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Broadband Service Expansion Planned for Rural Oklahoma

During a meeting last week, the Oklahoma Broadband Governing Board approved $374 million in ARPA funds to go toward 142 broadband service expansion projects in 57 counties.

Shutterstock/Antonio Salaverry
(TNS) — "Today opens a new chapter and expansion of broadband service for the unserved and underserved citizens of Oklahoma," said Jim Meek, chairman of the Oklahoma Broadband Governing Board.

During a meeting Thursday, the Board approved $374 million in ARPA funds to go toward broadband service expansion in 57 counties. The 142 projects that were approved will allow 55,000 Oklahoma homes and businesses access to high speed Internet.

Meek said there are four conditions for each project, which include: not exceeding ARPA grant amounts; applicant must account for funds separately with a federally insured financial institution; request for grant funds must must be incurred for eligible expenses for purposes of project completion and the Board has authorization to approve modifications to the purpose and use of the project and funds.

"Overall, it's something that's been necessary that's been needed for a long time," said State Rep. Annie Menz, D- Norman, in response to the Board's decision.

"The areas that are most impacted that struggle the most with high speed Internet access are rural areas and the tribal areas. And I don't know, something like 700,000 Oklahomans currently don't have access, adequate access to high speed Internet, which we know is something that we need to access the rest of the world," she continued.

Menz, who represents "quite a few" Normanites who have connectivity and access issues, is also looking to maintain affordability with Internet providers for these and Oklahoma residents.

According to Councilmember Michael Nash, Ward 5, there are zones with the OEC map that details service access where people are only able to use cellular.

In a statement sent by State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D- Norman, he wrote:

"I'm ecstatic to see the Broadband Board approval of ARPA funds! This legislature has worked to expand services for the past few years and it's good to see funding going to where it's needed most: Our rural areas, which can sometimes be information deserts. This is the way our government is supposed to work, federal funds are made available, and the states decide on how and what to spend it on, as long as it fits the criteria for ARPA. It's nice to see bipartisan solutions that will help all Oklahomans!"

Menz said starting this month, "we as a state are promised to invest funding towards the expansion," but the timeline for project rollout is still undetermined.

The Transcript also reached out to State Rep. Jared Deck, D- Norman, State Rep. Danny Sterling, R- Norman, and Sen. Mary Boren, D- Norman, each of which did not respond in time for publication.

©2024 The Norman Transcript, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.