When it Comes to Expanding Connectivity, Georgia and Kansas Are Ready

How Two States Are Leading the Way on Broadband Permitting Reform

As states are busying themselves with plans for the once-in-a-generation broadband investment known as the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, some states are taking smart steps to remove local barriers to speedy broadband deployment.

While expanding connectivity in unserved and underserved communities is a top priority for states, many local municipalities and counties have ordinances and permitting review practices that can dramatically slow broadband projects. Such hurdles to deployment could mean less competition, higher costs, and, ultimately, unnecessary delays to life-changing connectivity for communities that need it most.

To tackle this issue head-on, some states are creating programs that encourage local jurisdictions to adopt a streamlined approach to permitting. These programs strive to make jurisdictions more “broadband ready,” so residents can receive the connectivity they need as quickly and efficiently as possible when BEAD dollars arrive.  

Georgia and Kansas are leading the way on this effort with particularly strong models for broadband readiness programs. Both states have programs that encourage local jurisdictions to adopt a streamlined approach to permitting by offering to designate localities as “Broadband Ready Communities.”

To be classified as a “Broadband Ready Community,” local jurisdictions are required to fulfill certain minimum requirements. The end goal of the programs is to ensure more predictable, proportionate and transparent permitting policies across each state, paving the way for BEAD funding to achieve its goal of providing the benefits of connectivity.

Localities in both Georgia and Kansas earn their certifications by submitting applications demonstrating they have met the programs’ requirements—the primary one being the adoption of a model permitting ordinance.

As a leading example, Georgia has effectively leveraged the “Broadband Ready Community” classification to achieve its stated goal of providing “for the expansion of broadband infrastructure and service through new state and local broadband planning policies.”

To be certified, the Georgia Broadband Program requires localities to adopt a program-approved model ordinance with the following criteria:

  • Provides a single jurisdiction permitting point of contact.
  • Provides justification if charging more than $100 in fees. If another level of government, either state or county, has already charged the applicant, no additional fees can be charged.
  • Applicants must be informed if their application is considered incomplete within 10 calendar days of submission; if the locality has not responded by the 11th day, it is automatically deemed complete.
  • A completed application must be accepted or rejected in 10 calendar days.

Georgia already boasts 49 localities that have adopted these model ordinances and has certified them as “Broadband Ready Communities.” These communities are required by the Georgia Broadband Program to be recertified every year, ensuring consistency in their permitting review practices over time. Georgia’s BEAD Plan fully supports communities obtaining this designation.

In Kansas, similar efforts are underway. To qualify as a “Kansas Broadband Ready Community,” localities must also adopt an ordinance to streamline permitting that aligns with a few minimum requirements, some of which mirror those outlined in the Georgia program. The ordinance must:

  • Provide a single jurisdiction permitting point of contact.
  • Charge no fee more than allowed by Kansas existing state statute.
  • Commit to a 30-day application review process.
  • Move toward, if not already using, an electronic application filing system.
  • Use nondiscriminatory permitting procedures.

The Kansas Broadband Ready Communities (KBRC) program was announced on January 4, 2024, so it is early in the process to compare the results to Georgia, but Kansas’ BEAD Plan also fully supports implementation of KBRC.

Both states offer strong but slightly different programs, showing that Broadband Ready Communities can be tailored to what works best for individual states.

Together, these programs represent smart state leadership in permitting reform that is crucial to realizing the full benefits of broadband expansion in a timely manner.

The good news is they are not alone. Other states like Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, and Wisconsin have similar programs to make their communities more broadband ready.

As the arrival of BEAD dollars approaches, states are running out of time to remove roadblocks to efficient broadband deployment. Adopting measures like the programs in Georgia and Kansas is a proactive step more states should take to remove costly and time-consuming barriers to connecting communities that need it most.