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Delaware to Use $110M in ARPA Funds to Connect Residents

The First State has identified 11,600 homes lacking wired broadband service, and CIO Jason Clarke says fresh federal funds will enable the last-mile connections needed to reach everyone.

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Delaware CIO Jason Clarke speaks during an announcement about investing ARPA funding in universal broadband efforts.
State of Delaware
Delaware will harness $110 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to extend broadband to all residential and commercial addresses in the state, top officials announced in a press release and event today.

State CIO Jason Clarke told Government Technology that 11,600 addresses lack wired broadband, many of them in the state’s most rural county, Sussex. Kent County is also a high concern, according to the state’s website.

Delaware has a lot of advantages on its side as it looks to close this service gap, Clarke said. Dig-friendly terrain and supportive permitting processes should ease the work of laying fiber, while partnerships with electric companies facilitate hanging wires, he said. The state also has already conducted research to pinpoint need and map out a strategy, and has smaller build-out efforts underway.

The missing puzzle piece has been funding to make it all happen.

Internet service providers (ISPs) traditionally lack financial incentive for creating the infrastructure to reach homes in sparsely populated areas, but now the state can take up the costs of those last-mile connections by using ARPA dollars.

This could have been accomplished by the Internet service providers, but to go 3, 4 or 5 miles down the road to provide service to one home — that could cost $30,000 to $40,000 or more depending on the situation that they're up against,” Clarke said. “And then you're delivering to one home at a few hundred dollars a month. I mean, there's really no economic way to make that work … We’re removing that hurdle by the state investing in those last mile runs.”

Delaware intends to rely on the expertise of ISPs and provide grants for them to extend connections from their existing networks to the unserved addresses.

The state had already begun some build-out efforts using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) and Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), as well, but the new $110 million infusion is expected to supercharge the work and fully cover the costs of reaching the final addresses, Clarke said.

Plans call for opening grant applications to vendors in October, at which point the providers will be asked to make the case that they are best positioned to close gaps to the identified addresses in an affordable way. Vendors can decide whether to use fiber optics or copper to hook up the addresses, so long as the service supports sufficient bandwidth.

“We would like to have 100 megabit per second symmetrical services,” Clarke said, “[but] our goal is 120.”

Delaware maps outline areas underserved by broadband.
State of Delaware
Delaware is far from the only state working to boost broadband, and the state expects tight competition for labor and materials as ARPA funds and other anticipated federal measures energize similar efforts nationwide. That spurred Delaware to quickly announce its plans, to get ahead of the rush and start partnering with vendors early, Clarke said.

Access is not the only consideration, but also affordability, and the state intends to direct some ARPA monies into efforts to push out information to residents about available subsidies for Internet costs, Clarke said. Another portion of the funding will be used for capacity planning, to help prepare for digital demands becoming more intensive in the future.

June 2021 data from Internet research organization BroadbandNow found Delaware residents better supplied with Internet services compared to the national average. Nearly 57 percent of Delaware residents have fiber-optic Internet, beating out the national average of 25 percent. That data also identified areas where service exists but could be bolstered, finding that — in addition to the 11,000 Delaware residents who lacked wired Internet, per the organization’s count - 26,000 more had wired broadband incapable of supporting 25 mbps speeds.

BroadbandNow also found the state is above national average in terms of affordability, with slightly more than 57 percent of the state's population able to buy wired Internet for $60 or less each month, compared to nearly 52 percent of residents nationwide who can say the same.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.