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What's New in Digital Equity: States Continue Broadband Investments

Plus, Texas creates a new division that will oversee the Broadband Development Office, the federal government has awarded nearly $7.7 million to tribal groups developing community broadband plans, and more.

States around the country continue to invest in broadband with unprecedented amounts of money, leading to increased grant programs, funds being directed to middle-mile infrastructure programs, the building out of state broadband offices and more developments.

This week, we have items about state-level broadband investments in Wisconsin and Nebraska, which you can check out below. In addition, federal broadband investments continue.


Wisconsin's state broadband expansion grants will now total $125 million, essentially adding $25 million to the total that was first announced in November, the state has announced.

The funding for the grants is through the biennial budget that Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed in July, and their goal is to expanding high-speed broadband Internet — as well as access to it — to unserved or underserved areas within the state. The grants are being made in cooperation with the Wisconsin Public Services Commission (PSC).

This boost in funding comes after the PSC received 194 applications requesting up to $495 million for broadband funding within Wisconsin in March, demonstrating the scope of the need there. The full list of applicants can be found online via the PSC. The commission is expected to make its decision on the applications in the coming weeks. (Zack Quaintance)


As states look to creative solutions to expand digital equity, the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) will be conducting a reverse auction on Aug. 8 to distribute $13 million for broadband service in the state.

This will be funded through the redistribution of Nebraska Universal Service Fund (NUSF) support. The order issued by PSC this week, NUSF-131, established procedures for the auction. Those interested in participating can submit a pre-auction application through July 15.

If any of the designated budget remains after the auction, NUSF-131 states that PSC can hold a separate auction in the future. More information about eligibility and the process of the reverse auction can be found on PSC’s website. (Julia Edinger)


Texas has created a new Government Affairs and Programs Division, according to an announcement this week from the State Comptroller Glenn Hegar. Nikki Cobb has been appointed as the division’s first director.

In this role, she will manage the Broadband Development Office, Legislative Affairs, Natural Resources Program, Opioid Abatement Fund Council and State Energy Conservation Office.

Cobb’s previous experience includes 10 years in various roles in the Texas House of Representatives, and most recently, she served as director of Legislative Affairs in the comptroller’s office since 2018.

“This effort is consistent with my commitment to create a more efficient and more effective agency that stays laser-focused on serving the taxpayers of Texas,” Hegar said in the announcement. (Julia Edinger)


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded $7.7 million in grants to tribal groups that are working to develop community broadband plans, the federal agency announced.

The grants will go to groups that work in six states, with those being Alaska, California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington.

"These grants will fund projects that promote high-speed Internet use and adoption that will enable communities to access and fully utilize resources that will connect them to education, health care, employment and more," NTIA officials wrote in the announcement. "The funds can also be used to conduct planning, engineering, feasibility and sustainability projects and to expand digital inclusion, workforce and digital skills development."

One example of this includes Pawnee Nation College in Oklahoma, which is working to establish a technology grant and computer lab on its campus. That lab would increase campuswide Internet services, and it would also enable expansion of the digital communications curriculum there.

These new grants are being made as part of the federal government's ongoing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act makes $980 million available for grants to eligible communities for needs related to digital equity, including broadband deployment and digital inclusion work. So far, the NTIA has made a total of 43 awards for a total of $91 million in funding through this program. (Zack Quaintance)


In other federal funding news, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded over $10 million to Michigan State University from the Broadband Infrastructure Program.

The funding announced this week, a grant totaling $10.5 million, will go toward the expansion of middle-mile fiber infrastructure. In partnership with last-mile Internet service providers in the state, the expansion will take place in 74 counties to provide high-speed Internet for over 16,000 households.

This is the final of 14 awardees from this program, which is part of the administration’s Internet for All initiative. More information about the other awardees can be found on the BroadbandUSA program website. (Julia Edinger)
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.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine.