Maryland just scored over $267 million in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding. Kenrick Gordon, director of Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband, is optimistic the amount will help fuel deployments, but he thinks it’ll take a couple of years before the money is available for ISPs.
States have until the end of December to submit their initial proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), describing how they plan to run their grant programs.
Gordon said Maryland is currently working on that proposal and once it’s submitted, the NTIA has to review and approve it. Once the initial plan’s approved, the state can begin the grant application process. The applications have to be included in the state’s final BEAD proposal, which the NTIA also needs to review.
“We’re thinking it’s going to be early 2025 before the funds are actually available for construction,” he told Fierce.
Gordon stressed the Maryland broadband office has “a good relationship with our ISPs.” Last year, the office received 75 applications for over $200 million, and it was able to approve those in about “three and a half months.”
“The efficiency’s there, we will have to modify our plan and set our programs just a little bit to match what NTIA is requesting for some of the scoring metrics that they have,” he said. “But I don’t see any problem with finding applicants and getting funding out the door.”
Since its formation in 2017, the Office of Statewide Broadband has invested over $300 million in broadband infrastructure and equity programs, Gordon noted.
“What that means is all the easier locations have been funded for service,” he said. “Our biggest hurdle right now is the remaining locations tend to be the most expensive to serve and some of the most difficult to serve.”
Determining where those locations are is also difficult, as they are spread out across the state in places where ISPs “probably have the least interest in providing service.”
Gordon said his office is looking into orphan locations – locations providers may have passed “for one reason or another.” One priority is convincing ISPs to go back and serve those areas.
“But they vary across the state, everything from the mountains in Allegheny in Garrett County to the eastern shore and southern Maryland – they all have locations that there may be three houses at the end of a mile-long road,” he explained. “And obviously [for] the ISP, that mile is a long distance to travel for just three-some potential subscribers.”
County influence, interstate collaboration
One way Maryland stands out in its broadband outreach efforts is its “very strong county-centric government,” Gordon said.
“That allows us to do a lot of planning with local jurisdictions, making sure they’re on board and they’re good partners, and work in progress with them,” he said.
Some states interact with only ISPS, Gordon explained, while others deal with solely the local jurisdictions. Pennsylvania, for instance, has hundreds of counties, but the state’s county government isn’t as effective as Maryland’s.
“So in Pennsylvania, you have to drop down to the more local jurisdiction level in order to get what we get from a county level,” he said.
Although each state is undertaking a different approach with broadband efforts, they’re sharing ideas with one another. Gordon said Maryland is part of a “coalition,” which includes states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
These states meet quarterly to discuss their broadband plans, “because none of us wants to reinvent the wheel and none of us are experts in all aspects of broadband deployments.”
“It’s really just a group of broadband leaders in my position that basically kind of reached out to one another and said 'hey, it would make sense for us to talk about what we’re doing…[how] what we’re doing in certain locations may impact what your state needs to do,'” Gordon added.