WASHINGTON- The US Treasury Department announced on Tuesday that the first state prizes will go to Virginia, Louisiana, New Hampshire and West Virginia as part of a massive federal effort to provide high-speed internet access. affordable to every American home and business.
The projects in the four states are the first to receive funding under a $10 billion broadband access investment project fund included as part of the COVID-19 relief bill. 19 of Congress 2021, the US bailout.
The program is part of a series of new initiatives aimed at making high-speed Internet accessible to all Americans.
“COVID has made it clear that broadband isn’t an ‘advantage to have,’ it’s an economic necessity,” Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who lobbied for the broadband plan at the Senate, on a call with reporters. announce the rewards.
Broadband internet remains out of reach for tens of millions of Americans, many of them in rural areas. Those living in more remote areas are among the last to gain access, as for most large broadband companies it has not been profitable enough to connect to the small number of households there.
Nearly 20% of rural Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps or faster broadband service, according to the 2021 report on access from the Federal Communications Commission.
The pandemic demonstrated the urgency of internet access as people relied on remote connections for medical visits, school and work.
In response, Congress has allocated record levels of funding to expand broadband access to underserved communities – through the Infrastructure Bill, various COVID-19 relief bills, and the spending law for fiscal year 2022. The new cash flow creates a unique opportunity for states to connect nearly everyone to high-speed internet.
“Three to four years from now, we shouldn’t have an excuse if you can’t get broadband,” Warner said.
The US bailout has already spent or committed more than $25 billion to invest in affordable broadband internet and connectivity. Of that, $10 billion comes from the Capital Projects Fund, which will provide resources directly to the states.
Those working on the program say this new surge in funding and programs from state and federal governments represents a new era. Gene Sperling, the White House’s US bailout coordinator, said he’s been working on various efforts to bridge the digital divide since the Clinton administration and he’s never seen anything like what’s happening. currently happening.
“Without a doubt, there has never been anything like a pandemic to create a national teaching moment that we cannot have equality unless all Americans have access to affordable high-speed internet,” Sperling said.
Too many programs?
But a federal watchdog recently criticized the government for its excessive programs to expand internet access. There are more than 100 federal programs administered by 15 different agencies, according to a report last week from the Government Accountability Office. The watchdog said this had led to a fragmented and overlapping patchwork of programs that would need to be synced.
Jacob Leibenluft, who oversees this program for the Treasury Department, said his agency has worked with others in the federal government to collaborate on data and programs to try to manage the problem.
The first grants include $177 million to Louisiana to connect nearly 88,500 homes without internet access through a competitive grant program in the state. State officials estimate this will reduce the digital divide for approximately 25% of state residents without high-speed internet.
Virginia will receive $220 million to expand high-speed Internet access to more than 76,800 homes and businesses, or about 28% of those without Internet access.
New Hampshire will receive $50 million to bring high-speed Internet service to 15,000 homes and businesses under the state’s broadband contract program. The program aims to connect the state’s underserved rural areas and is expected to bring high-speed internet to half of those currently without it, according to state officials.
These states are the first to receive grants because they were the first fully developed plans to enter, according to the Treasury Department. The agency will continue to approve states’ plans on an ongoing basis. The deadline for states to submit their plans is the end of September.