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A Closer Look at 3 State-Level Broadband Advancement Efforts

As a historic amount of money for broadband and digital equity comes down from the federal government to the states, we take a look at some of what's happening in Michigan, New York and Virginia.

As a historic amount of money for broadband and digital equity continues to come down from the federal government through the states and, ultimately, to the local level, today Government Technology is taking a closer look at some of what's happening in three of them.

To expand broadband access, states are increasingly putting this money to use, and we recently spoke to stakeholders who are involved with Michigan, New York and Virginia.

You can learn a bit more about some of what is happening in each of those states below.


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is one of the main federal bodies distributing funds to the state level, and it recently awarded a $10.5 million grant to Michigan State University via the Broadband Infrastructure Program. Michigan State is teaming up to make the most of this money with Internet service providers in the state, and stakeholders for the work there say the money is going toward a project that will reach 74 counties, 103 access points, roughly 70,000 census blocks and potentially as many as 16,499 unserved households.

Johannes Bauer, director of the university’s Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law, said that while the college is the recipient, it is working with Merit Network to carry out the middle-mile network upgrades for this work, which has been dubbed project MOON-Light.

Most of the funding will go toward equipment upgrades, Bauer noted via email, which including labor and other related expenses, will ultimately exceed $23.5 million. To supplement these costs, Merit Network will contribute funds exceeding $10.5 million as a cost match within the partnership.

Currently, the project is slated to be completed within 12 months, although Bauer described that time frame as "very ambitious."


When it comes to closing the digital divide, connecting rural America has long been a challenge, with many rural communities being too sparse to offer any profit related to the amount of money that private companies would have to spend to build high-speed Internet infrastructure there.

Benjamin Rowe, the national affairs coordinator at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said via email that new federal funds could significantly impact farmers by connecting rural areas within that state. Under the American Rescue Plan’s (ARPA) Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF), Virginia has so far received $219.8 million to expand broadband access throughout the state.

“Virginia’s farmers depend on broadband just as they do roads, rails and ports to reach customers and participate in the agricultural supply chain that feeds America,” Rowe said via email. “By embracing technology, farm operations can be more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly.”

For example, he explained that today’s farmers use precision agricultural techniques to make decisions like how much fertilizer to purchase and apply to the field, how much water is needed to sustain crops and more.

However, he added, these yield-maximizing and efficient farming techniques require broadband connections for data collection and analysis performed on the farm and in the field.

As a result, some of the federal funds being doled out to support broadband will be facilitated through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to connect these rural areas. Estimates show that investments made using the Capital Projects Fund will serve 28 percent of locations still lacking high-speed Internet access in the state, he added.


Not all of the work being done at the state level is entirely dependent on federal funding. In some states, there is robust broadband and digital equity work that predates the pandemic, and as such is now in a position to get a major boost from the new funding. In 2015, for example, New York launched a $500 million Connect ALL broadband program, which was intended in part to help connect the state through public-private partnerships.

Since then, the program has generated $728.1 million in public-private broadband investment, $490.1 million in state funds and $238 million in private and federal funds.

Officials say that the program has also resulted in 126 projects, more than 21,000 miles of deployed fiber and over 90 percent of funding invested in high-speed Internet access to an estimated 256,000 homes, businesses and community anchor institutions, said Kristin Devoe, upstate communications director for Empire State Development (ESD).

So, what’s the program working on now? Improving service and affordability by increasing competition and consumer choice, extending broadband to remaining unserved rural locations and building accessible and “future-proof” infrastructure for 21st-century cities and economic growth.

More specifically, the program has turned to capital investments, affordability and equity efforts and leveraging state assets to achieve these goals.

For example, when it comes to capital investment, the program leverages grant programs, infrastructure investment and other funding programs, such as:

  • The Local Connectivity Planning Grant Program – grants funding to municipalities and nonprofits to identify local broadband challenges, devise community-based solutions, and perform engineering or other work to prepare for capital investments.  
  • The 21st Century Municipal Infrastructure Investment Program – provides grants to municipalities to construct fiber/conduit to expand 21st-century open and accessible public infrastructure that drives innovation and increases affordability, competition and consumer choice.  
  • The Rural Broadband Grant Program – matches grants to extend broadband to unserved and underserved areas of the state. 
  • The Innovation Fund Program – offers competitive grants to entities across the state to plan and construct creative, innovative new technology solutions to meet local connectivity needs. 

In terms of addressing affordability and equity, the state has launched several initiatives, including an affordability program, affordable housing connectivity and a digital equity program, Devoe said via email.

For the state’s affordability program, the federal infrastructure bill provides $14 billion for a permanent $30-per-month broadband subsidy for low-income households. In addition, the Department of Public Service will lead an “all-of-government” effort to increase enrollment in this program, which lags below 30 percent of eligible households in New York.

Regarding affordable housing connectivity, the Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) will include affordable Internet in its overall housing plan and collaborate with ESD on innovative capital investments to connect residents and digital equity planning and programming.

And the work is slated to continue evolving. In fact, ESD is looking to hire a director of digital equity for the state's digital equity program to develop a statewide digital equity plan in coordination with other state and local government agencies and private and not-for-profit organizations.
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.