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    What the American Rescue Plan is Doing for Broadband

    Featured in:

    Tuesday, March 15, 2022

    Digital Beat

    The Biden Administration celebrated the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan Act last week. The law aimed to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses. Broadband played a big role. A year later, we look at the types of broadband projects the American Rescue Plan Act is funding.

    Emergency Connectivity Fund

    The American Rescue Plan Act created the Emergency Connectivity Fund, providing $7.171 billion to reimburse schools and libraries for providing free broadband service (and connected devices) to students and patrons at their homes. To date, the Federal Communications Commission has committed more than $4.69 billion in program funding to connect over 12.5 million students with broadband connections and equipment. The Emergency Connectivity Fund so far has supported over 5 million connected devices and over 10 million broadband connections.

    Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems (including air cards), routers, devices that combine a modem and router, and connected devices (laptop and tablet computers). Schools and libraries can also receive funding for commercially available broadband service that provides a fixed or mobile broadband connection for off-campus use by students, school staff or library patrons.

    State and Local Recovery Funds

    The American Rescue Plan Act provides $219.8 billion to states, territories and Tribal entities and $120.2 billion to local governments and counties for local economic recovery purposes, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, assistance to hard-hit industries like tourism, travel, and hospitality, and water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure investment. No money is earmarked specifically for broadband.

    In twenty states these Fiscal Recovery Funds are being invested to expand broadband access. Here’s a look at some of the projects.

    Yavapai County, Arizona, will use $20 million for the design, construction, implementation, and maintenance of telecommunications equipment and services providing “last mile” internet access to communities. The focus is on ensuring unserved or underserved households and businesses in unincorporated areas in Yavapai County receive high-speed broadband.

    Delaware will use $110 million to construct broadband infrastructure. The program will make grants for building, expanding, and sustaining new broadband service capabilities to unserved rural areas throughout the state and providing “last mile” connections. The Delaware Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program will provide state funding to private partners to provide service at no less than 100 Mbps/200 Mbps speeds.

    Orange County, Florida, has committed $7.4 million to expand access to broadband infrastructure. This initiative will provide last-mile service directly to homes and/or businesses. The intended outcome of the project is for every eligible residential address to have “last mile” broadband infrastructure.

    Waterloo, Iowa, will use $2.5 million for the design and construction of a city-owned fiber network to provide high-speed reliable broadband internet to connect residents and businesses.

    To facilitate the provision of high-capacity broadband to all homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Reservation in Kansas, the Tribal government will construct and deploy a new fiber optic cable network throughout specified areas of the reservation. All entities connected to the network as result of this project will have maximum download speeds of 2.4GB and upload speeds of 1GB. This project is proposing to connect 100% of the homes to fiber as well as the remaining unconnected businesses and community anchor institutions and provide 1 GB speeds at an affordable rate.

    Boone County, Kentucky, will construct fiber-to-the-premises, high-speed broadband infrastructure capable of delivering 1-gigabit speed service to every household in the county. The county will also address affordability through a strategic partnership with the incumbent service provider, Cincinnati Bell, to authorize a discount on monthly service to individual subscribers.

    Hancock County, Maine, will invest $530,000 in expanding broadband access in the county, with a focus on underserved areas.

    Maryland is investing $400 million in expanding access to broadband internet. The state will make grants to local jurisdictions to increase broadband service to currently unserved areas.

    Stearns County, Minnesota, will use $16 million to expand broadband access by establishing a public-private partnership with incentives to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to serve unserved and underserved premises. The county will provide a portion of the capital needed to build out 500 Mbps of services to homes and businesses.

    Madison County, Mississippi, will provide fiber-to-home broadband service to a largely underserved rural area in the northeast portion of the county.

    The Quapaw Tribe in Oklahoma will use funds to expand broadband services to Tribal government buildings that do not currently have reliable access to the internet.

    Florence County, South Carolina, will use $4.5 million to bring new broadband service to approximately 3,320 residential and business addresses that are unserved or underserved. Funds will support the installation of a fiber-to-the-premises wireline broadband network capable of delivering up to 1000 Mbps download/500 Mbps upload speeds.

    Vermont has spent $31 million so far to support and accelerate the state’s goal of achieving universal access to reliable, high-quality, affordable broadband. These funds will provide high-speed service to unserved or underserved households and businesses. (See more on Vermont’s broadband plans.)

    Frederick County, Virginia, will use $8.6 million to participate in a regional project to develop fiber-to-the-home broadband service, which includes eight localities. Broadband service will be made available to roughly 42,700 currently unserved locations in the region, including all locations in Frederick County that remain unserved by cable or fiber-to-the-home broadband. The project will leverage a partnership between the localities, the electric cooperatives, and a broadband provider.

    Putnam County, West Virginia, will use $10 million to construct a fiber-optic broadband network designed to provide reliable, high speed internet to all residents and businesses in the county.

    Still to Come: Capital Projects

    The American Rescue Plan also includes the $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to help states, territories, and Tribal governments to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the pandemic. 

    A key priority of this program, run by the U.S. Department of Treasury, is to make funding available for reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure and other digital connectivity technology projects. Recipients may also use funds for certain other capital projects, such as multi-purpose community facilities, that enable work, education, and healthcare monitoring, including remote options. The program encourages recipients to focus on economically distressed areas, support community empowerment, and adopt strong labor practices.

    In December 2021 states and territories indicated to Treasury their intent to use their allocated funds. (Tribal Governments have a June 1, 2022 deadline to do the same.) By September 24, 2022, states must submit a grant plan for the funds. A grant plan will consist of an executive summary, an allocation table showing the broad categories of Capital Projects the recipient seeks to undertake using Capital Projects Fund grant funds (e.g., Broadband Infrastructure Projects, Digital Connectivity Technology Projects, MultiPurpose Community Facility Projects), and how much the recipient intends to spend on each such category, and one or more Program Plans. Each Program Plan is intended to provide more detailed information on a particular type of Capital Project(s) the Recipient intends to undertake, and constitutes an applicant’s request for funding for those Capital Projects.

    More information about how states plan to use their Capital Projects funds is expected in coming weeks. 

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