The Director of the Oklahoma Broadband Office says 2024 should be a year of success—“early and often.”
It’s what Mike Sanders wrote in a 2023 annual report delivered to the board at the end of December.
“The work being accomplished will send positive ripple effects far into the state’s future,” he wrote.
” Health care, education and economic development will be augmented by expanding high-speed internet into rural areas that have been left behind for decades.”
The Broadband Office will administer funds from four programs as it expands service into rural areas across the state. They are: ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF); ARPA Capital Projects Fund (CPF); Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD); and Digital Equity Act (DEA).
Sanders explained applications have been made for the ARPA SLFRF competitive grant program. For BEAD, the office’s Five-Year Action Plan, Initial Proposal Volume I & II were
submitted to NTIA for approval, leaving just the BEAD Challenge Process before starting the subgrantee selection process.
As his report explained, the BEAD program, administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, will provide the single largest amount of federal grant funding for broadband expansion in Oklahoma.
In June, NTIA announced Oklahoma’s share of $797.4 million from the $42.5 billion nationwide allocation for the BEAD program.
Sanders said planning for his office’s administration of BEAD “is progressing on schedule and in stride with most other states.”
The primary use of BEAD grants will be to fund the construction of fiber optic broadband lines to unserved homes and businesses.
During 2023, the office held 30 townhalls across the state and members of the office and the Governing Board heard directly from the stakeholders. Tribal consultations were also conducted with 38 of Oklahoma’s tribal nations. Meetings were held in Weatherford, Stillwater, Vinita, Poteau, Broken Bow, Oklahoma City, Durant, Chickasha, Altus, Enid, Sallisaw, Miami, Sulphur, Lawton, Ada, Okmulgee Goodwell, Woodward, Tulsa, Hobart, Muskogee, Krebs, Burns Flat, Atoka, Okarche, Duncan, Watonga and Ponca City.
Sanders said once the ARPA SLFRF competitive grant process is completed, the office expects to make awards totaling $374 million. The office plans to initiate by spring, the ARPA CPF competitive grant process and make awards shortly afterward. And by summer, the office will have awarded more than $500 million in broadband infrastructure grants.
“As those projects are awarded and go live, the Oklahoma Broadband Map will be updated to track in real time the growing access to high-speed internet across the state,” stated Sanders.
The office went in the past year from three employees working at home to a staff of 16 inside an office.