The unprecedented stimulus funding authorized by the federal government illustrates a strong willingness to leverage taxpayer dollars to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. A cursory look at key programs coming through the Treasury reveals that approximately $519 billion has been or will be released to address the economic, social, and infrastructural fall-out caused by the pandemic.
Part of this “state-sized tsunami of federal funding” is intended to enable the expansion of broadband access to unserved and underserved populations across local, state, and tribal jurisdictions. Updates to the rules and guidance issued by the Treasury on possible broadband deployment programs further widen the potential reach and overall impact of federal support. That potential will only be reached, however, if state and local leaders can build a deep understanding of existing connectivity issues and think creatively as well as communally about how to utilize these funds.
The first thing to understand is the breakdown of the stimulus funding. Below is a quick summary of how much each stimulus fund is allocated to states, territories, and local units of government, along with the broadband-related use mentioned in the Treasury’s program guidance. Some funding allocations only require state offices to register for funding, while others ask states to submit concrete plans for the use of federal dollars.
State and local government leaders can utilize incoming funding opportunities to address pervasive broadband connectivity gaps and unlock tools to close the digital divide in a variety of innovative ways. Leaders searching for ideas on creative approaches can draw from a number of excellent examples as they emerge. Some states and local governments that had launched digital equity and broadband expansion initiatives are quickly pivoting to include these projects in their relief and recovery programs as funding opportunities emerge. Some early and prominent state-level examples include:
- New York announced $1 billion in public and private investments to advance universal connectivity for New Yorkers. Titled ConnectAll, this initiative leverages state and federal funding to transform the state’s digital infrastructure and increase broadband access and affordability, while also removing state fees and outdated regulations.
- Connecticut appropriated $10 million for low-income and multifamily curb-to-home broadband buildouts in addition to $10 million for grants to underserved areas.
- Virginia appropriated $8 million for the state’s Line Extension Customer Assistance Program to make sure that existing networks reach low-to-moderate-income residents.
- California expanded middle-mile infrastructure.
- Arizona established a statewide broadband office within the Commerce Authority and launched a project that leverages interstate highways to expand broadband access in rural areas.
Community Networks curates an expansive list of broadband projects that communities have initiated using the American Rescue Plan Act funds. Looking through this list and those highlighted above clearly demonstrates that leaders need a panoply of options and strategies to achieve real local impact.
So, what does this mean for various ongoing local efforts? How can I ensure that my community is taking advantage of these funds to deal with gaps in connectivity? Who should I talk to as a state or local leader? Part 2 of this blog series dives into how local leaders can engage with state organizations receiving funding to shape a strategy for lasting impact.
UPDATE: US Ignite launched a Federal Funding Opportunity Tool to help communities easily identify and access information about funding for broadband expansion and other smart city programs. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIN, and Facebook for future tool updates.