Oklahoma Broadband relaunches internet service funding program

The Oklahoma Broadband Office has formally relaunched its effort to name internet service providers to compete for $374 million in an expansion of service to rural custsomers in the state.

The money is from the ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The Office released a Notice of Funding Opportunity this week, meaming that starting Monday, September 18, competitive proposals can be submitted by ISPs through a portal on the office’s website. The portal will close on October 9.

This is the first grant program administered by the office. Others will follow, including $167.7 million from the ARPA Capital Projects Fund and $797.4 million in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funds.

“Today marks an important step in making good on our commitment to bring this critical service to those who need it most,” said Mike Sanders, OBO executive director. “Many months of hard work lie ahead but make no mistake, we are going to deliver for Oklahoma’s rural and unserved communities.”

The relaunching of the statewide effort came after questions of possible liability were raised by the Attorney General. It prompted a renewed effort by the Office.

After the proposal submission window closes, an Overbuild Prevention Contest Process will be launched to allow ISPs to review the proposals and help ensure no funding is awarded to provide service to homes and businesses that already have high-speed internet access.

The Oklahoma Broadband Governing Board gave its approval to the process earlier this week. The board, which provides oversight of the OBO, will have final approval over projects recommended by the office for funding. That action is anticipated to occur in January.

Current data from the Federal Communications Commission show more than 728,000 people, or some 18 percent of Oklahomans, lack access to high-speed internet service.