers.

Goal: Positioning to undertake statewide broadband improvement

Strategy 7: Evaluate all aspects of state and federal funding program requirements and determine the need for and best use of consultants to implement a grant-making process.

Goal: Implement grant development administration processes for providers

Strategy 8: Implement the most effective and efficient means of using broadband Internet grant funds to reach unserved and underserved areas and incorporate that approach into the grant processes for providers.

Strategy 9: In order to avoid situations where the lowest-bid proposal wins an award without regard to the likelihood of completion of a project, long-term viability of service, or scalability of service for future-proofing, design a competitive selection process in compliance with state and federal requirements that will enable DEO to identify the most suitable Internet service provider or providers to meet the broadband Internet needs of the unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Strategy 10: In the instance where an area failed to receive competitive bids and the state considers a process to target those unrepresented areas for an award, design a negotiated provider-selection process in compliance with state and federal requirements for aspects of the broadband Internet expansion effort. Through this process, the state may be able to ensure a particular area or type of area receives consideration for an award. This process may be utilized in situations for which there was only a single bidder offering to deploy broadband Internet in an unserved and underserved area or for which there was no bidder.

Goal: The need for skilled and specialized workers is a critical component of the deployment of broadband Internet infrastructure projects

Strategy 11: Prepare the workforce for the jobs that will emerge from the national deployment of federal and state infrastructure projects to ensure continuity of operations.

Goal: Capacity for communities to effectively pursue federal and state funding opportunities to support broadband Internet expansion

Strategy 12: Continue to provide technical assistance based on community requests to assist with organizing LTPTs.

Strategy 13: Provide technical assistance to grant applicants that request such assistance.

Goal: Attract providers to serve rural, low population density areas

Strategy 14: Develop an approach to increase communities’ purchasing power by attracting multiple providers to deploy broadband Internet in rural, unserved, and underserved areas in those communities.

Goal: Coordinate infrastructure installation projects

Strategy 15: Encourage local communities to coordinate infrastructure projects, such as roads and broadband Internet, to reduce overall costs.

Goal: Bridging the adoption digital divide

Strategy 16: Expand policymakers’ and other stakeholders’ knowledge of ways to bridge the adoption digital divide between urban and rural communities.

Strategy 17: Assemble and analyze information gathered by Internet Service Providers, LTPTs, and other regional entities to identify gaps in adoption. Overlay these identified areas with other state data indicating economic and community development indicators to determine potential correlation and use this analysis to better refine knowledge of gaps in the adoption and meaningful use of broadband internet service.

Goal: Insufficient local technical support may limit the adoption of broadband Internet-supported services

Strategy 18: Prepare people for emerging information technology jobs and business opportunities and identify ways of using existing positions or volunteers to meet increased end-user needs related to the adoption and use of broadband Internet services.

Goal: Coordinate funding programs with components meant to address the adoption and use of broadband internet service

Strategy 19: Focus at least a portion of state-level digital equity grant administration efforts on broadband Internet education and training programs, raising awareness of broadband Internet-based applications, and providing equipment to schools, libraries, colleges and universities, health care points of access, housing providers, and community support organizations to assist with digital literacy efforts.

Goal: Ongoing state-specific, adoption-related data collection

Strategy 20: Develop processes for the ongoing collection of data with which to identify emerging barriers to sustainable broadband Internet adoption in rural, unserved, and underserved communities.

Goal: Appropriate methods and capacity to ensure that the state’s broadband Internet goals are met by grant recipients

Strategy 21: Ensure the goals of this Strategic Plan – Enhancing Business and Job Growth, Workforce Housing, Education, and Job Training, and Healthier Floridians – are being achieved as a result of the Program’s activities.

Strategy 22: Develop robust contracts and funding requirements that ensure grant recipients have clear, measurable service commitments to promote accountability.

Strategy 23: Make receipt of funding contingent upon fulfilling reporting requirements and commitments.

Goal: State-level coordination among state agencies using federal funds for broadband Internet expansion activities

Strategy 24: Enhance state-level capacity to implement broadband Internet expansion and adoption through program governance and agency structure.

Strategy 25: Ensure state programmatic framework considers and adapts from other recent programs to avoid pitfalls and achieve efficiency in state program effectiveness.

Local Technology Planning Teams

Florida recognizes that counties should develop effective and comprehensive strategic broadband initiatives at the local level that take advantage of federal, state, and other grant opportunities. The most critical component of this comprehensive effort is coordination between Florida’s Local Technology Planning Teams and the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband.

The Florida Broadband Deployment Act directs the Office of Broadband to build and facilitate local technology planning teams representing cross-sections of the community, which may include, but are not limited to, representatives from the following organizations and industries: libraries; K-12 education; colleges and universities; local health care providers; private businesses; community organizations; economic development organizations; local governments; tourism; parks and recreation; and agriculture. Local Technology Planning Teams:

  • Work with rural communities to help the communities understand their current broadband availability;
  • Locate unserved and underserved businesses and residents;
  • Identify assets relevant to broadband deployment;
  • Build partnerships with broadband service providers;
  • Identify opportunities to leverage assets and reduce barriers to the deployment of broadband Internet services in the community; and
  • Must be proactive in fiscally constrained counties in identifying funding opportunities and providing assistance with applying for federal grants for broadband Internet service. 

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity published a Broadband Planning Toolkit to provide fundamental resources and guidance needed to help Local Technology Planning Teams increase the accessibility and availability of broadband services in their county or region. To create a Local Technology Planning Team and to fully utilize the Broadband Planning Toolkit, the Department of Economic Opportunity believes:

  • It is imperative that representatives from each of Florida’s 67 counties actively participate in the establishment of their team and encourage the implementation of the toolkit.
  • Coordination between Florida’s Local Technology Planning Teams and the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband is crucial to the successful implementation of the toolkit.
  • Partnering to comprise a Local Technology Planning Team is encouraged at a regional level with neighboring counties, their Rural Area of Opportunity, or another regional organization.
  • Local Technology Planning Teams are a vital part of Florida’s broadband expansion, and adoption efforts are critical to the state’s future success in an increasingly technology-dependent global economy.

Broadband Opportunity Program

The Florida Broadband Deployment Act also gave the Florida Office of Broadband the authority to establish and administer the Broadband Opportunity Program. With $400 million from the American Rescue Plan Act's State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the Broadband Opportunity Program is a competitive reimbursement grant program created to expand broadband Internet service to unserved areas of the state. Awards are available to corporations, limited liability companies, general partnerships, and limited partnerships. (Florida law effectively prohibits municipalities from providing broadband services unless a private provider is unwilling to serve the area in question.)

Award funds can be used for the installation or deployment of infrastructure that supports the provision of reliable, affordable high-speed broadband internet service in unserved areas of the state. A grant awarded under this program, when combined with any state or local funds, may not fund more than fifty percent (50%) of the total cost of the project. A single project may not be awarded a grant in excess of $5 million.

Florida prioritizes Broadband Opportunity Program applications which:

  1. Offer broadband internet service to important community institutions (libraries, educational institutions, public safety facilities, health care facilities).
  2. Facilitate the use of telemedicine and electronic health records.
  3. Serve economically distressed areas of the state as measured by indices of unemployment, poverty, or population loss significantly greater than the statewide average.
  4. Provide for scalability to transmission speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload.
  5. Include a component to actively promote the adoption of the newly available broadband Internet service in the community.
  6. Provide evidence of strong support for the project from citizens, government, businesses, and institutions in the community.
  7. Provide access to broadband Internet service to the greatest number of unserved households and businesses.
  8. Leverage greater amounts of funding for a project from private sources.
  9. Demonstrate consistency with the Florida Strategic Plan for Broadband.

Capital Projects Fund Broadband Infrastructure Program

On December 1, the U.S. Treasury approved Florida's plan to use the majority of the state's Capital Projects Fund allocation for broadband infrastructure. The state is creating the Broadband Infrastructure Program, a competitive grant program designed to expand last-mile broadband access to homes and businesses in rural areas of the state. The Broadband Infrastructure Program will prioritize fiber-optic networks and projects proposing affordable service. 

Florida is dedicating $247.8 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to connecting 48,400 households and businesses—representing approximately 10 percent of locations still lacking high-speed internet access. The Florida Office of Broadband will give priority to Broadband Infrastructure Projects where networks will be owned, operated, or affiliated with local governments, non-profit organizations, and co-operatives. These entities will make their networks available to any service provider who requests access, as long as such access is on a non-discriminatory basis and service is made available to anyone receiving service over the funded network.

Of note, Florida is planning for two other eligible uses of its Capital Projects Fund allocation:

  1. The state is setting aside nearly $89 million (25 percent of its allocation) to build and improve Multi-Purpose Community Facility (MPCF) Projects, prioritizing areas with no or inadequate community facilities. Buildings supported with this funding will facilitate work, education, and health monitoring located in communities with critical need.
  2. The state is setting aside over $13 million in Digital Connectivity Technology Projects in areas having incomes below the state average. These projects cover the purchase or installation of devices and equipment and will focus on making computers and tablets available to qualifying households through a long-term loan program administered by local entities. Qualifying households will also be eligible to borrow equipment, such as routers, needed to access the Internet.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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