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Ask Me Anything! with Megan Beresford, Director of Broadband Programs at Learn Design Apply, Inc.

Ask Me Anything! with Megan Beresford, Director of Broadband Programs at Learn Design Apply, Inc. Banner Image

Jun 9, 2023

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About Our Distinguished Guest

Megan is the director of broadband programs at Learn Design Apply, Inc., where she and her team assist others with their broadband grant proposals.
She is also a broadband community Office Hours alumna.

Megan holds a B.A. in English Literature and History from Illinois College. 

Event Transcript

Scott: Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us for this special edition of Ask Me Anything. Our guest today is the, dare I say legendary Megan Beresford. We make sure we got the name right. She comes from royal lineage because of her work in international work with children as well as her work with communities in the broadband space. It is my pleasure again to introduce to you and bring to you to this Ask Me Anything event. The legendary, if I say legendary, Megan Beresford, the Director of Broadband programs with Learn Design, Apply Incorporated. They are known for being a preeminent grant writing shop, but they're more than grant writers. They also provide project management and broadband consulting services to communities and projects across the country. So without further ado, everyone please welcome Megan to the show. Megan, welcome.

Megan Beresford: Thank you. I feel like Scott, we should give a disclaimer to everyone. The fire alarm in my building has gone off. It is possible it might go off again, in which case, apologies. It's not a lie detector or anything.

Scott: Yes, it is. It's the BS meter in there to make sure to install so that we can keep you at least wholesale honest as we move forward with today's AMA. But everyone of you have not done so, Drew Clark did a fabulous expose write-up on the background and summary of Megan. I call her Megs. We're friends. You can't call her that, But I can. But we wanna make sure when I last left Megan, she had just completed a legendary karaoke performance at Broadband Communities conference. And Megan can you come on before we get really super serious about your work and how you help communities across the country. Can you talk about this legendary performance? And let me set it up 'cause I believe you had a wardrobe malfunction with a sweater. That you managed to navigate the sweater, complete the song, and I believe you received a standing ovation from the seven or eight people that were there in attendance at 4 o'clock in the morning at the Broadband communities.

Megan: I will say it was a full audience.

Scott: It was full audience.

Megan: There was no audience when I did my first song, which was Fancy, and it was a bad choice 'cause I don't know all the words to Fancy. But it's Texas. I thought I should do something country. But no, so I was holding the beer and trying to theatrically as part of the scene, take off my nice pink cardigan, but it got caught on my hand holding the beer, and I was just so dedicated that it was a little maneuvering, but I think it's an example of how much dedication I bring to everything that I do to Karaoke or broadband.

Scott: I think I actually summed you up and if I could sum up a moment, that would be analogous to how you are in this community and your work. Like whatever you need to do to get the job done, Megan Beresford will definitely do it. So Megan, let's get started. So this is an Ask Anything event where we invite members of the community on to get to know you better, but really to ask questions and there are a ton of questions in the community. I wanna start by having you talk about your experience. Like so I know you, we're friends, we travel across the country and have spoken at a lot of conferences and events. You are truly one of the special people in this industry. You actually care about the work that you do and the people and the lives that you touch.

Scott: Can you talk about your sort of international background, your teaching experience and how at least with the stories that we can share, how that has equated and allowed you to be at the head of broadband programs at Learn Design Apply and how that work ethic and background allows you and how does that manifest in your work? 

Megan: Yeah. Well, I did quite a few things before getting into Broadband. So my first international job was teaching English in rural Poland. So I would say that was kind of my first experience really being in a place that did not have interconnect or internet connectivity. I lived even in a more rural part of Poland and had to put things in certain places to be able to steal the neighbor's internet 'cause we didn't even have our own, 'cause it didn't come to that house. It was mountains. It was, a whole thing, Oh my God.

Scott: There we go.

Megan: There we go.

Scott: Item number one on the BS meter. Would you like to start over, Megan? 

Megan: So I was in Warsaw, no, it was rural Poland and I was stealing internet. I wasn't paying for it, but I had children of all ages and the school I was working at was for extra classes. And so it was something where there was already a clearly a big demand for continuing extra help with education. And at that time didn't click in my mind that they could have online courses at home that could have helped.

Megan: And I was focused on trying to not have to learn Polish to teach English 'cause I was quite bad at languages. But, it's kind of that first experience for me of not really being able to be connected had really hard time communicating with family and friends. And it was definitely an isolating experience for where I lived. But a great one. I had the best time. And, next internationally was a similar thing in New Zealand and it's similar I think to the US where we think, "It's such a prosperous country, very rich country." Of course everyone would have connectivity. And that was kind of my thought of New Zealand as well until I was on the South Island working in a small pub and there was no internet that we could use.

Megan: And it was again, Christmas time and I was there and couldn't Face time with my family. But also just such a wonderful experience as well. But I would say at that time I was still kind of connecting the pieces of how much internet had had a role in things and what equal access and equitable access really looked like it meant. And then when I came back to the States, I was with NAAG, the National Association of Attorneys General. And I think Drew had a great question, which I'll jump right into, is really want, when this...

Scott: I'm hosting the show, Megan. I'm hosting.

Megan: That's what happens. [laughter]

Scott: Violation. I'm hosting the show. You're the guest. I ask the questions. You answer as AMA.

Megan: I just put it up so well for Scott.

Scott: Let me restart and get us back on track here. As you all know, we know each other, but I'm gonna set the stage again for those of you who just joined us. Welcome to Ask Me Anything with Megan Beresford. I'm Scott Woods, president of Public-Private Partnerships with Ready.net and broadband.money and Megan You were telling us about your international background and then the BS meter went off. So why don't we reframe this and let's talk about your role and work at Learn Design Apply Inc. I think a lot of people know LDA as being a grant writing shop, but as I explained at the top, you're much more than just grant writing, although grant writing is a very important part of the work that you do, can you sum up for us before the BS meter goes off again, your role at Learn Design and apply and what LDA actually does? 

Megan: Yeah, so I started with LDA during the pandemic. So was doing some job searching and reading the news and really coming clear of what a big issue the digital divide was. And so this job came along and seemed a great way to jump into that. I didn't know all that much about broadband, didn't know a ton about the federal grant world or the state grant world. But learned pretty quickly and LDA does, as you say, more than just grant writing. So we help with getting people prepared for grants because they can be pretty hefty things. There's a lot of components to it, especially if you wanna be successful. So there's a lot of pre-steps that LDA is able to help with. And we work kind of with all kinds of clients. So we work with manufacturers, we work with ISPs, we work with public, we work with private, there's a different role for everyone in building these networks. And there's a way in which we can bring a lot of different players together and connect the communities to the resources through a lot of these different kinds of partnerships. I say, keep going. I'm powering through.

Scott: Keep powering. I promise I don't have a clicker here that's a very good answer, keep on, please continue Megan, so its a really good frame work that you're providing.

Megan: One of the things that we do is we are a boutique firm and so we're always finding new ways to help communities and help people get their projects funded and bring them to life and more than just broadband. So we have people who are doing energy grants, people doing school safety grants, healthcare, really kind of, across the board these different programs. But in my mind it all comes back to broadband. So you can't have telehealth if you don't have broadband. You can't get that USDA DLT grant, you can't have, your smart city if you're not having broadband. So there's a lot of things that we do in these other realms that I think really comes back to what our core team here is doing.

Megan: And we started with just two people and the demand grew and grew, and now we're at a team of seven, soon to be eight and busy as ever. Because of what's happening in the world and all of the money coming into to broadband from the BIL and we're now just really trying to make sure that the money goes where it needs to be. And part of that is making sure that the players who should have the money are prepared to apply for it and receive it. So, it's not just, we'll sit down and write, it's a lot more than that, so that is a component.

Scott: Right. That's a great segue. We're on the precipice of this huge announcement by NTIA by the end of this month. By June 30th, NTIA will announce the initial allocation decisions for all of the state broadband offices that are participating, which are all of them, in the IIJA broadband grant programs. Notably, the BEAD to be followed up by Digital Equity Act programs. There are capital projects funds, there's middle mile decisions that are forthcoming. This is the time to be in broadband infrastructure and digital equity. Before we jump into the questions from the community, can you sum up, What are you hearing, what are the fears, what are the concerns, what is the excitement from the clients and prospective clients that you're working with in the broadband industry, what is this expectation in this period before this historic money is starting? 

Megan: I have to say this has never gone off before. This is a first, but I would say there is a lot of excitement and a lot of fear I would say it's, they're kind of going hand in hand I think everyone's realizing what an opportunity this is and how many funds there are or how much funds, and that all of these projects that maybe have would have been 10-15 years down the road if they happened at all, all of a sudden have the opportunity to come to life. But there are a lot of requirements with it.

Megan: And I think there is a fear about that, there's not a lot of clarity on how things are going to go down yet, I know offices are still preparing but even with what we do know, there's some pretty specific and yet vague at the same time requirements of Bead, they talk about your workforce development. They talk about cybersecurity and what does that actually mean and how does that actually look. And I think that is either something that folks aren't thinking about at the moment, or if they are it's just kind of worrisome. And I think that's, even when grant programs are out that's a difficulty that we see is people seeing requirements and thinking well, how does this apply to me and what I do, because I don't see myself or my organization in this question.

Megan: And it's a required one And how do you tackle those when it doesn't fit how you work or your business model or what you're trying to set up. So I think there's a lot of apprehension on that while at the same time recognizing there's this chance and I want to go for it but then also that bit of being overwhelmed by it.

Scott: Alright, well, again, we thank you for joining us on the AMA today, Friday, June 9th, excuse me Let's jump right into the questions Our first questions in the community comes from Drew Pappas who I believe you know. His question is when it comes to applying for broadband grants different funding agencies often have varying requirements and criteria, can you provide best practices for navigating this landscape of different funding agencies to ensure that applicants are well-prepared to meet the specific needs and expectations of each agency. That's a great question.

Megan: Yeah, so, I think we know there's kind of two right now, two big federal players USDA and NTIA. And USDA has been putting on their programs for quite a while and so we know what requirements USDA has. So I always suggest, we have an inkling, we've heard word that there's going to be another round of ReConnect. So go back and look at the guidance from ReConnect 4, It's not going to change drastically and you can get that idea of what you're going to need to do you can start preparing and not then be shell-shocked when you see what the requirements are from before. So one big recommendation we have is always looking at past programs. What have they done in the past.

Megan: And what can you glean from that of what will be required And in looking at those you can kind of gather information of okay, USDA is always going to ask these kinds of questions, I can be prepared for that. And NTIA is always going to be asking, for five years on their performance. So I can be ready for that. So looking at the past and you can say the same for state programs, not every state has had a broadband grant program yet but for those who have, look at what they've done previously, if it's not online, you can reach out and say "Hey, state, can you send me your guidance from your last thing so I can review" So you can be prepared. So it is a lot of different ones I think there's similarities but in terms of navigating it, I say always poke around in the past because there are often some changes but a lot of these programs stay somewhat the same year after year, so we can learn from what's been happening.

Scott: Yeah, and then also can you talk about how big the compliance part of it and ongoing reporting requirements. We're not really thinking about that yet because obviously the money has not hit the street, so to speak, but again, it's not just the front-end requirements like the challenge process and some of the other processes to get to the projects but it's also the ongoing, sometimes can be very onerous reporting and compliance requirement even well after the projects have been implemented and deployed.

Megan: Yeah, so absolutely, So those end pages of your guidance, of your NOFO are usually where they start talking about what is gonna be required for compliance, what you're gonna have to be reporting on. So absolutely dig into those now so you can know how to plan, so you can know how to prepare, 'cause as you say, Scott, they are hefty sometimes. There can be a lot of details, some are easier than others. And a lot of it, if you're coming from a federal grant or it's being funded federally from ARPA or CPF or BEAD, you can go to the feds and see what treasury's reporting requirements are 'cause you're gonna have to follow those So it's out there and it is important to educate yourself because the work doesn't stop grant wised after you get the money It continues until your project is done and sometimes even after that. So you wanna know what you're committing to It's great and it's oftentimes necessary to have these funds but you also wanna make sure that you prepare yourself for receiving them and then the reporting you're gonna do and having a good understanding of that so you can stay in compliance.

Scott: Alright, thank you very much our next question comes from Dave Tot. And he asks, is there any way to get broadband grant money for producing better and open-source software to manage routers. And for context, he says he has all volunteers working on things like LibriCoast.io and have long worked to produce better more secure home routers in the OpenWrt project. And source code and tech support, as you know doesn't grow on trees. So do you know of any particular ways or approaches to get grant money for producing that better software? 

Megan: So that, you know some... Not a lot of grants have funds for the development of things they may have funds for products that are already in existence. But I would say for that kind of work, there are other agencies that are giving grants. I mean, if you remember, I think ONB came out with a report last year about how many different agencies had grants that touched broadband or technology in some way. And it was massive. I mean, it was almost too much. But that kind of innovation grant, so you can think about the EDA they have innovation grants. You can think about NSF, if they have any small development grants, you can think about small Business association of... Can you get some smaller grants from there to start developing these programs.

Megan: I would say don't forget about the regional. So the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta, Denali they have have grant programs as well where you can put together unique types of things that then relate back to broadband or relate back to those needs that will be happening. They have ones where it's, you're doing computer programming and you're incorporating, training into it for youth, right? So think creatively about how you can address that, how you can go after it, fitting what you are doing into these other things, right? Like job training, how can you make what you're doing into a more of a job training type program. So sometimes it does get you need to get creative with what you're trying to find and see how you can fit what you're doing into something else. Because oftentimes you won't see a grant that is straightforward just for what you wanna do. But, there are opportunities for development, but not in really any of the big ones like BEAD or USDA.

Scott: Yeah. And they do have line items that encourage or at least apply to software enhancements and that can be used for software. And they're sufficiently, unambiguous enough for the end user or grant writer or grant application or applicant to fill-in exactly what they wanna do in roles for software. So it's... I would say indescript in how it's positioned so that they leave a lot of that impetus on the applicant to describe how they want to use federal funds. To...

Scott: It's making your case...

Scott: Absolutely.

Megan: Right. And if you can put forward the good argument of why this is needed and what it's gonna do and what stage you're in, and I mean, I was like, grant reviewers like seeing unique things, that's fun. It's not the same old same old. So if you've got something that you're relating and saying, "we're gonna upgrade in this way, and this is what it's gonna look like and this is what it's gonna do," and you have the business details to back it up, right? You can't just be like, "here's my big idea in the clouds that I have no substance to." But if it's something unique and new, grant reviewers like to see that.

Scott: Can we dive in that just a little bit before we go to the next question, I think will be really beneficial for the audience to understand who is initially reviewing these grants, right? There's generally a team of grant reviewers that may or may not be associated with the grant office or the program office of the granting agency. Can you just give our audience a highlight on why structuring grant responses directly and clearly is beneficial in the federal funding and grant granting process? 

Megan: Yeah. So I think this answer can be applied to both state programs and federal programs. But they'll put together a team of reviewers that come... Some will come from telecom and have industry background, and some won't, some might have something similar, right? Like might be in bridges for infrastructure, right? But they're needing a lot of people. So in writing your answers, it's important to make sure that you're not using your own either internal jargon, so to speak, abbreviations that might not be easily identifiable. And making it so anyone could understand what you're saying, what your project is. Because we don't necessarily know the background of the reviewer. They might be two years in, and so they have some, but they don't have all the knowledge.

Megan: And if they have to reread what you're doing many times that's frustrating. They get frustrated that leaves a bad taste, and that's not good for your project. You don't want the reviewer to have a bad taste in their mouth. The second part of that is, in terms of federal, it's then going to oftentimes go to another agency after that. And that agency isn't NTIA, and so they don't have that same background that people at NTIA do, and they're getting into that nitty gritty. So we see it with for the tribal, I believe they're using Oceanic and NOAA right? NOAA [laughter], and then they also use NIST. So looking at NIST and they have very small crews and their crews are not trained in broadband. So it's so important to make what you write and what you describe as easy as possible to understand because again, the more confusing it is, the less likely you're gonna move forward.

Scott: A great question here from Drew Clark, our regular host of AMA, he asked the question, what is the role that ChatGPT and other AI tools are playing in potentially facilitating the grant writing experience? That's a great question from Drew.

Megan: I am so excited to talk about this [laughter]..

Scott: Make sure the meter doesn't go off in the back of...

Megan: I know. [laughter] The BS meter. No. Because this ties into so many things that I think are important considerations and we have different suggestions and different feelings on ChatGPT, it can be a great resource.

Scott: When you say we, lemme mean, I'm sorry to interrupt you. When you say we, you're talking about...

Megan: LDA...

Scott: Crew at LDA. Okay. Alright.

Megan: Yeah.

Scott: Sorry to interrupt.

Megan: Gosh, I'm just surprised the meter didn't go off on you, Scott [laughter] No. So we have, we... It can be a great resource if you are stuck. If you don't know how to begin, if you're not sure how to approach something, it can be a great resource for putting it in but you should not believe what it puts out. So there are three things. One, at the very bottom of Chat GPT, it gives a warning that facts, places, and statements may be inaccurate, in which case, it's like, "oh, okay, you don't wanna submit inaccurate information," it only uses the 2010 census data. So you're not getting the most recent census data that a lot of applications are gonna look for. So you're gonna have to fact check everything Chat GPT gets you because you cannot trust it. The other consideration is, and I know of a few organizations that their internal cybersecurity policies do not allow them to use AI tools like that. So be sure, especially if you're coming from local government, state government, that your internal IT policies allow you to use that kind of technology because there is a cyber risk with using Chat GPT.

Megan: Any information that you put into there, if there is a hack, is open to the public and so you wanna be really careful about the information you put in and that's just a best cyber practice anyway, and then comes back into BEAD because BEAD requires a cyber plan of use. So now you wanna make sure you're practicing good, they call it cyber hygiene, and I really hate that term, but you wanna make sure you have good cyber hygiene and that you're not putting your organization at risk. So another consideration when using it, but it can be so helpful in getting started, especially for if you've never tackled a grant before, if you don't know how to begin, it can get things going for you.

Megan: And so I think it should be a, or maybe not, it should be, but it can absolutely be a tool that can be utilized, but don't trust everything that it gives you. And be very careful with the information that you put in. The last point on it is that it can't tell the story of your community, right? The things that make your arguments persuasive are those stories from your community, the facts from your community, you know what the churches are saying, Chat GPT doesn't, you know who's really pushing for this program, it doesn't. So there are still components that you will have to do yourself, so it cannot do the whole thing for you so the biggest thing is just make sure you're checking it and that you're also being safe with the information that you ask of it.

Scott: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you for that. And, yeah, this is a big issue and big development as you well know, we've discussed before. Our next question comes from, I guess, one of your current clients, Joe Valandra with the Tribal Ready President and CEO. He says, give you some kudos. We are very pleased to have LDA as a partner working on behalf of Tribal Nations. LDA is best when understanding working in Indian country. So his question is, how does your approach at LDA differ for Indian country? And juxtapose that with your work with Tribal Ready.

Megan: How does our... How is it different from our local [0:29:54.7] ____.

Scott: How is your approach different for Indian country than I guess your normal, your broad work with other communities or other projects? 

Megan: Yeah. So I would say first and foremost, when we go and work with a tribe, we recognize we are working with a sovereign nation and we recognize that we are working with a group that has historically been ignored and had frankly, horrible experiences with the federal government and so a big thing is listening to the tribe's concerns and their needs and building trust. I think in any project you wanna listen to your client but be very cognizant of whether you are suggesting something, whether you are pushing an idea or are you listening and helping create rather than dictate and so I would say that is something we are especially aware of when we come and work with tribes, is that they know their story best. They know their needs best which can be said for any community, right? We don't always live in the same state as our clients, but I think there is a kind of deference that you need to have, that you are working with a sovereign nation and understanding of the history of the people you're working with so we try to have that same respect and understanding that we are coming into something we don't know in terms of the community with any client but especially with Indian country.

Scott: Alright. Our next question comes from the community, comes from Adi Duggar, who asks, what is the biggest challenge that service providers face when applying for grants? And how can state broadband offices or states ease that burden? 

Megan: So I would say for ISPs resources, I think you kind of hinted at this at the beginning, Scott, is that often there's not enough resources, right? Everyone's wearing 10 hats, already doing other things. There's not the time you would want to be able to dedicate to a grant. So, I think having enough people and there isn't enough of LDA to go around and those are a lot of the cases of why we're brought in is 'cause they're just don't have the people to dedicate.

Megan: I think, on states, recognizing that and seeing where you can streamline your grant application process. Recognizing that there is a lot of data that they need to collect, but what is the most streamlined way, the easiest way to be able to collect that and put it into a grant. So thinking about, how the applications are formatted, are there sometimes kind of repetitive questions, how much clarity is being provided, which, I recognize sometimes, you have questions that are mandated from your federal funds that are vague in themselves. But, I think providing as much clarity and, being as streamlined as possible is, gonna be a huge benefit to service providers that don't have the resources to spend a lot of time on the grants.

Megan: And I think then another thing that could be, four-state, but also, on a potential applicant, is doing some research. There's things we know that are gonna be needed. We know you're gonna need your audited, financial statements. We know you're gonna need a Pro Forma, you're gonna need to show sustainability. You're gonna have to talk about your workforce. So there's things that we know that are gonna happen. And so those are things that can, be thought about now, have a huddle about it, now start jotting down notes on it now. So when a program does open, that's one less thing that you have to start from the beginning that you have to tackle. And so, could be hints from the broadband office of, "Hey, refer back to this and look what we know is gonna be on this application." Start thinking about it now. So, just because an application hasn't opened doesn't mean you can't be working on it. So, I think there's ways to combat the resource issue on both sides.

Scott: I wanna circle back, to, your question about what the reviewers see. And Ben Conn asked the question, what are some bedrock red flags that application reviewers may look for when evaluating applications? And are there any common pitfalls that applicants should aim to avoid at all costs? And Megan, you and I have talked about this before, we know kind of inside baseball, depending on the sheer volume of the applications or, that or the applicants that apply for a grant program, reviewers oftentimes start off with looking at ways to disqualify applicants or applications before they get into the substantive, criteria of, evaluating which ones to go into more detail. So Ben's question is, can you identify, some bedrock red flags, to absolutely not put in your application to ensure you don't get put in that, don't worry about it file.

Megan: I would relate that to, do exactly what it asks you to do. Which means reading the guidance very carefully and asking questions when you don't understand, instead of making something up or kind of tailoring it to what you wanna do. Right? So, I know I keep talking pro forma's here, but if you're not able to show sustainability to year eight and they ask you for year five, they may not want you to go up to year eight, even though you're like, I'm doing this extra work to show you. If they say they only want year five and you give them year eight, you didn't follow their directions, you're out. Right? So even if you think you're enhancing it in some way by veering off what they're asking, it can be detrimental. And you can get, kicked out 'cause you didn't follow the instructions.

Megan: It's, read the directions, when you're building your bookshelf, you don't wanna miss a piece because you, didn't read the directions and then it's all wonky, right? Same thing for your application. You wanna read every word. So you're not missing either. You're not adding components that they don't want or you're not missing things that they do want. And I think, another example for that is, you're gonna have a GIS shapefile of your project area. And for one grant, you may have only had to put down your fiber route, right? But another grant is gonna wanna see every poll. They're gonna wanna see data on what the poverty rate in that area is. They're gonna have a whole list of what they want on it. So, when you see shapefile, don't just assume it's a shapefile with, these two things that you did before. Because if you hand that in and they're like, well, you didn't give us all your... The information we wanted, so you're out. Right? So I think the biggest pitfall is just not doing exactly what they tell you to do, either if it's too less or too much. So, I think those are, as you say, Scott, like the easy ways, they're like up, they didn't listen.

Scott: Yep. I'm gonna throw a softball in here. Can you recommend any tools, states and ISPs can leverage to help them win and apply for broadband grants? 

Megan: Well, I've heard of this little site Broadband.money. No, but I will say like, beyond, loving, hanging out with you Scott, the platform you're working for, what you're representing here is an amazing tool. Having all of these resources in one place, having this community, having the support, being able to ask questions, that's a huge benefit of helping, hearing what people are saying and what are people understanding and, let's all talk about Pennsylvania and do we get this and, where can I find all of this data in one spot? And, here it is. So I think that's absolutely, like what you guys have built is fantastic. And is so helpful. Even for us as Grant writers, when we have clients working on your platform and, just so easy to pull information.

Megan: I'd say also, outside of that, census data get used to the census website. Your grant's gonna ask you about the census information, being familiar with how it works, 'cause sometimes it is clunky or confusing. The Census website is another one that, I have bookmarked right next to Broadband.money where I go and read what people say and put down emojis. That's how I respond to things.

Scott: Well, thank you for that and your next several old fashions will be on me, so no worries about that. [laughter] Our next question goes back, I want to reframe everyone. We're at 3:09 PM Eastern Time. We are with, the goat, the OG, if you will, of Broadband grant writing and project management. Megan Beresford or Beres Ford. For those of you who...

Megan: I'm waiting for the alarm to go off because that's amazing.

Scott: I'm waiting on it to go. I was been waiting on it to go before. [laughter] 'Cause you gonna tease me. Do you still have your blankie? Is the blankie is still a viable option.

Megan: Okay. I have a blanket on my legs because it gets cold. The alarm went off, so I jumped and Scott saw my blanket on my legs since they get cold. It's not a blankie.

Scott: It's a blankie.

Megan: It's a very professional looking. Professional...

Scott: It's professional looking, but it's a blankie. Megan, I wanna get back... [laughter] I wanna get back to little bit about you and your background. And Drew asked this question, how did your experience in working for the National Association of Attorneys General impact your understanding of the role that telecommunications and telemedicine plays in people's lives? 

Megan: Yeah, so that was an amazing little, four years that I spent with them and I learned so much. One of which was, I don't wanna be a lawyer, but no offense, Scott. [laughter] But the first time telemedicine in particular really hit, so each year an attorney general would be able to choose their topic that they wanted to focus on, whoever the president was. And it was Attorney General George Jepsen of Connecticut. And his initiative was healthcare in the 21st century. And so, there were throughout the year all sorts of panels and obviously they all had a legal component thanks 'cause it's the attorneys general. But, there was a lot of thought of how much could be fixed by preventative medicine. Right. And I remember hearing a story about a man in Wyoming who had a heart attack, got to the hospital after an hour and a half of driving, had to get on a helicopter, and by the time they got him to the hospital in Denver, he was dead.

Megan: And you think about these people in very rural areas, and if you could have the connectivity to have telemedicine and do preventative medicine, it's lifesaving. And there were so many stories throughout that year that kind of led us back to and beyond having a specific panel just on telemedicine. It is that entire year of, thinking about how can our healthcare system, which, some people love it, some people hate it, it might be broken, but, it is what it is at the moment and how can we make it better? How can we make sure people are as healthy as they can be? And a huge part of that is telemedicine. Especially for rural America, but even urban communities, where you have people who can't take time off work to do this. How do we help them? And you don't have telemedicine without Broadband obviously. But working with them and again, it was always the legal bent, but behind it was this lesson of how critical and how life-saving telehealth can be.

Scott: Absolutely. I wanna ask you another question 'cause I know you so well, and you described this in your IO profile as a self-described reader, hiker and whiskey drinker. What is your top book recommendation, your favorite hiking location and your number one whiskey? 

Megan: Well, it's really hard to choose a favorite book. Recently I have been reading a lot of retelling of Greek mythology, which has been fascinating. So I read one that was, the Silence of the Girls, which I would recommend. It was about the Iliad. I'm rereading Circe [0:43:22.2] ____ which is about the Odyssey and Circe [0:43:25.3] ____ in the Odyssey has one page and they paint her as a villain 'cause she turned Odysseus's men into pigs, which can we blame her to be honest? Is that really villainous? [chuckle] I see no harm. Anyway, [laughter] but that book is like her story, right? 

Scott: Absolutely.

Megan: There's been a lot of I... That's been a big cake for me and I would recommend those for anyone kind of looking for a different fun read. And if you wanna read while you're hiking which I don't do well sometimes I've done that, but only when you get somewhere really beautiful, which for me, some of my favorite hiking has been done in Scotland. But I also really love state parks. I mean obviously national parks are gorgeous. There's a reason they're national parks, but there's a lot of smaller state parks that, I've hiked in Virginia, in California and Colorado that are really beautiful. And so, anything with me, anything with mountains, I'm a fan for hiking whiskey. So, I'm a bit of a whiskey snob.

Scott: Aficionado.

Megan: Aficionado. Exactly. Aficionado. I really prefer scotch to be honest. Whiskey without an E, but... My favorite one that I kind of always have on hand is the Talisker 10 Year. I really like the PD whiskeys. There's one in Scotland that you can't get outside of there called the Caol Ila is the distillery, and it's their Mock, which is the Gaelic term that I might be butchering in. But it's really good. It's like the perfect balance of Pettiness and Smooth, which you don't always get when you have a PD Whisky. So, but in the US Talisker 10 year...

Scott: Absolute best I ever had was it's the Caribbean Cask, Scotch blended with, Caribbean rum. So they put it, finish it in Caribbean barrels. It's absolutely, absolutely the best. Since you're channeling your inner Jase with the headphones. Jase ask, can you say more about this whiskey Aficionado? Where the source? Where does it come from? Again, if there are any children watching, we're not advocating, your alcohol, but, for those who have a sophisticated palette.

Megan: Yeah.

Scott: We are talking about the, aficionado portion of today's program.

Megan: So, I came about my love of whiskey when I was in college. So I went to a small liberal arts school and had my favorite history professor who would invite myself and some of my peers over for dinner. And after every dinner he would bring out Laphroaig. And the first time I tried it.

Scott: Hokie smokie.

Megan: I'm like, oh my gosh, this was awful, it was oh boy. I hated it. It was so bad. But I loved this professor and I like, didn't want to disappoint him. That was my biggest fear. So every time I would just make myself drink this, fire scotch.

Megan: But then I got a taste for it. And you start to kind of develop, learn to find, this sounds so snobbish, but you have the palette and you taste the different parts of it. And anyway, I started to really love it and explore it. And then the first time I went to Scotland, I was like, "oh my gosh, this is the best. And I just want to drink whiskey every day in these small towns in the highlands." And I would be happy. But yeah, it's enough of a love that I put it in my, bios for things.

Scott: Yeah.

Megan: And because it is sometimes surprise people. 'Cause people don't associate women with whiskey drinking that often. And so I like to challenge the norm.

Scott: And it may or may not...

Megan: Other women in broadband.

Scott: It may or may not fuel some, legendary Karaoke, performances as well. So, a legend.

Megan: No. They say that's what they say.

Scott: I was so modest...

Scott: Yeah, no, we're not doing that. I also know this about you as well. You said avid reader, right? Smart as hell, care about communities that you work in, care about people. But one night, not too long ago, we were having this very deep philosophical discussion about Star Wars. Do you remember [laughter]? Do you remember that? Do you wanna share with people? 'Cause we're talking about sort...

Megan: Oh my gosh.

Scott: Whiskey, infuse philosophical conversations about the meaning of life, broadband and the importance of communities. Megan and I were talking about sort of the Star Wars, franchise and it's applicability. This is nerd stuff, folks. This is how smart Megan is. We're doing that, mythology and analogy between the Star Wars, franchise to modern culture and life. Megan, do you want to delve into not just the Star Wars part, but your love of Star Wars and of fiction and what that all means? How does that drive your creativity? 

Megan: Well, I feel like you pressed up, right? Isn't that it was, the conversation had with a lot of whiskeys. Do I remember my exact, [laughter] my exact very philosophical comments on Star wars? No, I do love. So, and this is an interesting thing, but I'll tie 'cause I love sci-fi and fantasy. And, when I first got into sci-fi, movie wise, it was Star Wars. I was 6-years-old. It blew my mind. It was the best thing ever, as Star Wars Princess Leia for many years as Halloween. So what I channel here instead of Jase, this is actually Princess Leia, sorry Jase, but [laughter] and, but the first sci-fi book I read was an Isaac Asimov book, and he was a physicist, I believe an astrophysicist. And he, so it was a lot of science in these science fiction books, and they're all technology, right? 

Megan: And so, it's this kind of love of seeing what could be in the future if we had the best technology and resources possible, which, to bring it to broadband is what can happen when people, right? You have maybe a brilliant person. You have the next Isaac Asimov in rural Kansas, and, but he is not having, she, let's make it a, she doesn't have the broadband and, there's so much potential and possibility in people, especially young people. But if there's not the opportunity through internet to get there, we're probably missing out on some great sci-fi novels and some great twists to the Star Wars franchise, which recently have really helped to revitalize it. I think without Mandalorian it would've been, continue to suffer. But that's just my personal opinion. But, it brings potential.

Scott: Yeah, I've used the analogy. People ask me, since joining Ready and Broadband.money, how's it feel to be back on the private side? And I'd say, I'm still a Jedi Knight, right? My Lightsaber is still blue, as you can tell. And I'm fighting on the right side of the force. So there is, the analogy being a another person that loves sci-fi and the sci-fi movies, particularly the Star Wars franchise, there is applicability in it that resonates with people, and the community. So.

Megan: I will say, I think I was called a wizard, though. I will request to be changed to a Jedi of Grants, of Broadband Grants, so that'd be noted.

Scott: Jedi is a little cooler than Wizard. Like, yeah, yeah, wizard is kind of...

Megan: Thank you. I'm gonna go change my profile on this, I'm a Broadband.money.

Scott: Yeah, you're already too nerdy for someone who tears down Karaoke performances, like, on a whim. Right, that's a little too cool. Let's go with Jedi.

Megan: Its called multi-faceted.

Scott: Absolutely. Alright, let's get back to the questions, Maggie, before we go too far off script. We have a really good question from Adam Puckett, that, and he asked, excuse me, Megan, you're the GOAT, since you work across the country, in LDA, you work across the country, can you highlight particular states or state Broadband offices that you see being models that other state Broadband offices or directors should look for, for best practices? Let me change that up so we don't have to name drop.

Scott: Are there characteristics for those state Broadband offices that are doing things well? Can you highlight those characteristics and what the newer offices that are just getting started, what they can learn from those that are doing it well? So let's stay away from name dropping a little bit.

Megan: Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, you didn't... But I will say, I'm kinda gonna go at this from two viewpoints. One is gonna be, there are some states that are doing fantastic community engagement beyond what I think is required by BEAD. And I think that that is critical in making sure that the money is used in the right way.

Megan: We always say it's people, not projects. And so actually getting out into the community, like some states are doing very well, I think others are maybe either late to the game or struggling with it, but it's critical. And important, and even if it wasn't required in BEAD, I would strongly encourage states to do that, because again, it is so important to make sure that the money is used correctly and that it's getting where the need is greatest. And we all have our thoughts on the maps and you're not gonna really learn it until you're on the ground with the people. So I think there are some states really doing that well. And I would encourage states who haven't started it to start it now. Like it is so important, I can't overstate that. And then there's some grants that, or some grants, there's some states that I think have been doing grants very well.

Megan: And that whether they're just getting their pilot project going or pilot grant, or whether they've been doing it for a few years, I think learning from other states and what has worked well in grants and what has been an issue is gonna make the whole process a lot easier, right? And so not to tell the broadband directors what to do, and I know they have their working groups and they communicate, and hopefully they're sharing kind of those lessons learned of we put together this application on this platform and no one could use it, or we had this question and everyone answered it weird and wrong and it was a billion different reasons. And so what do you need to be asking? How do you need to be phrasing this? So there have been some states that I think have had some very easy to do and successful grant programs that they've been given tools.

Megan: I would say, states look at other states that your map is very easy to use for those who are applying, that it's understandable that people can have access to it, that it can pull the data that they need, which means investing in someone who can help you develop and build that map. But having a robust and very helpful Broadband map for applicants makes things so much easier. We've had applications in different states and some are much, much better than others. So another kind of consideration is looking at the tools and resources that you're giving your applicants to make sure that they can be successful. And maps are a huge part of that.

Scott: Absolutely. Alright, Megan, we got five minutes left. I'm gonna ask you one more question, but before I do, where can folks come to the community to find more about Learn Design Apply and the work that you're doing? Where can folks access to find more information about you and the work that the LDA does across the country? 

Megan: Yeah, obviously our website. I would also say our LinkedIn. So we post a lot about what our different staff members are doing, posting about different grant programs that we've been participating in. So we, a few weeks ago, finished up helping I think 80 something applications for school safety programs, which so proud of my colleagues who did that. That was a huge undertaking.

Megan: And then obviously on there also posting about our Broadband work and where we're seeing things and always have some grant writing tips, which I think are helpful. So our LinkedIn is I think one of our more helpful and popular and useful pages. And then also a great way to get in contact as well. So, a good way to learn about us and see who we are, by what we're doing there.

Scott: Do you have any upcoming conferences or webinars that you're speaking at or conducting? 

Megan: So, I'm not doing I think anything until August, but I'll be speaking at the ISC Expo and gonna talk kind of at length on cybersecurity. And so if you're going to ISC Expo, please come hear me talk about cybersecurity. It's my newest big passion. And then also at the Mountain Connect Conference, where I will be on a panel with a panel of experts and a panel with some of the wonderful folks from ReadyNet, Broadband.money on diversity and inclusion.

Megan: And then also one about grant and what is happening in the grants realm. So, if you're at either of those conferences, please come. Also possibly gonna be hosting a webinar on BEAD, but also the FFA, the Last Mile Grant in California. So if you're in California and have questions on that, thoughts on that, definitely reach out and keep in touch that webinar is coming.

Scott: Absolutely. Megan, my final question to you today is sort of philosophical and deep. We talked about the blankie, we talked about the BS meter that goes off in the background. But thinking about this comprehensively, right, what keeps you up at night as you are working with communities across the country, we're on the precipice of these big announcements that are gonna impact communities for generations to come. What is it that you're concerned about as we approach this next phase of BEAD and digital equity and the other broadband investments that are coming? 

Megan: The thing that keeps me up at night is whether, and I think maybe I mentioned it before, whether the people who can really utilize this money are prepared, because a lot of times it is the smaller ISPs, the rural ISPs, the co-ops municipalities. I think, both public and private is needed, but the small players, right, who historically may have not gotten this money, whether they're prepared, because there is going to be so much required of them both during the application process and afterwards, with the club compliance and reporting, like you said. I want them all to be prepared. I want all the wonderful people we work with to be prepared and there's some hefty lifts.

Megan: I mentioned very briefly the NIST Cybersecurity requirement and if that's not something you have in place, that's a huge undertaking and something you need to do now because you don't wanna learn about that when the program opens and see that that's something you need to have and you don't have it, or you don't have your cyber supply chain risk management plan. And or you haven't thought about your workforce. And, I think we need to talk a lot more about what BEAD is going to require of people that we do know, so people can get a headstart on it. Because it isn't something you wanna just start thinking about when a program opens. I want every tribe to get the money they need to deploy their networks and, are they prepared? And I think Tribal Ready is doing a great job making sure they are, but, some tribe aren't. And so, I think what keeps me up is people not being ready and then missing out and how can our small little firm, we're a team of 7-8 but, we can only do so much. And so yeah.

Scott: Well Megan.

Megan: But I have hope.

Scott: You do. You're the eternal optimist. You're a true professional. You're really the OG goat and you really care about your work. And I think that manifests in everything that you do, whether it's speaking, whether it's working with communities or leading the broadband programs over at LDA. So, Megan, I wanna thank you for joining us today as one of your friends. It's truly a joy to be with you and I look forward to our continued work and karaoke explosion experiences together as we move forward. So thank you everyone. That's all the time that we have today with Megan Beresford of the learn, design apply. I'm gonna put the emphasis on...

Scott: On your name. There's that story we'll share with people but we have some upcoming events to announce here on the platform on the IO community where's the funding on June 14th, episode 6, securing matching funds efficiently that'll be hosted by Gary Bolton and the team here at Ready.net and Broadband.money. But just look forward to that on June 14th. And then another special edition of Ask Me Anything on June 16th, Friday, June 16th, Josh Hildebrand, the Director of Broadband Initiatives at the Georgia Technology Authority of the Georgia Broadband Office is going to be sitting in for Jessica Simmons. We had announced Jessica Simmons, but now Josh Hildebrand, the Director of Broadband Initiatives will be sitting in on that. So for this version of Ask Me Anything on Friday, June 9th, thank you all for being with me. And again, Megan, we wish you the best. Thank you so much to Ben. Thank you so much. And everyone we go forth and prosper, right? Can I do that [laughter], even though that's not...

Megan: It's not franchise, but okay, [laughter], 

Scott: I'm just saying it's not a franchise, but it's close enough. [laughter] Thank you everyone for joining.

Megan: Thanks everyone, and thank you, Scott.

Scott: Thank you, Megs. Have a great one.

Megan: Alright, bye.

Scott: Bye