What’s new in digital equity: States continue to invest in broadband

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States across the country continue to invest in broadband with unprecedented amounts of money, which has resulted in an increase in grant programs, with funds being directed to midstream infrastructure programs, construction of office State broadband and other developments.

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

WISCONSIN INCREASES FUNDING TO $125M FOR BROADBAND GRANTS

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

Funding for the grants comes from the biennial budget that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed in July, and their goal is to expand high-speed broadband internet — and access to it — to areas unserved or underserved state. Grants are awarded in collaboration with the Wisconsin Public Utilities Commission (PSC).

The funding increase comes after the PSC received 194 applications requesting up to $495 million for broadband funding in Wisconsin in March, demonstrating the magnitude of the need there. The complete list of candidates is available online through CSP. The commission is expected to make its decision on the nominations in the coming weeks. (Zack Quiintance)

NEBRASKA REVERSE AUCTION TO SUPPORT BROADBAND EXPANSION

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

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

If a portion of the designated budget remains after the auction, NUSF-131 indicates that PSC may hold a separate auction in the future. More information on eligibility and the Reverse Auction process can be found on the PSC website. (Julia Edinger)

TEXAS CREATES NEW DIVISION OF BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

Texas has created a new division of government affairs and programs, according to a announcement this week from State Comptroller Glenn Hegar. Nikki Cobb has been named the division’s first director.

In this role, she will manage the Broadband Development Office, Legislative Affairs, the Natural Resources Program, the Opioid Reduction Fund Board and the National Energy Conservation Office.

Cobb’s previous experience includes 10 years in various roles in the Texas House of Representatives and most recently served as Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Comptroller since 2018.

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

EFDS AWARDS $7.7M IN GRANTS TO TRIBAL GROUPS FOR BROADBAND PLANS

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

The grants will go to groups working in six states, namely Alaska, California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington.

“These grants will fund projects that promote the use and adoption of high-speed internet that will enable communities to fully access and utilize resources that will connect them to education, healthcare, ‘jobs and more,” NTIA officials wrote in the announcement. “Funds can also be used to conduct planning, engineering, feasibility and sustainability projects and to expand digital inclusion, workforce and digital skills development.”

An example of this includes Pawnee Nation College in Oklahoma, which is working to establish a technology grant and computer lab on its campus. This lab would augment campus-wide internet services and also allow for the expansion of the digital communications program there.

These new grants are awarded under the federal government’s ongoing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which, under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, is making $980 million available to eligible communities for needs related to to digital equity, including broadband deployment and digital inclusion work. To date, the NTIA has awarded a total of 43 awards for a total funding of $91 million under this program. (Zack Quiintance)

NTIA ANNOUNCES $10M TO FUND FIBER EXPANSION IN MICHIGAN

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

The funding announced this week, a grant totaling $10.5 million, will go towards expanding the mid-mile fiber infrastructure. In partnership with the state’s last mile Internet service providers, the expansion will take place in 74 counties to bring high-speed Internet to more than 16,000 homes.

This is the final of the 14 winners of this program, which is part of the administration’s Internet for All initiative. More information on the other winners can be found on the BroadbandUSA program website. (Julia Edinger)

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