Pew looks at what states are doing to apply CARES Act funding to expand broadband…
Nationwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened demand for internet connectivity as work, education, and access to services have shifted online, highlighting the urgency of reaching unconnected Americans. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020, provided more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus to address the pandemic. Among its provisions, the act created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), designating $150 billion for payments “to state, local, and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.”1 States can use this funding to cover pandemic-related costs incurred from the beginning of March through the end of 2020 that were not anticipated in their budgets before March 2020, including broadband access.2
States’ efforts to expand connectivity using these federal resources have focused on four specific needs: increasing access to online learning for K-12 and postsecondary students, supporting telehealth services, deploying more public Wi-Fi access points, and investing in residential broadband infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas.
Here’s who invested in each area:
- Digital learning: Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee
- Telehealth: Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, and Vermont
- Public Wi-Fi: Idaho, Arizona, Missouri
- Residential broadband infrastructure: Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Carolina started new programs. Vermont and Tennessee expanded programs.
The offer advice to policy makers…
States have directed significant Coronavirus Relief Fund resources toward providing temporary help, such as hotspots and public Wi-Fi access, for people who lack reliable home internet connectivity. These efforts, though important, are not long-term solutions to the problem of inadequate residential broadband service. As policymakers work to provide reliable, high-speed internet access to more underserved neighborhoods, they should:
- Prioritize connecting more residences to existing infrastructure. Broadband network infrastructure may be available in communities, but that does not mean every household is connected to it. In many cases, the last pieces of the network—a line extension, service drop, or customer premises equipment—are lacking. The costs to fill those gaps generally fall on property owners and are often prohibitive. Public programs that provide funding for these parts of the network can bring more residents online, particularly in rural and remote communities.
- Invest in planning and oversight for long-term solutions. Broadband projects represent a significant investment in infrastructure and can take months or even years to complete. Successful state broadband grant programs undertake extensive planning and stakeholder engagement to be sure projects are ready to launch when funding becomes available and employ accountability measures to assess the feasibility of applications, track grantee progress, and ensure that funded projects are successful and meet community needs. Vermont, for example, has a broadband program and an Emergency Broadband Action Plan, which identify short- and long-term needs and position projects to take advantage of funding opportunities, respectively. The state’s CRF allocations reflected these efforts and priorities, but states can use this same approach to deploy smaller amounts of money in nonemergency circumstances.
- Coordinate across levels of government to support broadband deployment. Current federal funding sources for broadband have limited engagement with state-level initiatives, which may offer more targeted strategies for addressing the digital divide. The Coronavirus Relief Fund offers more flexibility than standard federal funding sources, allowing states to tailor resources to meet their needs and build on existing progress and programs designed to close gaps in broadband access.
Minnesota, as a state, did not do much with CARES funding. The reason I’ve heard from folks is twofold: first Minnesota could not be assured to complete projects in the deadline set in CARES, also Minnesota has pushed CARES funding decisions to local government.
With that in mind, I’m sharing the list I have of Minnesota CARES projects. If you have projects to add to the list, please let me know:
- Le Sueur County gets Fiber from MetroNet thanks to CARES
- Itasca County Approves CARES Act Funding for Broadband
- Dakota County approves $800,000 in CARES Act funding for broadband
- 46 percent of MN school CARES funding so far going to technology
- Mille Lacs County looks at CARES funding for wireless broadband
- Alexandria, most of the $1.05 million the city received in CARES Act money will be spent on technology upgrades
- Moorhead’s $3.28 million includes some telework equipment
- Otter Tail County reserved some cash for high-speed internet projects
- Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC
- FCC Announces 77 More CARES Act Telehealth Awards: 2 are in MN (Rochester and Onamia)
- HBC Expands Broadband in Rural Winona and Dakota Counties with CARES
- Bevcomm gets CARES funding to improve broadband in Faribault County
- CTC recently received CARES Act funds to deploy better broadband to serval areas, including Cass County