broadband.money logo

Ask Me Anything! With Glen Howie, Arkansas State Broadband Director

Ask Me Anything! With Glen Howie, Arkansas State Broadband Director Banner Image

Nov 18, 2022

Details

About Our Distinguished Guest

Glen received both his bachelor's of science in finance and master's of public administration from Louisiana State University.
Before coming on to serve Arkansas as State Broadband Director in August of 2022, Glen worked as a senior policy analyst for Louisiana's Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity (ConnectLA).

During his tenure with ConnectLA, Glen oversaw the first round of GUMBO Grants, featuring nearly 200 applications, over 150 protests, and 34 appellate reviews.

Event Transcript

Drew Clark: Good afternoon and welcome to broadband.money's Ask Me Anything with Glen Howie, the Director of the Arkansas State Broadband Office and we're here in person.

Glen Howie: We are, live from Washington DC.

Drew: Welcome to Washington, Glen. It's great to do one of these in person and we are right here in the Broadband Money HQ and we're actually so pleased that we can roll into a community discussion for the broadband grants community. We've been doing these Ask Me Anythings for more than a year or nearly a year, Glen, but this is the first one we've actually got in a community where the people are going to be engaging. They've always been engaging. But but anyway, it's a new it's a new twist on an old tool. And Glen, you're the, of course, director of the Arkansas State Broadband Office, you are the Chief Broadband Officer to Governor Asa Hutchinson, and you're the guy who's going to oversee this big, 500 million to a billion, I think is the number you threw out to the event yesterday, right? 

Glen: Yeah, absolutely. It's an incredible opportunity that I've been afforded to by the governor and Secretary Preston in Arkansas and he had the projections on BEAD really are anywhere from $600 million up to $1.2 billion for the state so far. Who knows where it's going to be in between that, but we have to be prepared for whatever number comes down and we will be, and it's exciting.

Drew: Okay. Well, let's back up just a bit. We threw out some acronyms. We try to really make sure people know what what these acronyms are for, but as as most people in this community are familiar, there is a very substantial sum of money through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the one year anniversary of IIJA was just just three days ago, and just today, Friday, the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission released its first version of the new broadband map which will contribute to exactly where in that $600 million to $1.2 billion scale Arkansas ends up. The other thing though about Arkansas, you came to Arkansas from Louisiana, the neighboring state, where you worked in the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity.

Glen: That's correct.

Drew: What's that been about? Has it been difficult to move from being a Louisianan to an Arkansan? 

Glen: No, not at all. Not at all. It's been fantastic. I started in the Louisiana office first last June and worked with Veneeth and Thomas in that office, built that office up and we did a lot of innovative things there, most... It's the fault of their own, most state broadband offices today are sort of based and focused on grant making. It's kind of what they did. And coming into office there last year, we made it a point to move beyond just simple grant making and well, not that it's a simple process but generic grant making and look at other ways that we could do innovative things. And so we focused on on affordability issues and literacy issues, and just trying to engage as much as we could at stakeholder level, traveling the state and talking to folks. And with that and doing those things sort of helped elevate that office and then it helped elevate me to the position here in Arkansas, but it's been tremendous so far. The people are wonderful, they're very warm. Arkansas welcomed me with open arms and it's been fantastic.

Drew: Well, and I'm sure we've talked a lot about this plan, but in a prior life I was a state broad bander as well. I was brought from Virginia where I lived to Illinois to lead the State Broadband Office by then, Governor Pat Quinn and this was like version 1.0, when there was a first version of a national broadband map and a first version of all these things and we basically hope we've taken those lessons we learn from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and figured out how do we do it a lot better with a lot more money this time.

Glen: Yeah, exactly. I think specific to the maps, this was an issue and a project that was actually separate. It was going to be its own deal before the pandemic and I just came around and then that happened. And the federal government decided to go and marry those processes and use and what was going to happen regarding location by location mapping and tie it with IIJA and then use it for BEAD allocation and funding. It's a vast improvement from what we've had in the past. I'm sure the vast majority of our audience today is aware that the old 477 based on the census block level inherently had some issues and that not only was the data usually delayed publicly by at least a year, a year and a half, but also the issues that arose when you look at this one particular location in a block, marking the entire block and not being truly representative. Is this map going to be 100% perfect for the country? Well, no. No map ever is 100% perfect or accurate, but it's a great improvement from what we've had before and we think it'll have a greater detail of granularity of course and yeah, looking very much forward to investigating that further.

Drew: Well, let's actually drill into the maps as our first topic, Glen. It's so topical, less than 12 hours ago. Have you had a chance to look over the map at all yet, Glen? 

Glen: Our state is in the process of reviewing it and I've been here in DC advocating for the State of Arkansas, and putting the word out of what we've been doing in the past related to broadband and our vision for the future. I'm meeting with several representatives in Congress this morning and their staffs, going through some of our plans and what we've been doing and meeting with Pew Charitable Trust and here with you. I've been in DC advocating for the state, but our state offices, the state GIS department are going through that right now.

Drew: You kind of alluded to the fact that in the version 1.0, these state broadband directors basically were mappers. And that was our job. And then that map fed up to an FCC map. This time around, it's kind of the reverse. The FCC decided, hey, we're going to do this ourselves. Of course, they hired a contractor, paid 50 million bucks to CostQuest to build this address by address fabric that then matches with what the internet service providers are giving to them. And there's basically now challenge process to that. But the fundamental challenge that I see happening is the states are going to say, "Hey, wait a second. This is not correct." What's your take on the... What kind of mapping capabilities do you need in Arkansas to challenge that map? 

Glen: Yeah, I would say, first, at least in the State of Arkansas, prior to today, we've already submitted two challenges to the fabric itself.

Drew: Two challenges to the fabric already? 

Glen: Correct.

Drew: Based on what exactly? 

Glen: Based on an analysis. Our state office in conjunction with our state GIS office was able to get a license through CostQuest and the FCC to download the fabric data that they had developed and evaluate that fabric. And to date, we've produced two challenges that we've submitted to the FCC, totalling about a little under 12,000 locations so far.

Drew: 12,000, okay.

Glen: 12,000 in the State of Arkansas that we feel were missed and need to be added back. It's likely the FCC put out some information regarding dates and challenges moving forward. January 13th is the next deadline for challenges to get in, really specific to the service availability challenge that needs to occur at the local level with a date of, I believe it's by June 30th. We're saying on June 30th, but it's by June 30th.

Drew: It is, it is by June 30th.

Glen: That the federal government will then release the allocations based on BEAD. But yeah, so far Arkansas has put together two challenges and submitted for about 12,000 locations. You may see... And that's something to talk about too. Some states, it leads to the point where different broadband offices across the country are in different iterations of themselves. Some are still on the ground getting going, some are more robust and you have some states that were able to put together very robust fabric challenges. Other states were unable to do a fabric challenge, I don't know, at all. You're going to see some disparity in what was reported to the FCC at a statewide state level, which is something that they probably need to take into account and allow for fairness across the board. We'll see if that comes into play as discussions continue between the states and the federal government.

Drew: Do you know how many other states have already put in fabric challenges? 

Glen: Yeah, well just the other day, New York released a press release with Governor Hochul there. They were able to put together a challenge of at least 37,000...

Drew: But when you interact with some of the other states, have you... Is it five? Is it 10? Is it 15? 

Glen: Yeah, I think some states, we had about 12 and our two so far. We think if we were able to perhaps submit another challenge, we may find another 10-12 so it'd be around 24, 25 for us. Other states have put in, there's a 30,000 number that I heard from one state. Numbers as high as maybe 70,000 locations in other states.

Drew: But is every state doing this or how... Do you have a sense of how many of the 50 states...

Glen: Now that I'm not on 100% sure. But there was a vast disparity in the capabilities of the offices at the moment. You're going to see the more robust offices submit very robust challenges and states that have struggled to build capacity in their offices are going to be limited in their challenge capability. We'll see if there's a little give and take with the federal government as we move forward.

Drew: What about the role of... Are you doing it all by yourself or do you rely on contractors? What do you see the role of contractors in this piece including the piece of challenges? 

Glen: No, absolutely. For us, our office, we relied heavily on our state GIS department to partner with us on getting a license from the FCC and CostQuest to download the data and do the challenge evaluation. We lean on them very heavily. Some states have operated in that manner where their state GIS offices were very robust. However, other states have relied heavily on outside contractors to come in and assist in that effort. For us, moving forward, a hybrid scenario is going to be very advantageous for us where we lean on the expertise of what we have within state GIS, but also supplement that expertise with the outside contracting for whatever company that may be. But you're going to have a hybrid across the board. Again, it points to the fact that every state office is in a different iteration of itself at the moment. Some states weren't able to do it at all. Some states relied on state GIS this first round and you'll have hybrid models. Then you'll have some states that have to rely completely on subcontractors. It's just across the board.

Drew: Even as early as May of this year, six months ago, when we were at Mountain Connect and the Attorney General, Phil Weiser, was there and he basically... My ears completely perked up when he said, "Look, this is a priority for the Attorney General of the state to basically have his... To push the state broadband people to be raising challenges for the specific reason of making sure that their state doesn't get a diminished number."

Glen: Yeah, you don't want to get shorted. When you look at the formula, it's the total number of unserved and underserved locations in your state over the total number of unserved and underserved locations across the whole country. We'll see what happens. Some of the states that are still building out their capacity in the offices and were unable to engage fully or at all in this challenge process, if... We'll see what happens. Some of those states could see a diminished amount, hopefully not a whole lot, that remains to be seen.

Drew: Well, let's just add one more rink on this and then we'll kind of open up to the raft of questions that we have. We have a lot of them as you've seen there.

Glen: Yeah, that's right.

Drew: Well, you kind of alluded to this already, Glen, that the broadband data program, the Improving the Broadband Act that was passed, it was actually passed just before the pandemic or just as the pandemic was starting, I had already been teed up. That was the previous thing. And then IIJA came along and kind of added some more tweaks to the Broadband Data Act. Could you just speak a little bit about that and how that added tweak of NTIA's involvement is going to impact the whole FCC data? 

Glen: Yeah, correct. When you have the FCC doing the mapping effort across the country, soliciting from ISPs and getting the information they need, right now it's added wrinkle of using that map to then allow US Department of Commerce and NTIA to determine the allocations for each state as we move forward under the BEAD portion of IIJA. Yeah, it's very interesting. You have states sort of jockeying and doing their best, trying to get in front of the right people to make sure that they advocate for their state and put them in the best position possible to influence that process if they can. Hence why I'm in DC these next couple of days. 'Cause I need to be here for the people of Arkansas. And at the end of the day, that's what this is about. This is broadband directors are in these state broadband offices around the country, we have to answer to the people. And in order for us to position ourselves in the best possible place we can for them, that's super important and that's what we have to do.

Drew: Okay. Okay. Well, we've got, like I said, a great, great raft of questions. Let's dive into these questions here and I'm going to try to organise them a little bit as I can. But one here, this is an early reaction to the map. And this is from Jace Wilson, he says, according to the fabric, low-Earth orbit satellites serve 100% of your state at 900 megabits per second down, 40 megabits per second up. Okay, now, first off, what do you think of that? 

Glen: Again, my folks are looking at... I haven't seen it completely. I would assume that that specific metric would be inclusive of the whole country. Maybe not for some reason, whatever the satellites are currently orbiting and it works for Arkansas that way. Look, in my opinion, it remains to be seen. I, my perspective, our state office's perspective is that we are technology neutral. We believe in whatever can get the job done and allow our people to be connected at the speeds they deserve at an affordable rate with minimal issues. And that's how we want to go. If the LEOs or Low-Earth Orbit satellites can get the job done, that's fantastic. It remains to be seen if it's truly a solution for the country overall. And again, no map is ever 100% accurate. These are based upon what is reported to the federal government as far as these speeds. We know that that can be an issue.

Drew: Well, and I'm going to... The exact language is going to escape me, but I think that there's enough latency requirements in IIJA funds that we don't need to count as covered areas that are served by low-Earth orbit satellites.

Glen: No, if you look at this, if that particular metric is accurate, well then the whole country is served.

Drew: There you go. There you go. Exactly.

Glen: No one would be unserved.

Drew: Job done. Nothing to see. Let's go home.

Glen: No one would be unserved or underserved if that was the case. Again, the capacity of Starlink and LEOs moving forward remains to be seen. There's a lot of work that needs to be done to get the amount of satellites needed into our orbit to affect the whole country. Yeah, jury is still out.

Drew: Okay. We got a question from and Adam Bender of Communications Daily. Has Arkansas received its BEAD and Digital Equity Planning Grants from NTIA yet? How ready are you for the shot clock to start running? 

Glen: Okay, cool. Yeah, great question. That one I can't comment on Today.

Drew: Can't comment. Okay. No comment.

Glen: No comment on that one.

Drew: That's a strict no comment there.

Glen: Correct. That's the old, yeah, no comment on that one. But I can assure you that we are fully prepared to move forward when that clock starts ticking on both.

Drew: Okay. We have a question from Will D. What made the GUMBO grant program unique? And you may have to describe that.

Glen: Absolutely.

Drew: We know what GUMBO is.

Glen: We do.

Drew: But what is G-U-M-B? 

Glen: What does that mean? 

Drew: What does that, the all italics mean? 

Glen: Well, I guess we'll start with that. What is GUMBO in the first place, GUMBO grant program. Well, obviously in the political circles, you have to come up with these cute names that go with programs. GUMBO grant program was the grant program related to broadband infrastructure that we put together during my stint in Louisiana and it stands for Granting Unserved Municipalities...

Drew: There you go.

Glen: Broadband Opportunities. Okay.

Drew: That's good. Municipalities.

Glen: That's right. That's right. We do.

Drew: We got municipalities in there.

Glen: GUMBO, Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities, a very good word for a grant program in Louisiana. People love that. What made it unique? There were very interesting things that we as a group and we as a team inserted into that particular program. For one, we highly encouraged grant recipients, our grant applicants and then recipients later to work. The workforce piece we knew was an issue early on, so we inserted it...

Drew: What is the workforce piece? What do you mean by that? 

Glen: We have to ensure that through everything that's going on, when you look at the funding that's come through, with some states use general funding like Arkansas. Governor Hutchinson was an early leader and did a tremendous job focusing on broadband even before the pandemic. We started with general state revenue to fund broadband infrastructure grants prior to the pandemic. Since then, we've run through state and local fiscal recovery funds, we've run through CARES. To date, over $396 million has been put out as far as infrastructure grants specific to Arkansas.

Drew: $396 million...

Glen: Dollars.

Drew: Broadband infrastructure.

Glen: Specifically for broadband dollars in Arkansas.

Drew: In Arkansas.

Glen: Plus right now we're doing...

Drew: That's really impressive. That's like between half and a third of... Half and two thirds of what you are thinking.

Glen: Correct. And right now, we're evaluating applications on another round that we just closed end of October for another $150 million round. It's based on capital projects, $1. So, approaching over $550 million in infrastructure grants in the State of Arkansas since 2020. And I say that to mean there are some things that we've done and we're planning to do in Arkansas that's specific to the GUMBO grant program, it's uniqueness, 'cause your question was specific to workforce originally.

Drew: Yeah, it was.

Glen: Yes, I was building one...

Drew: Now I'm the one who's distracting myself.

Glen: No, the question was about workforce and I led with the number of dollars and amounts we've done to intimate the fact that we're going to need a large workforce presence in the broadband space. For instance in Arkansas, we've invested $3.3 million in three different community college programs across the state focused on different areas of broadband workforce need in conjunction with the needs that were solicited from our ISPs and providers in the state and also very different industry and trade associations to let us know what the workforce needs to look like in Arkansas and make sure that we had programs moving forward that would satisfy workforce requirements. And that was related to what made GUMBO unique. One of the things that we did back then early on was to insert a very strong encouragement that applicants sign letters of intent with local community colleges in Louisiana to give a good faith effort and good best effort to hire graduates of broadband related programs in Louisiana.

Glen: We had 100% cooperation from applicants on that particular provision. That was fantastic. That was something that hadn't been done before, I don't think in too many other locations. As an adjustment to the original GUMBO program, in Louisiana we had inserted a provision where if a provider had received either a D or an F grade from the Better Business Bureau, a local parish governing council or local municipality governing council could basically have right of refusal on that particular ISP, empowering the locals to make decisions for themselves because really at the end of the day, this isn't about Washington. It's not even... In my state, it's not about Little Rock in Louisiana. It's not about Baton Rouge. It's about the locals and that's what matters most. Locals know locals best and their problems. That's how you want to try to structure these things from the ground up.

Drew: Again, we started with mapping which might have been a little bit of a misdirect. Because I did ask about how important mapping is to your efforts, but there's a lot of other things, clearly. And what's the core activity in addition to grant making of the Arkansas broadband office? We got a question here from David McGarry. What will be the keys to success for state and local entities and for the states that are granting it as BEAD funding rolls out? 

Glen: Yeah, to me, it's something that we started in Louisiana before there and bringing that to Arkansas. It's really a stakeholder engagement piece for us. You have to and it kind of piggybacks on my answer to the previous question, but to be successful, what we're doing as states with all this funding from Washington, it really relies on intensive stakeholder engagement at the local level. In my vision for Arkansas, it's important to visit every county, to have broadband committees organised in every single county made up of stakeholders across the nonprofit sector and everything that it touches, healthcare, police, educators, farmers, the wide range of regular everyday citizens who have needs and know how to advocate for themselves, communities of faith and so forth.

Glen: You really have to create local coalitions and broadband committees at the local level, worst-case scenario at the county level to ensure that there's buy-in and it makes things a lot easier. As a state official, I can't do it all by myself. I can't do it with me and the team that we're going to build and contractors. It has to start at the local level. We have to have buy-in from them. That's the key to making this thing successful.

Drew: It was great to have you yesterday at Digital Infrastructure Investment. You mentioned there that you had actually just extended an offer to someone to join the team.

Glen: Correct.

Drew: How big is the office and how fast do you need to scale up to do the work? 

Glen: Yeah, so the hire that we are going to make shortly, we extended an offer on Tuesday and it was accepted and we're completely excited about that. That'll be the first hire that I've made since I've come to the office on August 1st. We would project out having a team, including myself, of about six overall as we fully build out the office. You're looking at a wide range of responsibilities from program and project management to GIS work, to community stakeholder engagement and a focus on digital equity and even data and research analysis. As we continue to build out to become that very robust team that we need and want, the sky's the limit.

Glen: So, we got lots of questions and we want to maybe get into a more direct answer mode here. Nat Nguyen asks, over the past several years, talk of municipal broadband networks has intensified. What are some of the most practical approaches and exemplary successes? What are the limitations of municipal broadband? What lies in the way and how can parties like broadband.money assist? 

Glen: Yeah, you're right. There's been a lot of talk and a lot of movement in the municipal broadband network topic across the country. I think you look at certain municipalities, Chattanooga is known for having a very robust network. Traditionally, what has worked well in this particular space of those municipalities that already have their utilities, they're in charge of their water system. They're in charge of their electrical system. They have it on. Communities that have those particular competencies already can be positioned to maybe take advantage of what's going on and work itself into a municipal broadband network. I think for some municipalities that are not in the water game, are not already in the utility game, it's a much more difficult stand-up. I would be... And obviously any county or any municipality can do what they want, it's up to them, whatever they think is in the best interest of their people. But to me, what has worked best are municipalities that are already in either the utility game.

Drew: Well, what is the state of restrictions in Arkansas on municipalities offering broadband? 

Glen: Yes, when Arkansas municipalities can get into the broadband space, we have, I think it's 15, so far...

Drew: There's no requirements, there's no like bans.

Glen: No, the governor earlier, a few years back...

Drew: It was a recent change, right? 

Glen: Correct. It was the Senate bill that allowed municipalities to get into this space. We have about 15, I believe, municipal owned networks across the state. I think that number is correct. Maybe a little off, but around 15-ish municipalities that have their own broadband, not utilities, but broadband operations going on. And so, yeah, for us, it's working for some of them really well. And Clarksville, Arkansas is an example of a publicly owned utility that is doing some very interesting things and very robust stuff. And yeah, so if the setup is right and they already have utility operations, then it's easier to get into that.

Drew: Basically, that helps a lot here. We have a question from Craig Settles here. At one point, Arkansas was ranked first in the nation for people dying of strokes. Only 1% of stroke patients receive the life saving drug used to treat these patients. And he's talked about a tele-stroke network in Arkansas that is called the University of Arkansas Medical Services Network. The question that Craig is asking is, one, are there plans for Arkansas and middle mile networks to expand and enhance the telehealth services for the hospitals? And will Arkansas's middle mile networks run other critical applications? 

Glen: Yeah, so Arkansas, when you look at it, as a very robust, there are plans to increase the middle mile network that exists in Arkansas. There was an application put in.

Drew: Yeah, part of the NTIA.

Glen: Correct, the NTIA Middle Mile Grant program.

Drew: By the state or? 

Glen: So, as a collection, we have a very, very robust electric cooperative broadband operation in Arkansas. There were about 15 or so cooperatives that have formed what's called the Diamond State Network. A collaboration of those electric cooperatives in Arkansas. They came together and put forth a very competitive and compelling application for Middle Mile Grant, I think totalling around 40 or 50 million dollars total. So, we look forward, hopefully, to approval of that. But, yeah, I think you look at middle mile Networks and what it can do for telehealth, and they're talking about what UAMS has done in the telehealth space. Absolutely. Look, I'm a believer. When we can leverage our existing assets to do really good things and impact people in a positive way, we should do that. So, all aboard that.

Glen: Wonderful. Julie Wiedauer, I hope I got that name right, asks, Glenn, can you discuss the challenge and opportunities of getting partners for expanding broadband access to underserved areas? Those where population density might not naturally attract investment? 

Glen: Yeah, it's a great question. That goes to the whole purpose of what IIJA would be just trying to do. For the longest time, you've had, well, until today, you still have communities out there where traditional investment from an ISP or private ISP perspective, just doesn't make sense, whether it's because of density or other issues or traditionally socioeconomic factors lent itself to not being very advantageous from a profit perspective. And so, hence, we have a situation now where the federal government has realised, obviously, as an outflow of the pandemic that we're going to have to subsidise some of this to make it work for people. So, when you have a program that's going to fund at least 75% of CapEx on building out these infrastructure grants, infrastructure builds, that's why this program even exists in the first place.

Drew: What's your current thoughts on the way underserved areas are going to get included or not included versus unserved? Obviously, the law puts a premium on underserved first, but the unserved, those who don't have 100 by 20 broadband are not excluded from the process. How do you see the underserved getting included? 

Glen: Yes, you look at it, there's a stair step process that's laid out in B. First, you have to make sure that you get all of the unserved or less than 25 by 3. So, those who have nothing at all, or less than 25 three, and you're supposed to stair step next to the ones that are somewhere between 25 three and 100 by 20. And then beyond community anchor institutions with the gig service and multi-unit apartment complexes and so forth. I think, in my opinion, there's ways for economies of scale and efficiency to actually potentially group those together so you can have projects that would serve unserved and underserved all in one project and make it more advantageous to a provider if you can include some of those underserved and more dense markets with the most rural portions. So, there's ways to group it together and ensure that they all get served in one project.

Drew: Let's group these two good questions together by Ryan York and Andrew Lewis. The one by Ryan is, what advice do you have for lay people who realise there's a connectivity problem in their communities but are unsure how to help? And the one by Andrew is, what do you think is the best way that the broadband office leaders in other states can mobilise and work with hard-to-reach communities? I guess both individuals in the communities and the communities themselves.

Glen: No, that's good. I think when you look at communities and lay people who understand that they have a connectivity problem in their community, you have to get organised. If I'm a community who knows that there is obviously a connection problem, what am I going to do? I'm going to get together with the rest of my folks and say, "Look, obviously we have a problem. We need to make ourselves advantageous and position ourselves for investment from an ISP, more cooperative to come in and do this thing." So, I would begin to map out. Well, first, let's define the problem. How bad is it? We're going to survey. We're going to see what the issue looks like. Get those results in. Then we're going to talk about what is the need? What do we want from a network? What are we looking for? Is it education for the kids? Is it better connectivity for our law enforcement officers, et cetera.

Glen: I think you organise first. You see what the issue is. You see what the need is that you could propose to a provider. Look, ISP, XYZ, we have an issue. We know what the problems are. Here's what we want from broadband. Here's what we want to do for our community. I think it makes a more compelling case that way. And then also asset mapping, whether it's water towers or tall structures in the area that can help...

Drew: These are things that members of the community or the communities can do.

Glen: Absolutely.

Drew: How can the community like... Tell me your community.

Glen: Elaine, Arkansas.

Drew: How can Elaine, Arkansas communicate with you in that way? Is there an application they can go to or a place they can put this information? 

Glen: Yeah, so that's part of what we need to do in Arkansas. Actually, the community of Elaine, which I would like to highlight on today's program, is a community that is tremendously underserved currently of hearing from their constituents. And I visited there multiple times. It's a very small, rural, heavily poverty-stricken area along the Mississippi River in the Delta of Arkansas on the East. And so, for instance, for that community, we've worked with them a lot. They were part of an initiative where Heartland Ford, which is a great organisation in Arkansas, partly with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and their accelerator program. They focused on several communities in Arkansas. Elaine was one of them. That program laid out how to educate locals. First, forming a group that was interested and wanted to take on the responsibility of leading efforts at the local level. You form this local group first, then you come in and you do education for them and lay the groundwork. Basic broadband 101, what are the different kind of technologies, educate them, and then position themselves as far as understanding potential opportunities. That's kind of what we're going through.

Glen: You map out your assets. You determine what the true needs are. You talk about what do we really want and make a compelling case to providers and say, "Look, come to us. We have a need. We know what we want from it. And we're going to work with you to make it happen." I think showing willingness to get it done, showing energy, showing that you have a need and just being relentless and having urgency in a sense of we've got to get this done can make a huge difference when you're talking to different providers.

Drew: We had a profile of you on broadband.money and we talked a little bit about localism, how local... And I think you mentioned that yesterday a little bit as well. What are the keys to success... Why is local involvement so critical for a State Broadband Office? 

Glen: Well, look, you know, Arkansas as a state, we have 75 different counties. We have a little over three million people with a relatively large geography, all things considered. I think we're right in the middle. I think we're 25th in the country as far as geography. But only three million people. I think when you're such a spread out state, you have needs that vary. The issues that one community faces are going to be different from the issues that another community faces. You have an area like Northwest Arkansas, we have Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas is located. You have Bentonville and Rogers and Springdale and so forth. You may have issues of of affordability there. You go into the Delta and you're going to have issues not only of affordability, but also an access issue.

Glen: And then the literacy issue is going to be statewide for everyone. I think understanding organising at the community and local level to take charge and show initiative and be able to design ideas and initiatives and programs that work for their particular constituency locally. What works in one community may not work in another community. For example, Arkansas ran a master plan program back in the early part of the year and produced a master plan. Part of that was an intensive survey effort where we received 18,000 survey responses across the state related to broadband issues. And one of the fascinating finds in that for me when I was reading through it was that only 10% of respondents indicated that they would prefer to attend a digital literacy training course in person. That goes against the traditional wisdom on this thing. You want to set up literacy programs and have people come in. Only 10% of folks said that they would even be interested in attending an in-person event. I guess what I'm getting at with this is that programs that work in one location may not work in another location.

Glen: Having a local committee that speaks to a local community's needs and wants and actions can make this whole thing work for everyone.

Drew: Mike Dunn raised the point about Governor Hutchinson signing SB 74, remove barriers. And the question that Mike's asking is, what is your take on an existing municipality utility having the freedom to construct and operate their own community broadband network without the requirement to bring an outside partner? You've already addressed this in some ways. But is there any additional point about whether... What are your thoughts on what would a city do that doesn't have electric utility already? 

Glen: Yeah. It talks about... This one particular says remove some barriers. And I think, that that particular portion of law, if it's correct, speaks to the fact that if a particular municipality... It's probably designed that way, if I'm reading this correctly, that particular law structure to enable... That's probably why you have to partner with someone else. Because if your municipality that wants to get into the broadband space for its citizens, which is which is a great thing, I think it makes sense to partner with an existing provider on at least some level if you haven't been in the utility space prior. That's something brand new for you.

Drew: Razorbacks or Tigers? 

Glen: [chuckle] I guess I gotta...

Drew: It's right here.

Glen: All right. Number one would be... Okay, except for the one Saturday a year where LSU plays Arkansas, [laughter] I root for The Hogs. I always root for the Tigers. Go Tigers on that. But except for that one Saturday where we do play each other, it's also a woo pig. So, there we go.

Drew: Yeah. [laughter] We have a question for Mike Faloon on matching capital. And this is really an important question.

Glen: It is.

Drew: And the IIJA program said a minimum of 25%. But Mike's asking, how are you thinking about leveraging this matching capital to ensure that the federal funds go further? Will you look at it through cost per passing as that lens or rubric, or will there be some other return-based metric? 

Glen: Yeah. This is a great question and it's interesting because it was a focus of what we talked about yesterday, trying to find funding through the VC and potential a PE space. I think there are certain things you can do to ensure that state money through the federal government go further. I think one, when you design your grant application programs, you can structure it in a way, at least in the point scale when you're rating different applications, you can say, all right, the minimum is 25%. If you give us 25% as a match, you get basically zero points. If you go beyond that percentage, you get more points. That would entice providers when they come to the table and they apply to go above and beyond 25%, if it makes sense financially in the economics of the project. Obviously, the more that folks and ISPs match, the less the state has to give out for that particular application, which then spreads state funds further. You can structure your application in a way that incentivises additional matches. I think you can also look at the different programs out there that you can use to gauge what a particular project should cost to ensure that the state is not getting fleeced.

Glen: If you know a particular project should cost five million dollars and that all of the applications are coming at 20, okay, well, we know something's off. We know something's not right. You can use techniques to ensure that you're not getting fleeced on these particular things. That ensures it keeps your cost down and continues to spread it out. And then lastly, I think that there is a space for something that you mentioned and talked about yesterday. We have to talk about as a country, really, is that there are going to be some locations and project areas in this country, Arkansas included, where more than likely 25% match just doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint of the provider, 'cause at some point, especially for for-profit ISPs... Cooperatives are more nonprofit, that's a different... A whole separate topic. But sometimes, these projects may not make financial sense. So, especially for a 25% match, when you look at the costs moving forward and operations and so forth later. I think talking about 25% match, whether it's asking for a waiver or a reduction at least...

Drew: Waivers, huh? Yeah.

Glen: To government, so that's an option. All the way to zero, depending upon how you want to structure it, whether it's demographics or affordability data or service data itself. You can look at some of that as well. And then look, there's a space. There are funders who are ready to step in and help out and do some capital stacks and try to help communities that are going to struggle to get that investment, to get that 25%. There's multiple things you can do from the application itself, from ensuring... Using techniques to ensure that your costs of the projects are not exceeding a certain percentage of what you think it should. And also looking for capital stacks that you can try to get from both nonprofit funders and even private equity and venture capital as well.

Drew: Okay, okay. We've got a question here about connectivity. What form of connectivity do you prefer? Or to rephrase that a little bit, what do you see as the best use cases for wireless or for fiber technologies? 

Glen: Yeah, look, as a State Broadband Office, as an administration, we're technology neutral. We're not going to say that we prefer one particular type of technology over another. I think for me, at the end of the day, it is about ensuring that folks are connected. Honestly, it doesn't matter to me what company gets it done, as long as the speeds are accurate and what people need, as long as it's affordable. And those are the most important pieces. For me, technology, we're neutral. We just want to make sure that speeds are delivered.

Drew: We have a great question here from Adi. Hello. What is Arkansas's biggest weakness in terms of broadband infrastructure, and how do you remedy it? 

Glen: Yeah, I think that that particular question may speak to a larger issue 'cause the question specifically goes to the infrastructure piece, as opposed to... And that's... I think we need to work to change some of the thought processes around how we look at the broadband issue holistically. It's not just an infrastructure issue and the access problem. It's also, we've talked about tonight, affordability and then literacy, equity, and opportunity pieces, 'cause you really have to attack all three at the same time. Obviously, infrastructure is important. You have to lay it. It's very foundational. But it's also an affordability piece, where we talked about earlier, where you have one part of the state where infrastructure is a problem, and you have another part of this... Well, the whole state, affordability is going to be an issue. Across the whole state, literacy is going to be an issue, depending upon each person's experience or perspective with technology. So, I appreciate the question, but it's not specifically an infrastructure problem. When you think about broadband, you gotta think about it more holistically.

Drew: What are some of the ways that you can... Sorry, I'm getting tripped up on this point I want to get at, which is...

Glen: It's Friday, it's okay.

Drew: It is. Well, it's an important Friday because it's the Friday that the broadband maps were released. And someone on one of the lists was saying, "Hey, it's like it's Christmas for data geeks."

Glen: That's right, that's right. Oh, I'm sure that...

Drew: Because they get to unpack the map.

Glen: It's going wild right now, I'm sure.

Drew: Yeah. Well, look, we're talking about serious questions about how between 600 million and 1.2 billion is going to get spent.

Glen: Correct. Correct.

Drew: And, yes, I understand you have to say you're technologically neutral. But the truth is that the NTIA has put forward ways to get fiber out there, to get more fiber out there. And that's not the end of it. Because we need to... Alan Davidson, when we sat down with him in May, in Mountain Connect and in April, he emphasised that the administration is not going to be happy with people who are underserved not getting access either, and that the prices come down, that people are able to use these. Let's talk for a minute about some of these digital equity grants. And I know that the NTIA would not want us to think about them as a separate thing. It's really part and parcel. Let's just talk a little bit about that. Let's talk about what kind of digital equity plan you... I mean, you had to file one. Right? 

Glen: Yes.

Drew: And I know that all states filed one. So, that is what... Is not yet funded, or not yet officially funded? 

Glen: I can't comment on that one.

Drew: You can't comment.

Glen: That's right.

Drew: But once that is funded, what will it enable you to do? Maybe that's where...

Glen: Yeah. We can walk through what that looks like, from a digital equity planning perspective. And if we want to go beyond that into what programs may look like moving forward...

Drew: Please.

Glen: So, it's very interesting. When you look at the fact that... This is the interesting factoid that I guess the data geeks out there will love. 87.3% of Arkansans qualify under one of the targeted populations...

Drew: Oh, wow.

Glen: For Digital Equity Act, so whether it's...

Drew: Really? Wow.

Glen: Correct. Whether it's those who live in rural areas or veterans or those with disabilities, racial, ethnic minorities, those over the age of 60, aged individuals, and then some other qualifications too. Yeah, over 87% of our population qualifies under one of those things. So, we have a lot of work to do in Arkansas relative to equity and moving that forward. I think, when you look at these targeted programs, for me, it's marrying... You're correct. We have to marry what we're doing on the BEAD side with equity. I think, you look at these targeted populations that we've mentioned, 87.3% of Arkansans would qualify under one of these categories. For me, it's marrying that with what we want to do moving forward in the state with our BEAD funding. So, you talked about we may get between $600 and $1.2 billion, depending on how it shakes out with the formula and what that looks like with the map. First iteration released today, but not the last version. For us, we have four key focus areas that we're going to...

Drew: Yeah. Yeah. Tell me about those four.

Glen: Yeah. Yeah. We're going to have four key focus areas and I'm going to marry these as we wrap up this question.

Drew: Sure.

Glen: But for us, beyond building the infrastructure, which we think it will take about $600 million to wrap up that piece for Arkansas with what we've already done in the state, besides finishing that piece out with $600 million, making sure that we're trying to do our best to make sure that it's affordable for folks, which by the way, the 18,000 survey response that we did in the State of Arkansas indicated that about $50 or so was what was universally agreed upon as an affordable number, as far as a dollar amount for broadband plans. Do that piece, and then you run your literacy efforts, ensure that folks are able to have the skills that they need to move forward in the 21st century digital economy. That aside, which we have to do, for us and any surplus funds that we get out of the infrastructure bill for BEAD, the four key focus areas for us, healthcare, education, small business. What's the last one? Agriculture. Did I say that one? 

Glen: So, agriculture, healthcare, small business and education. Those four. For us, those are the four key focus areas that we want to be very innovative and be very forward thinking in what we do. For us, it's about cranking up the impact button and thinking about positive outcomes. It's about rethinking what the economy and society can do for people. We take that approach, a lot of... I'm going to pitch an idea that they were talking through, for instance, in the healthcare space. For us, it's not enough... Or enough for me, and I don't think our administration to say, "You know what? Grandmother, congratulations. We built Internet to your house. We made it affordable. We ran a literacy... We trained you up, gave you a computer and now you and your doctor can have telehealth. Congratulations." Drop the balloons. For me, that's not enough. We got to go further. With our excess funds, an example would say, "You know what, Grandmother? If it's okay with you and your doctor, we're going to come in in the healthcare space and say "The State Broadband Office is going to come in and try to impact your life for the better," and say, "We're going to offer you a hereditary cancer marker test," to improve and charge up what telehealth means for her.

Glen: You look at a lot of rural America, there are mental health issues, there are substance abuse problems going on in the country. What can a broadband office do and be innovative and forward thinking and say, "You know what? Thinking of broadband as an enabler to make things happen and truly change the economy and society, what can we do? Can we use broadband funding to come in and be innovative and try to attack the mental health issue and attack the drug abuse issue?" You think about that sort of forward leaning and forward thinking across those four focus areas and bring in those targeted populations that we have to hone on equity, feed that in what we want to do in this economy and society and rethinking what that means for people, I think you have something that's very attractive around the country.

Drew: That's great. Let's go back to rapid fire questions here.

Glen: Let's go.

Drew: We'll go through them quickly here. What advice would you give small, rural ISPs as they start to prepare for grant opportunities, challenges and processes? 

Glen: Yeah, we want... In Arkansas especially, we want the small rural folks to be as involved as possible. Again, they're going to be more in tune, perhaps than other providers, as what their local communities need. It's important for local small rural ISPs to begin the initiative now. If they're not preparing already, they should start yesterday. So, it's important for them to asset map themselves. Are they prepared for this thing? What are their gaps? Do they need assistance as far as subcontracting some pieces of what makes this work? Do they need to potentially partner with other potential rural ISPs and bring efficiencies of scale, depending upon what the gaps are on both organisations? I would say, begin prepping yesterday, start asset-mapping yourself, looking for those gaps and the opportunities that you may have. Start to satisfy those either with partnerships with others or consulting, if they can do it. But very much getting, I would say, a sense of urgency, moving forward on seeing what gaps you have and trying to fill those as quickly as possible.

Drew: Have you had any thoughts or there's been any changes, developments on the letter of credit issue, essentially eliminating that requirement in certain cases? Can you say anything more on that? 

Glen: Yes. And the letter of credit issue... And it kind of got a lot of pub.

Drew: Yeah, it did.

Glen: Actually, kinda generated in the industry, 'cause what that goes to is that we ran... This current round that we're running right now with Capital Projects Fund dollars, our initial thought was that the letter of credit is currently a requirement in BEAD moving forward. And so the initial thought was, "Well, let's try to incorporate it perhaps into the current round that we're doing with Capital Projects Fund as sort of a just get it done now in preparation for the future. I think it still exists. So, in the current round that we're running, a particular applicant can choose to provide a letter of credit if they want to. And then we also instituted an option to do a performance bond instead. So, I think being flexible on this round ultimately made a lot of sense.

Drew: This round meaning the Capital...

Glen: The current round that we're running with Capital Projects Fund dollars.

Drew: The Arkansas round? 

Glen: Correct. The current Arkansas grant round that we're running based on CPF dollars. It made a lot of sense to go ahead and open it up using a performance bond alternative for this round to enable those who can get that piece done and still make sure that the state is covered. We want to make sure that our applicants get the job done for the people. A performance bond can get that done. And if it was a better alternative for our folks, we wanted to give them the flexibility...

Drew: You want to do that.

Glen: To do that for them.

Drew: Adam Puckett asks, how do you think about leveraging the local coordination guidelines in BEAD to bring decision power and influence closer to local communities? 

Glen: Yeah, that's what it's all about. And we talked... I think there was a question earlier about underrepresented communities. There was a second part of that question from earlier that we talked about, that sort of speaks to this one. I think, for us, again, plans are better. I can't sit in Little Rock and just make this thing up by myself. I need to be informed. Our office and the administration needs to be informed by locals. To me, things turn out better generally when locals have more say in what goes on, whether it's in Little Rock or Washington. So, very much a bottom-up approach. The more we listen, they know their communities, they know what they need, they know what programs should look like tailored for them. On the piece about traditionally underrepresented communities, I think it's important to work through trusted leaders in local communities. If you can bring, whether it's communities of faith to the table, or librarians to the table, bring the education partners to the table, those that locals trust, and get them on board and have them be a conduit through which we try to do these things, that's how you get underrepresented communities involved that haven't been always communicated to properly or enough, bringing those folks on board that they trust and using them as a way to educate and move forward.

Drew: Let's talk for a few minutes about some of the challenges that state broadband directors face, and in particular, how state broadband directors can work together and share thoughts. You mentioned earlier today, you were over at Pew. Pew's obviously been involved for many years with kind of nurturing and providing resources and tools. Obviously, broadband.money and the platform has incredible amounts of data and resources that make it available. What are some of your thoughts, Glen, on how state broadband directors could, for lack of a better word, band together when there's some real issues that need to get confronted on responding to some of these data questions? 

Glen: No, you have a great point. I think the more that broadband directors across the country can have one united voice... Are we always going to agree on everything? No. Are we always going to have the exact same priorities? No. Are we going to look at issues the same? No. But I think when you have overriding issues that need to be heard in Washington or even the state capitals, as these policy questions are bubbling and things are moving forward, it's important to try to have a unified voice as much as possible. I think there's strength in numbers. When one person comes to the table and says it's an issue, okay, another person comes to the able and says there's an issue, okay. But if we come together and we say, "No, this is an issue across the whole country. Here's what we think about it. You should highly consider it," and give that state office perspective. Look, we've been entrusted by our states to run these programs. Look, our states have faith in us. They trust us. I think coming together and presenting a state perspective to Washington as a group can be very beneficial.

Drew: You know, it can be the flip side to that question is, is there a concern about state broadband directors leaving their jobs to go off to the private sector? 

Glen: Yeah, you come into this thing, look, this is a super... Look, the fact that we're having a live stream today, right on this topic and the number of questions we've had, and I'm sure the folks that are watching, this is a super hot topic and will be moving forward, the next five, ten years. And it's free for all, really. You have the private sectors trying to gear up, the nonprofit sector is gearing up, the federal government needs to... NTIA needs to staff up. And it's sort of... There's somewhat of a limited bench right out there. I think from a state office broadband director perspective, just understanding why we do what we do, it's not about... Somehow it shouldn't be about money, for a lot of folks. What we're doing is important work that can affect people moving forward, forever. This is a once in a century opportunity...

Drew: Exactly.

Glen: To reshape, as I said earlier, what the economy and society means for the everyday American. We have a chance. There is no...

Drew: Actually, this can get us to that point where we had... We didn't have rural electrification... We didn't have electrification, rural electrification kind of brought...

Glen: Correct.

Drew: It changed the lives of people, right? 

Glen: It did.

Drew: And when we talk about getting that kind of high capacity connection that you're not going to need to change in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, that's what we're talking about.

Glen: Yeah. Think if someone said, "When it rains and storms, my power goes out for three hours every week." [laughter] Nobody would stand for that. It's a huge issue. And I truly think what we're doing is deeply important work. At the end of the day, we're here to serve our local constituents, our residents and our states. I truly believe that there is, in the 21st century economy, there is no single greater instrument to economic security and personal freedom than a high speed internet connection. That's what we're doing here. With that at the back of mind, yeah, it's a tremendous opportunity for me and for our other state broadband directors. We are honoured to be in these roles to help lead state planning. Again, for me, it's a tremendous responsibility. I can't thank enough Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Preston for affording to me this responsibility. The administration in Arkansas has been a leader in the broadband space since before the pandemic. They've done a tremendous job.

Drew: Well, and Hutchinson's role in liberalising the restrictions...

Glen: Yeah, look, he's been a champion...

Drew: As a Republican, right? 

Glen: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, and truly is a nonpartisan, non-political issue. At the end of the day, again, we're doing what we can to change the economy and society, and it's a tremendous honour.

Drew: Glen, what's your favorite period of history? 

Glen: I've actually saw that question earlier. It's probably related to me saying, I think in the bio or one of the articles, that I enjoy reading political and history-based books, 'cause who has time for fiction? I don't know. Not me. I've been going through the '90s recently, and there was a... Jeffrey Toobin put out a book, 'A Vast Conspiracy'. I've been reading through that, sort of the Clinton era and what that looked like going back. It's relevant 'cause I'm from Arkansas.

Drew: Arkansas. Hey, Arkansas. [chuckle]

Glen: Comes to Arkansas. Correct, all that. It's a very interesting read so far, I'm about halfway through. It was a good recommendation from a dear friend that I made in Arkansas early on. And so going through that book, focusing on the '90s for now. And it's been... Although I lived through it, a child of the '80s, 1985, which is one of the best years in humanity. No, the '90s have really piqued my interest at the moment.

Drew: Well, I'm going to let loose a little personal story here. I was driving through Little Rock on my way across the country some years back. And I love to go to these presidential museums. I've been to probably eight or nine, and there's more. I wanted to go by the Clinton Presidential Museum, but my wife wouldn't let me. [chuckle]

Glen: Oh, she wouldn't let you...

Drew: No way, we're going to Little Rock to the... But anyway, I assume you've been there, right? 

Glen: Yeah, I have. I actually had dinner there, there's a great restaurant called 42, right? 

Glen: Yeah, yeah.

Glen: Great restaurant there called 42. It kind of overlooks the Arkansas River, one of the bridges that they redid, had dinner there. That was a great evening. But yeah, to be in the state, that speaks kind of broader, real quick before we wrap, to the State of Arkansas and what we're doing. Look, there's a very innovative group called the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition in Arkansas. It's a group of about 15 very powerful and sort of, I would say, even elite nonprofits and philanthropies in Arkansas that have come to the table. And they are ready to go to work. They are beating my door down every day with, "Let's get going. And what do we do? And we're ready to work, and let's work hard." I walk into the fortunate position of an administration that realises this is a critical issue, of a nonprofit energy sector, if you will, in Arkansas that is primed and ready to go. They want to work on these digital issues. We're set up for success. And the sky's the limit in Arkansas. We're going to be a model for the nation.

Drew: Well, Glen, it's been such a pleasure. I've got one more question for you. And that is, what are you doing tomorrow in Philadelphia? 

Glen: [chuckle] tomorrow in Philadelphia is the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. So, I will be out there, and we'll see how that goes. I've been training for a while and...

Drew: That's awesome. Have you run one before? 

Glen: It'll be my first one, actually. Why did I pick Philadelphia as a first half marathon event? Not sure. I was at... Well, I know why. I was at a dinner with a former graduate school buddy in DC last time I was here, and he and his wife were going to run the half marathon in Philadelphia. And I was like, "Sure, I'll do that, too."

Drew: Yeah, it's a great gesture.

Glen: So, I jumped in on it. Look, it's a great city.

Drew: It is a great city...

Glen: It's fantastic city...

Drew: It's really great city.

Glen: It's just up the railroad track a little bit from here. And it's going to be a fun event.

Drew: Yeah. I went to college just down the road from Philadelphia, in Swarthmore, and Philadelphia really, it's almost had a real revival in the last 10 years, 15 years.

Glen: Absolutely, absolutely.

Drew: Well, good luck to you. Hope you get a great time.

Glen: Thanks, Drew. I appreciate that.

Drew: And safe travels back to Little Rock afterwards.

Glen: Absolutely, thank you.

Drew: On behalf of everyone in the Broadband Grants Community, I'm Drew Clark and we've been spending this hour with Glen Howie, the Arkansas broadband director.

Glen: Thank you very much.

Drew: See you later.