Four states to expand broadband with pandemic relief infrastructure fund

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The U.S. Treasury Department said Tuesday that broadband expansion projects in four states will be the first beneficiaries of a $10 billion infrastructure fund included in last year’s American Rescue Plan.

Agencies in Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia and West Virginia were awarded payments from the Coronavirus Capital Relief Fund, which was designed to fund capital projects that directly address the needs of workers, schools and health services raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Capital Relief Fund is separate from the $350 billion for state and local governments that was a centerpiece of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, though many states are using their allotments from that larger portion to cover broadband programs.

In total, the four awards announced Tuesday will distribute $500 million across the four states, potentially reaching about 200,000 households and businesses in underserved areas, the Treasury said. The largest payment will go to Virginia, which will receive $220 million to build last-mile connections capable of download and upload speeds of at least 100 megabits per second to nearly 77,000 locations. Neighboring West Virginia will spend its $136 million award on three grant programs that target 20,000 potential homes and businesses, according to a Treasury fact sheet.

Meanwhile, Louisiana plans to use $176.7 million to shore up its Granting Unserved Municipalities
Broadband Opportunities — or GUMBO — program, which distributes competitive grants in parts of the state that lack high-speed internet. Officials expect the new funding to benefit an estimated 88,500 residents, about one-quarter of Louisianans who currently don’t have broadband access. And New Hampshire officials expect the $50 million that state is receiving to reach up to half of all locations still lacking fast internet service.

“The pandemic turned so many aspects of life online from work to school and laid bare the urgency of closing the digital divide for all Americans – especially those living in rural, tribal, and low-income communities,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a press release.

All four states awarded Tuesday are also participating in the FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Program, which gives lower-income households monthly discounts of up to $30 on their internet subscriptions.

The Treasury’s announcement came amid a boom time for federal broadband funding. Last month the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration started the process of distributing $45 billion for high-speed internet that came through last November’s infrastructure spending law.

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American Rescue Plan, Broadband, Louisiana, New Hampshire, U.S. Treasury, Virginia, West Virginia
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