December 6, 2022
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RELEASE: USING FEDERAL BROADBAND FUNDING TO CREATE A REIMAGINED APPALACHIA
New, essential principles guide states to maximize broadband rollout in a way that’s good for the region’s workers and environment
Appalachia — Through federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and American Rescue Plan (ARP), Appalachian states have a chance to take a big step towards affordable, quality broadband for nearly everyone. A new paper by ReImagine Appalachia details essential recommendations to maximize the impact of broadband rollout in the region.
“This generational infrastructure investment could be a game changer for our region, especially if it’s done in a smart and equitable way. We can create good union jobs building out broadband networks, and increase the health and wealth of our communities,” said Stephen Herzenberg, the paper’s author, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, and co-director of ReImagine Appalachia.
The BIL contains $65 billion for broadband, including $42.45 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, a formula-based program that will apportion funding to states and tribal areas based on the extent of underserved and unserved people and places.
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky can maximize BEAD allocation by following essential principles like including strong labor standards and training components.
“This is an historic opportunity, but we’ve got to be smart about it. Cutting corners in the work is a huge problem for communities that need these essential services. State broadband authorities should give priority to requests for funding from organizations that utilize their own directly employed and well-trained workforce, and that all recipients of federal funding meet strong labor standards that include local hiring provisions for low-income and diverse workers,” said Anthony D’Angelo of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Broadband Brigade.
To combat historic inaccessibility for low-income communities, a portion of BEAD funds should be designated to offer low-cost broadband options to low-income households, and deliver resilient fiber technology to multi-family housing.
“I can tell you first-hand how vital broadband is to my kids’ and my neighbors’ access to health, emergency services, education, and opportunities for economic development,” said Sarah Riley, executive director of High Rocks and chair of the Pocahontas County Broadband Council. “I live in one of the most rural counties in West Virginia. You can come visit me anytime and feel how difficult it is to navigate without cell phone access and with minimal internet speeds. We need to work together as local communities, state and regional leaders, federal agencies, and the White House to make sure this investment gets to the communities like mine that need it the most.”
“Quality, affordable broadband is essential to give our children, businesses, and schools a chance to thrive. All Appalachians, regardless of their income or race, must be able to access reliable, high-quality internet — it’s basic infrastructure. The pandemic made more visible the critical importance of broadband and the wide inequities that exist today in broadband availability, speed, reliability, and affordability. Gaps in job growth and living standards will also widen unless we give all communities access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband,” said Dana Kuhnline, campaign manager of ReImagine Appalachia.
The new paper also encourages the Biden administration to create a White House broadband office to overcome the power that some longtime internet service providers (ISPs) have to influence federal policies. Federal broadband policies should serve the public good — not the bottom lines of ISPs.
To support broadband, BIL also provides $14.2 billion to assist low-income families connect to broadband and billions of dollars more for grants to support rural communities and tribes.
Principles for state broadband infrastructure policy
- Encourage stakeholders to challenge the initial FCC maps and continually update publicly available maps to maximize the effective use of public funds.
- Deploy fiber optic technology to achieve universal high-speed (100/100 Mbps), reliable, and affordable service.
- Implement strong labor and community benefit/local hiring standards that include strong training components.
- Incorporate comprehensive digital equity and inclusion provisions.
- Regulate broadband as an essential utility, and opportunistically and efficiently build publicly-owned, middle-mile networks on public infrastructure projects.
- Award grants to whatever providers will best meet labor & community benefit standards and offer high speed, reliability, and affordability.
- Give funding priority to regional entities with the capacity to hold providers accountable, including by developing local leadership focused on the public good.
- Implement federal broadband leadership that ensures all communities and families have the broadband speeds, reliability, and affordability essential to thrive in the 21st century.
The full report can be found here.