In 2021 we’re seeing an unprecedented time in America for funding broadband across states, counties, cities, small towns and tribal lands. Momentum is cresting into a wave of many opportunities that we hope to address in the coming weeks in a series of articles. For this conversation, we’ll focus on how the American Rescue Plan (ARP) can bring communities long-awaited opportunities to help bridge the digital divide.
Under President Joe Biden’s administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (H.R. 1319), passed in March, the American Rescue Plan provides the state, local and Tribal levels a share of $350B, with $219B dedicated to the Covid State Fiscal Recovery Fund ($20B of which is allotted to Tribes). Uses of these funds are broad and include:
- Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Covering costs incurred from the public health emergency.
- Replacing lost, decreased, or delayed city revenues caused by the pandemic.
- Addressing the negative economic impacts on local businesses and nonprofits.
- Making necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
That last item brings so much possibility for the United States. Even the manner in which broadband is grouped with water and sewer infrastructure frames it—finally—as an essential part of everyday American life. COVID-19 has crystallized the longstanding gap in access to broadband and brought focus to the way some entities broadly define a “wired community” in their mapping—often giving a false impression of more broadband presence than truly exists. Building broadband infrastructure can bring positive impacts at a time it’s needed more than ever for education, job security, telehealth, public safety and much more.
Under the plan, $65.1 billion of the Recovery Fund will provide direct aid to counties based on the county share of the U.S. population. American cities and towns will also share $65.1 billion in direct and flexible federal funds. In our state, $1.1 billion is coming to Washington cities, $1.4 billion directly to Washington counties and $4.25 billion for the state. Federal funding should start arriving in a few months and will be distributed in two tranches: the first will arrive in 2021 and the second in 2022. Funds will be available to local, state and Tribal entities through December 31, 2024.
Is your community ready to use this money? The checklist is numerous (with many more checklists within each), but importantly these are some of the big pieces:
- Facilitate relationships with community stakeholders to determine mutual needs and share resources toward planning and executing on an infrastructure project
- Secure plans to meet application deadlines to be awarded the moment funds become available
- Create “shovel-ready” broadband projects, so no time is wasted before the spend-by deadline.
- Engage the Washington State Broadband Office for partnership. This office works to help bridge the technological divide, create jobs, and to improve education, health care, and public safety in our communities statewide. Make sure they know your community would like to be a partner!
- Start the conversation with NoaNet. We have helped many communities facilitate broadband planning and have been serving Washington State for more than 20 years. We’ll help get your community on the Road to Broadband and be there to support you at every step of the journey.
Now is the time for communities to invest in their broadband infrastructure to improve their citizens’ quality of life and promote economic prosperity. Application deadlines will vary and some opportunities are still in development, but use-it-or-lose-it deadlines to spend the funds call for smart planning. States, municipalities, community organizations, and Tribal governments must strategize now if they intend to take advantage of the unprecedented funding about to flow into their communities. The prosperous ones will be those that crafted actionable plans ahead of time. We can help.
Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation that has been serving Washington State since 2000. As a mission-driven organization, NoaNet focuses on bringing world-class telecommunications technology to hard-to-reach communities which lack access to high-speed affordable broadband services.