How the
Northwest Connects

What Makes a Broadband Project Shovel Ready?

The past year brought America unparalleled federal and state grant opportunities for broadband infrastructure deployment. One common denominator? They all looked for applicants to bring projects that were ready for action.

2021 brought forward federal programs such as NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, The USDA’s ReConnect Program, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocating Funds for Broadband. Washington State had more funding for broadband allocated than ever before as well, including the State Broadband Office, Public Works Board, and the Community Economic Revitalization Board, which are housed under the Department of Commerce.

With all of these opportunities, the firehose of applicants vying for grants and loan programs ensued. In many cases, those who were prepared ahead of time were the ones ready to submit applications before the deadlines closed.

The lesson here? Be ready when opportunity strikes with a “shovel-ready” broadband project.

Assess if your broadband project(s) SHOVEL READY with this series of questions:

Can you prove that there is a need for broadband investment?

To answer this question, plan to create a local map since often the FCC maps are far from accurate. One option to map current needs is to utilize The Washington State Broadband Office speed test map. This shows speed tests statewide and can give a high-level look at available Internet services.

Another option is to drill it down to hyper-locality. Community surveys can gather hyper-local data and ask questions beyond upload and download speeds to determine barriers to access. Can your community afford the services if they are available? Do they have access to computers? Local surveys can also help answer questions that identify other markers that may better prepare you for grant opportunities.

Can you prove your community supports the effort?

Many grant and loan programs require letters of support from community institutions, residents, businesses, and elected officials showing they support the application. The time to collect these assets to help make your case is now.

Do you know what infrastructure needs to be deployed, and how much it will cost?

If you know where your community needs better broadband access, do you have a detailed plan for what needs to be constructed? Grant programs will want a detailed analysis of the costs associated with the proposed network. You’ll need to know the costs associated with the network build–not just the infrastructure itself, but also labor costs, permits, and any other construction-related fees.

Do you know what the ongoing operations and maintenance costs associated with the network will be?

Broadband networks are not one-time costs. Who will be repairing the network when there are physical breaks? How about managing the monitoring and IT updates? These costs will need to be explored, and a plan will need to be in place on how the ongoing operations and maintenance of the network will be handled. These are long-term investments that require big-picture planning to keep the network optimally functioning.

Who will be providing services over the network to your community?

Expect to explain all partnerships in your applications. If partnerships with public or private entities will be an essential part of the plan, those roles will need to be clearly explored, and they will need to provide supporting documents to the application. 

So…is YOUR project shovel-ready?

Practically speaking, submitting any application that is “shovel-ready” requires an applicant to cover these fundamental steps: Assess eligibility and scope to be sure your project and applicant team satisfy program eligibility, performance, and governance requirements; demonstrate capabilities that outline the technical, financial, and organizational capabilities to (assuring your project is a low risk to the funding authority); and present a detailed proposal that illustrates the project’s scope, cost, and schedule, showing the can be completed within the parameters of the funding program. CERB has a Broadband Planning Program that can help with the expenses of organizing the answers to these questions.

There is currently an unprecedented amount of broadband funding opportunities, but to take advantage requires planning ahead! Now is the time for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure to improve their citizens’ quality of life and promote economic prosperity. Having actionable plans to compete for funding before opportunities pass by is vital.  If you need support with getting your community’s broadband project SHOVEL READY- NoaNet is here to help!

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation that has been serving Washington State since 2000. As a mission-driven organization, NoaNet focuses on bringing world-class telecommunications technology to hard-to-reach communities which lack access to high-speed, affordable broadband services.