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In addition to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, 2021 is the year of broadband expansion. With internet access becoming an absolute necessity during the pandemic, all 50 states have begun investing in deploying broadband infrastructure and subsidizing the cost of internet access for low-income families. Find out what your state is doing to promote universal broadband access and how your state compares to the rest of the country.
How is your state addressing the digital divide?
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Alabama’s Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Connect Alabama Act into effect in July 2021. . This bill will establish the Alabama Digital Expansion Division, which will be responsible for creating a plan to connect all Alabama residents to high-speed internet in the most cost-efficient way. The group will also be responsible for upgrading future broadband networks and technological equipment.
Two service providers in Alaska, Quintillion and GC, were awarded with over $46 million through the USDA Broadband ReConnect Program at the end of 2020. The providers are matching this grant with nearly $17 million, which means a total of $63 million will be invested into broadband expansion in Alaska.
In January 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey released a broadband proposal that includes investing $33.1 million to deploy approximately 195 miles of broadband conduit along I-40 to the California border. This investment is in addition to the $40 million the state invested in 2019 for deploying broadband conduit and fiber along I-17 and I-19. In addition to the $33.1 million proposal for deployment along I-40, the governor also proposed investing $10 million into Rural Broadband Development Grant Program, which is a program that helps accelerate the development of rural broadband infrastructure throughout Arizona.
Additionally, on May 10, Gov. Ducey signed HB 2596 in order to help expand broadband access in Arizona. The bill allows private broadband providers to operate telecommunications equipment within the Arizona Department of Transportation’s rights-of-way. Gov. Ducey explained that HB 2596 “will help Arizonans living in rural and tribal areas gain access to fast, affordable and reliable internet.”
Arkansas was one of the many states that prohibited municipal governments from becoming their own broadband company for their local communities. However, in February, Arkansas’s congress passed bill SB74, which amends the state’s Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013.
This means removing nearly all barriers for municipal broadband companies in the state. Arkansas also offers the Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) which is a federal- and state-funded grant program that expands broadband to rural parts of Arkansas.
California plans to invest $354 million over the next five years to deploy broadband and invest in improved technology and infrastructure. Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced the California broadband Action Plan in 2020, which specifically focuses on making broadband affordable and available to all California residents. Gov. Newsom also released a 2021-2022 budget proposal to invest $1 million for state library access and $8 million toward the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, which will provide broadband access to the state’s public libraries, community colleges, state universities and any other state-run educational institutions.
In July 2021, the California governor signed a historic broadband budget bill. This bill will invest $5.25 billion on broadband expansion, with $3.25 billion of the funding going towards an open-access middle-mile network. This middle-mile network would be infrastructure that all ISPs, both public and private, could connect to. ISPs would then just have to provide the “last mile” of service to connect households to the network. This is a way to keep costs down and promote greater competition among ISPs.
Colorado created the Broadband Fund in 2016 to help connect residents to broadband. This has been achieved by providing grants to underserved communities through the Broadband Development Board. Within the past five years, the board has provided nearly $41 million in grants to a total of 51 projects. This money has connected over 25,500 rural households throughout Colorado.
Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut has set the goal of providing universal broadband access of 1 gig download speeds and 200 Mbps upload speeds to all Connecticut residents by 2027. In order to achieve this goal, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will create a broadband office. This department will track broadband deployment policies and standards, improve broadband mapping, support municipal governments in creating their own broadband companies and more.
In addition to Connecticut’s long-term plan to get its residents connected to broadband, Connecticut has also addressed immediate connectivity issues facing the state. For instance, Connecticut became the first state in December 2020 to provide a learning device to every PK-12 student in need of a computer for school. The state purchased 82,000 laptops and connected 44,000 households to the internet in order to ensure students would be able to learn remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative cost $43.5 million, which came from the state’s portion of the federal CARES Act.
In 2020, Delaware invested $20 million into expanding broadband service throughout the state. This money was used to subsidize the cost of internet service for low-income households and expand internet access in areas that are currently ‘internet deserts.’ This investment will help support Delaware’s goal of achieving high-speed internet access for all Delaware residents.
In December 2020, the FCC awarded Florida’s largest internet providers with $191 million to expand broadband infrastructure to rural areas throughout Florida. Florida’s ISPs received this funding through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), a program created in January 2020 to deploy broadband infrastructure to unserved rural communities.
More recently, in May 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1239, which gives Florida ISPs more opportunities to expand internet access in rural parts of Florida. This bill will ideally help connect underserved or unserved communities to broadband.
Gov. Brian Kemp released a broadband budget proposal in the beginning of 2021 which includes $40 million to create the Rural Innovation Fund. Kemp plans to invest $20 million for the 2021 fiscal year in order to deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas throughout Georgia and then invest $10 million for each year going forward.
Georgia also offers the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative as a way to help deploy highspeed internet of at least 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds to all Georgia residents. This program was founded in 2018.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands received $30 million from the federal government to expand fiber optic broadband infrastructure throughout Hawaii. Hawaii currently has a goal of providing “consistent, quality internet access” to all Hawaii residents by 2030.
Idaho’s Gov. Brad Little has proposed to invest $54 million to expand broadband infrastructure to rural unserved and underserved communities. This proposal is part of a larger plan of economic development in Idaho, referred to as “Building Idaho’s Future.”
At the beginning of 2021, Idaho was also awarded over $38 million by the Idaho Department of Commerce for broadband expansion. This money will fund 83 different broadband projects throughout the state.
In 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker started the Connect Illinois program, which was an initiative to deploy broadband infrastructure through the state. Through the Connect Illinois program, the state will provide $400 million for a broadband grant program. The state will also spend $20 million on the Illinois Century Network, which is an initiative to connect public K-12 and higher education institutions to high-speed internet. The first round of funding for these two programs began June 2020.
Indiana lawmakers are currently in the process of passing various broadband expansion bills. As of March 2021, legislators have been looking into investing $50,000 toward the rural broadband fund for each certified county in Indiana.
This totals to up to $100 million in broadband expansion grants. Indiana expects to receive hundreds of millions from the federal government as well for broadband expansion through the American Rescue Plan.
Through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana now also offers a public broadband portal for residents of Indiana to report if their internet is slower than 25/3 (download/upload) Mbps. This portal was created in April 2021.
As of March 2021, the Empower Rural Iowa Grant Program awarded over $15 million to internet providers in Iowa in order to deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas that are currently unserved or underserved.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has stated she plans to connect all Iowans to high-speed internet of at least 100 Mbps by 2025. She has suggested the state invest $450 million to achieve this goal.
Similar to many other states, Kansas has decided to allocate $60 million of its coronavirus relief funds that it received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in April 2020 to expand broadband access throughout the state. The state will use this money to fund grant programs to deploy broadband in underserved areas and to help subsidize internet access for low-income families.
Kentucky plans to invest $300 million on expanding broadband access throughout the state. Approximately $250 million of the funding will come from the state and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
From Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 2021, the state also collected data on internet access by creating the Kentucky Broadband Speed Test. Kentucky is now using the data it collected to determine which areas require broadband deployment.
Louisiana recently announced that it plans to invest $180 million worth of grants over three years to expand broadband access. These grants will be given to telecommunication firms to deploy broadband infrastructure in underserved communities.
Maine decided in July 2020 to invest $15 million in bond money into broadband expansion for unserved and underserved communities throughout the state. The funding goes through the ConnectMaine Authority and requires communities to apply for a grant.
The first round of grant funding for broadband expansion was approved in May 2021. Currently, $8.7 million of the $15 million has been allocated to 20 different broadband projects in a total of 11 countries.
Maryland is currently in the process of developing a statewide plan to ensure all Maryland residents have access to high-speed, affordable internet. Maryland plans to have a developed plan by July 1, 2022 and to achieve its goal of universal broadband access throughout the state by Dec. 31, 2026. Maryland is in the process of passing The Digital Connectivity Act of 2021 (SB0066), which will establish the Office of Digital Inclusion in the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Through the Mass Internet Connect program, Gov. Charlie Baker plans announced in January, 2021 a $9 million initiative to expand broadband access in underserved communities. Major internet providers, including Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon will be given this investment to deploy broadband infrastructure in the most underserved parts of the state.
Michigan plans to expand broadband access to 249,263 sites across the state by investing nearly $363 million in federal funding over the course of the next 10 years. This plan was announced by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in December 2020. Michigan will receive this federal funding through the FCC’s RDOF.
Under Gov. Tim Walz, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will provide $20 million in broadband grants to a total of 39 projects across the state. Local governments receiving funding for broadband expansion are also investing their own money. Local governments have matched the $20 million state funding with $33 million. This money will improve broadband access to nearly 7,000 businesses, homes and institutions.
From 2016 to 2028, Minnesota will receive a total of $1.2 billion from the federal government to expand broadband. The state’s goal is to connect all Minnesota residents to speeds of 25/3 (download/upload) Mbps by 2022 and 100/20 (download/upload) Mbps by 2026.
Mississippi will receive a portion of the $1 billion the fiber optic company C Spire is investing over the next four years for Gigabit broadband and 5G wireless expansion. (Alabama is the other state receiving a portion of this investment.) By 2025, C Spire plans to deploy fiber infrastructure within 1,000 feet of half of all Mississippi homes. C Spire also plans to provide 5G service to nearly 600 sites by 2025. This will give over 60% of the state 5G wireless service.
Mississippi is also improving its broadband infrastructure through $75 million of federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. This funding was matched by other electric cooperatives for a total investment of $150 million.
The FCC is providing 17 ISPs with a total of $346 million in funding to deploy broadband infrastructure to 199,211 locations in Missouri. The FCC released its funding decisions in December 2020. This was Phase I of the FCC’s RDOF auction.
Through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, the state of Montana will receive nearly $2.7 billion of funding. Although Montana lawmakers have not decided how much of this funding will go toward broadband expansion, Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman has proposed investing $350 million to increase broadband access for Montana residents.
On May 26, 2021, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed Legislative Bill (LB) 388 into law. This bill creates the Broadband Bridge Program, which will distribute $40 million over the course of two years to expand broadband access to underserved and unserved communities. A community that does not meet the speed threshold of 25/3 Mbps is considered unserved and a community that does not meet the speed requirement of 100/25 Mbps is considered underserved.
The goal of the Broadband Bridge Program would be to increase speeds in unserved and underserved communities to 100/100 Mbps. The state estimates that this $40 million investment will help connect 30,000 Nebraskans to broadband service.
Through the USDA Reconnect Pilot Program, Nevada received $2.4 million in the beginning of 2020 to expand broadband infrastructure for rural Nevada residents. This funding will improve rural connectivity for 273 households, seven farms, seven businesses and a community facility in eastern Nevada.
New Hampshire will allocate $50 million of its CARES Act Coronavirus Relief funding to increase broadband expansion. The funding will go toward The Connecting New Hampshire program, which is part of the federal government’s Emergency Broadband Expansion Program.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced a plan in July 2020 to invest $115 million to help close the digital divide in New Jersey. The state was able to launch the Digital Divide Grant that month, which provided $54 million to public schools struggling with internet and computer access. The remaining funding for Gov. Murphy’s digital divide plan is expected to come from philanthropic donations. New Jersey is also set to receive $190 million for broadband expansion through the federally funded American Rescue Plan.
On March 3, 2021, New Mexico’s Senate passed Bill 93. The bill created the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion in order to oversee plans for providing broadband access to all New Mexico residents. Money will be distributed by the Connect New Mexico Council. This council will consist of 15 members who will oversee $130 million in broadband grants throughout 2021.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a 2021 connectivity agenda which included a “first-in-the-nation” requirement for internet providers to offer a $15/mo. internet plan for qualifying low-income households. This requirement is part of the Affordable Broadband Act, which Cuomo signed into law on April 16, 2021. The $15/mo. requirement officially went live on June 16 and it is to ensure all households are able to afford internet service.
New York will also create a website for residents to discover affordable internet plans in their area. The website will also provide reports on which parts of the state are experiencing coverage gaps and customers’ experience with different internet providers.
North Carolina is spending $30 million through the 2020 Special Supplementary Round of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grant program in order to fund various broadband expansion projects. There are currently 18 broadband infrastructure projects in place that will help connect 15,965 households and 703 businesses in rural North Carolina to high-speed internet. One local provider, RiverStreet Wireless, was awarded $1.5 million through the GREAT Grant to connect 2,857 households and 61 businesses in Caswell County to broadband service.
Additionally, in May 2021, North Carolina unanimously passed House Bill 947. This bill will provide $750 million of funding for broadband expansion in rural, less developed areas of North Carolina.
The local ISP, Polar Communications, is using the $21.2 million it received from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program to expand broadband infrastructure to rural households and businesses across the state. Polar Communications received its first round of funding in January 2020. During that time, another local ISP, Daktel Communications, received $1.8 million, to expand broadband service to 400 households and three educational facilities through Jamestown, North Dakota.
Ohio initially planned to invest $190 million on broadband expansion between 2022 and 2023. However, in July 2021, the Ohio senate signed legislation to cut taxes by $1.3 billion. This decision to remove broadband funding in order to cut taxes has sparked considerable controversy. Reps. Rick Carfaga (R-Genoa Township) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) wrote in a statement,
“Given today’s Senate announcement to remove these funds in totality, I look forward to hearing how they intend to accomplish House Bill 2’s vision of facilitating the expansion of high-speed internet to unserved households across Ohio.”
Oklahoma also received funding from the USDA through the ReConnect program. Oklahoma will receive $26.4 million to invest in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved rural areas throughout the state.
Oklahoma has also allocated $42 million in tax rebates for broadband expansion. This money will be part of the state budgeting for next year’s fiscal year.
Oregon plans to invest $118 million in broadband expansion. Although not yet approved, Gov. Kate Brown’s broadband expansion proposal will focus on connecting both rural areas of Oregon and also communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic to high-speed internet. Gov. Brown plans to allocate $10 million of the $118 million to connectivity for schools.
In December 2020, the FCC announced that it would provide Pennsylvania with $369 million for broadband expansion. The main focus of this investment is to connect rural residents to better internet service through the deployment of new broadband technology. This project is estimated to connect 327,000 Pennsylvania residents in approximately 185,000 unserved homes and businesses over the next 10 years.
Rhode Island has received two sizable grants for broadband expansion. The state has received over $4.5 million from Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation for the purpose of Broadband Data & Development and has received over $62.5 million from the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development for infrastructure deployment, particularly in underserved parts of the state.
The FCC announced in December 2020 that South Carolina will receive $121 million over the next 10 years for broadband expansion in rural areas. This money is from the Universal Service Fund and will help connect more than 108,000 households to the internet.
On March 29, 2021, Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal of allocating $100 million for broadband expansion was approved. This money will mainly be for deploying infrastructure to underserved areas (any community with speeds below 100/20 Mbps) and will prioritize projects that can lead to additional investment through federal grants or private investments.
South Dakota will also receive a huge amount of funding from the federal government over the next decade to expand broadband access to rural homes and businesses. This funding could total as much as $1 billion.
Tennessee received a total of $61.1 million in emergency grants from the Coronavirus Relief Fund in August 2020. This money will fund various projects for broadband deployment. One of the biggest projects approved by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development was a $6.9 million grant that will go to the Volunteer Energy Cooperative. This organization will use its grant earnings to deploy broadband infrastructure in parts of Cumberland County, Meigs, Roane and Hamilton County.
Tennessee also plans to invest $450,000 in order to create a statewide map that will identify broadband coverage in Tennessee. This will help the state determine where future funding should go for broadband expansion.
In July 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 5 into law, which expands the duties of the new Broadband Development Office that will monitor state broadband expansion. Texas will also receive a huge amount of funding from the federal government to expand broadband access. The state will receive $16.7 billion in Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Fund to deploy broadband infrastructure and local governments will likely receive an additional $10.4 billion. Online learning funding is also a big focus for Texas. The state will receive $12.4 billion to address online learning through The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Schools and libraries will also directly receive $7 billion to help connect students to the internet.
Gov. Spencer Cox has proposed to invest $50 million on broadband expansion. The main focus will be to deploy fiber optic infrastructure to underserved areas and to ensure all students are able to access the internet. This budget proposal was submitted in January 2021 and, if approved, will be applied to Utah’s 2022 budget plan.
Vermont’s Governor, Phil Scott, approved bill H.360 on June 8, 2021, which will provide $100 million in broadband expansion to the state. This money will largely come from federal funding through the American Rescue Act and will be used to deploy broadband infrastructure, which has been a challenge for the state since Vermont is one of the lowest-density states in the country. The goal of this bill is to achieve universal broadband access across the state.
One of Virginia’s primary focuses has been on expanding internet access to low-income students during the pandemic. In order to address this issue, Virginia passed Senate Bill 1225, which subsidizes the cost of internet for qualifying students. This would allow low-income families to only pay $9.95/mo. for internet access. This is an extremely affordable rate when compared to the $60/mo. the average American is paying for internet access. According to Sen. Jennifer Bokyso, 600,000 students will qualify for this subsidy program.
Virginia is also providing up to $29.6 million in grants to help rural parts of Virginia get connected to the internet. This money is being distributed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Virginia hopes to have all residents connected to the internet by 2028.
In October 2020, the Washington State Public Works Board announced they would be providing $18 million in grants and loans for broadband expansion. As of now, there are seven broadband construction projects underway to install broadband infrastructure in underserved communities throughout the state.
Legislators are also working to create more options for broadband access in rural areas. Through both House Bill 1336 and Senate Bill 5383, the state is attempting to create an easier path for public entities to offer broadband service in areas where private companies don’t want to serve.
The federal government has agreed to provide West Virginia with $362 million to invest in broadband expansion throughout the state. This money will be given to internet providers to help them rollout broadband infrastructure. Although this funding is a great start for connecting rural communities to high-speed internet, many feel, including Del. Mick Bates of Raleigh County, that the state needs to do more than invest money; they also need to begin regulating providers.
“The state is going to put millions of dollars down at these companies, without any regulatory framework to make sure they do the right thing, spend the money the right way, and people who don’t get what they need have nowhere to go to complain and get their questions answered.”
Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers announced in January 2021 a 2021-2023 budget proposal of $200 million for broadband expansion. The majority of the funding ($150 million) would go toward grants for deploying broadband infrastructure and the rest would primarily go to subsidizing the cost of broadband for low-income households.
The Wyoming Business Council Board of Directors approved 37 broadband expansion projects which will cost $86 million. Wyoming is using part of the money it received from the federal CARES Act to help deploy broadband infrastructure throughout the state.
Gov. Mark Gordon commented,
“This funding will help connect rural communities in Wyoming that may not have had the chance to get service otherwise. Now, the people in Wyoming’s most rural communities will be able to access the essential services they need to cope with the effects of COVID-19, and to access the opportunities that high-speed internet provides for years to come.”
Written by:Ari Howard
Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team, focusing on broadband and wireless news, as well as broadband and TV provider deals. She recently graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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