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What’s New in Civic Tech: State-Level Broadband Work Surges

In the wake of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, state and local government organizations find their digital equity efforts robustly funded, while many leaders at those levels are rolling out specific plans.

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Work to get residents connected to high-speed Internet by states is surging, with this week seeing the announcement of major broadband initiatives everywhere from Arizona to Alabama back to California.

California this week announced a round of the specific broadband support projects that are being undertaken there to help close the digital divide. There are 18 of these projects in total, spread across tribal communities and other underserved areas in the nation’s most populous state, all of which are being accomplished with the help of $6 billion investment of state funds.

These projects are all part of work to start building an open-access middle-mile high-speed Internet network in order to get broadband to places where it is currently not available, doing so by bridging gaps between the last-mile infrastructure that aims to connect underserved communities.

“California is committed to taking on the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities across the state,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement. “These projects are the first step to delivering on our historic investment that will ensure all Californians have access to high-quality broadband Internet, while also creating new jobs to support our nation-leading economic recovery.”

The 18 projects California announced cover a wide range of locations within the state, some of which are high profile. The list of counties that will be home to these projects are Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Inyo, Kern, Lake, Orange and San Bernardino. Other geographic areas that will be home to these projects are the Central Coast, the Coachella Valley, the Colusa area, the Kern/San Luis Obispo area, the Los Angeles area, West Fresno and Oakland.

A full map, complete with additional information on this wave of projects, can be found here.

Pinpointing these areas marks the end of a long process for California, which included taking public comments and prioritizing both unserved and underserved areas in the state, as determined by available Internet speeds.

The list of partner agencies for this work includes the California Department of Technology, the California Public Utilities Commission and the transportation department, Caltrans.

In addition, the state has also announced that four state highways in Oakland will receive fiber infrastructure investments for that city. Of the 18 areas receiving these projects, only three of them are urban areas, with Oakland being one of them. State officials hope the result of this work will be a state wherein roughly 98 percent of residents are connected to high-speed Internet at home. (Zack Quaintance)

ARIZONA GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $100 MILLION FOR BROADBAND


In neighboring Arizona, state officials announced this week that $100 million would be invested in high-speed broadband expansion there through a program called the Arizona Broadband Development Grant Program. Grants offered through the program will be used for both rural and urban areas of the state.

Specifically, grants for rural areas will go toward infrastructure construction in Apache, Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Pinal, Santa Cruz, Yavapai and Yuma counties. Grants for rural areas will fund infrastructure construction in Maricopa and Pima counties. Grant funds will be paid on a reimbursement basis.

Broadband is something that the governor of Arizona called for during his 2021 State of the State address, underlining the impact of the digital divide on public education. During that speech, he did not outline specific strategies to improve digital equity.

However, in May, he signed House Bill 2596, a piece of legislation that allows private broadband providers to install and operate equipment within the Arizona Department of Transportation’s rights of way. Other recent actions in this space include investing in smart highway corridors and the creation of a statewide broadband office.

States creating broadband and digital equity offices remains an emerging trend, one that experts in the space expect to accelerate with the passage of the federal infrastructure bill. (Julia Edinger)

NEWLY ESTABLISHED ALABAMA DIVISION TO FOCUS ON BROADBAND


This week, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) also established the new Digital Expansion Division, a group that will oversee expansion of high-speed Internet access there. Maureen Neighbors, longtime ADECA manager, has been appointed chief of the new division.

Administration of grants through the Alabama Broadband Connectivity Fund will now move to the Digital Expansion Division. Over 90 projects have received grants through this fund since 2018.

The division was created through the passage of the Connect Alabama Act of 2021, which also created the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority. The authority, chaired by Sen. Clay Scofield, was created to advise, review and approve the state’s connectivity plan.

More information about the division and the state’s broadband efforts can be found on ADECA’s website. (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.