On May 10, 2022, NTIA announced that it had developed a Tribal Broadband Planning Toolkit (“Toolkit”) that will help Tribes simplify the process of creating a broadband plan. A number of broadband grant programs, including the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, require applicants to provide, as a part of their application, a broadband plan that details the design, buildout, and operation of the proposed broadband network, which will significant factor in an applicant’s ability to receive funding. NTIA anticipates that this Toolkit will provide Tribes with guidance, knowledge, and resources to design, implement, and execute a broadband plan in their communities.
The Toolkit outlines seven common elements that NTIA views as the building blocks of a successful broadband plan:
- Assemble a Team: Tribes should ensure that they have gathered a team of people that have the skills and resources to help the Tribe accomplish its broadband goals. Specifically, Tribes should consider what skills will be required, which individuals may have those skills that they can invite to join their team, and also identify a leader of the broadband project.
- Determine Priorities: Tribes should establish a set of clear priorities that will help their communities or expand meaningful access to broadband. This involves understanding the basic concepts behind access and use, identifying barriers to meaningful broadband access, and identifying how Tribes can address those barriers in their communities.
- Explore the Data: Tribes should measure and evaluate current broadband availability in their communities. This involves exploring various data sources that provide insight into what broadband looks like in a Tribe’s community and learning how to measure the community’s current internet usage and access, including determining which metrics are most significant for the Tribe.
- Build Relationships for Success: Tribes should identify partners they can engage through the broadband planning process. Tribes should consider both governmental and private partners, and determine what role they will play and where in the process they may be most significantly involved.
- Select the Right Solutions: Tribes should determine what specific methods they will use to reach their broadband goals. Tribes should consider which sorts of technologies (e.g. fiber, fixed wireless, cable, etc.) or programs (e.g. digital literacy training, discounts or subsidies, etc.) should be involved and potential funding options to support the plan.
- Prepare a Budget: Tribes should ensure they develop a budget that accounts for the various expenses in the plan. This will involve calculating the overall cost for each phase of the plan (pre-construction, construction, and maintenance), along with how much the labor and individual items needed for each phase will cost, and justifying the decision to choose a certain vendor or product over others.
- Chart a Path Forward: Tribes should develop a project plan to guide execution of the broadband plan. The final plan will include the project objective, key activities, points of contact, a timeline, the status of an activity, and risks or potential delays. NTIA expects this to be a living document that will be updated to reflect the changing realties of the Tribe’s project.
The Toolkit contains worksheets to complete each building block, which can be used in any order depending on the current state of the Tribe’s planning. It also has a ready-to-use Tribal Broadband Plan template in excel format that users can download and use to develop their broadband plans, a guide to help Tribal communities assess their strengths, a broadband planning checklist, and a list of key terms and resources. NTIA anticipates that this Toolkit will serve as a reference guide for Tribes throughout the broadband planning process.