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What's New in Civic Tech: Pew Releases State Broadband Map

Plus, Rhode Island is investing $1.7 million worth of grants into Internet expansion efforts for that state, and the USDA has started to accept applications for its own grants to overcome rural broadband challenges.

Broadband connection
The recently passed federal infrastructure package will send a historic amount of money to broadband connectivity and digital equity efforts, doing so by funneling the money to the work through lower levels of government.

Chief among the recipients of these funds — which makes provisions for $65 million of funding related to broadband and another $2.75 million for digital inclusion work — are public agencies at the state level. While what happens to this money will vary by state — the nature of digital equity work is a mosaic approach, wherein different actions tend to work better in different communities — the fact remains that states have a lot of work ahead of them as conduits for these monies.

Some states have had existing broadband or digital inclusion offices for a few years now, complete with staff members and some (mostly modest) established funding. Other states, however, are not quite as far along when it comes to ensuring that all the residents they serve are able to participate in our increasingly digital world. To this end, a new data visualization makes it easy to gauge what's happening right now in this area within every state.

That visualization is the work of Pew Charitable Trusts, who updated an existing map related to digital inclusion this week. The map conveys what is going on with digital inclusion in each state by breaking it down into four pieces of information, those being whether a state has a broadband office, agency, task force and fund. There's more information past just that too, and the table is incredibly easy to use, conveying an easy and accurate picture of how active state governments have been in helping to get their residents connected. (Zack Quaintance)

RHODE ISLAND INTERNET EXPANSION AWARDS $1.7 MILLION IN GRANTS


Rhode Island has announced $1.7 million in grants for communities across the state that are working to expand Internet access.

The grants — which are funded by the federal-level Community Development Block Grants out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development — are managed by Rhode Island's Office of Housing and Community Development, and that department is using an RFP process to select the recipients of these awards.

The idea here is to fund projects that aim to combat the digital divide by increasing access to high-speed Internet for low- and moderate-income households across the state. According to the 2019 U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, 12.2 percent of Rhode Island households are not connected to Internet at all, and nearly a quarter of state residents are considered underconnected, which can mean everything from having slow connections to having access exclusively through limited Wi-Fi networks via mobile devices.

Part of the funding will also go toward the local governments in East Providence, Newport and Providence. The towns of Cumberland and Smithfield will also receive funding.

Finally, some of the funding connected with these programs and goals will also go toward trusted partner organizations in the work, with examples that include the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, the North Providence Housing Authority and more. (Julia Edinger)

USDA ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR $1.15 BILLION IN LOANS AND GRANTS FOR BROADBAND


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun accepting applications for the recently announced $1.15 billion in loans and grants aimed at bringing Internet access to people in rural areas. This includes up to $350 million for tribal and socially vulnerable communities.

The funding is available through the USDA's ReConnect Loan and Grant Program. These numbers do not include the additional funding of nearly $2 billion that will be available in 2022 from the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure package. The funded projects are planned to serve rural areas in which at least 90 percent of households are without broadband service at download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

Eligible applicants — including state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American tribes; limited liability companies; and cooperative organizations — can currently submit applications through an online application system on the ReConnect web page. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.