In a new story for The Daily Yonder, Brian Whitacre and Christina Biedny explore the newly signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is poised to drop significant money into expanding rural broadband internet access. But just how many states with rural areas are actually ready to increase access?
From the story: “The largest portion of the forthcoming broadband funding is the BEAD program focused on the provision of new broadband infrastructure. Each state will be awarded an initial amount of $100 million, with the remainder of the $42.5 billion allocated based on the percentage of unserved locations across states. The states are then responsible for disbursing these funds as subgrants. Unserved locations can include agricultural and business sites, not just households.
So, while it might seem unfair that Vermont, with fewer than 50,000 people classified as unserved, receives the same initial allocation as Texas, with over 1.2 million people unserved, this investment is less than 15% of the total BEAD funding. The $100 million should also provide an incentive for states to establish their five-year action plans and to set up offices capable of awarding grants within their borders.
The task of setting up a process to handle grant applications and assess which ones should be funded is not trivial. Recent research has defined a competitive grant program as a key component of state broadband policy, including the establishment of evaluation criteria.
States with existing broadband offices and grant programs will be well positioned to hit the ground running. States that to date don’t have broadband offices are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming. The District of Columbia also does not have a broadband office. These governments will need to put considerable time and effort into establishing ground rules and recruiting and educating employees to handle the grant evaluation process.”
With $100 million coming their way and the task of creating a five-year plan before them, time will tell if the states listed above will actually expand internet access or at least update existing infrastructure.
To read the rest of the story on the Yonder, click here.
To see RHQ’s yearly data on each state’s rural Broadband Access, click here. (link will go to our recently published 2020 U.S. Rural Health Report Card, which measures such data as rural internet access, dental care access, and mental health care access)