CT will extend high-speed Internet access to low-income homes and businesses

The White House has approved Connecticut’s plan to spend nearly $43 million in federal funding to create more affordable high-speed broadband internet, especially for low-income households and businesses that aren’t there. have no access.

The approval was announced Tuesday by the White House during a call with Governor Ned Lamont and other state officials. Connecticut was one of five states that received approval for the Broadband Project Grants.

Connecticut is using a portion of federal funding allocated through Democrats’ pandemic relief program – the American Rescue Plan Act – to support broadband infrastructure plans that will help bridge the digital divide, a problem which was amplified during the pandemic when schools and many businesses moved away.

The ARPA Capital Projects Fund will provide the money needed to create the Connecticut Broadband Infrastructure Program, a grant program that will launch early next year and expand broadband access to at least 10,000 households and businesses across the state, plus some grants to help pay for the service. It will provide at least 100 megabits per second of upload and download speeds.

This effort will bring Connecticut closer to its goals of improving broadband speeds.

“Until we address the challenges of underserved broadband in our urban, suburban and rural areas, we will not have equitable access for all and achieve the economic recovery we need,” he said. said Lamont.

Connecticut has received a total of nearly $142 million through the Capital Projects Fund.

During Tuesday’s call, Lamont said the grant was the initial allocation of that overall amount: $40.8 million will be used for project rollout and an additional $2.1 million for administrative costs.

He hopes to get the rest of the money approved by the US Treasury Department by the end of the year. Governors have some flexibility on how to spend these funds, which could also be used for multi-purpose community facility projects and purchases of appliances such as desktop computers, laptops and public wifi equipment. .

Lamont said people who live in rural communities and those who live in multi-unit homes in urban areas have the most difficulty accessing reliable and affordable broadband. State officials are working with major telecommunications companies to identify focus areas in Connecticut, he said.

All Internet service providers funded by the state program must also participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers low-income households $30 off their monthly Internet bill.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was also on the call, cited a finding from a 2021 BroadbandNow report that estimates more than 380,000 people in Connecticut lack access to affordable internet and broadband. He noted that older people and people of color are disproportionately affected.

As the pandemic has exposed the inequities surrounding broadband access, especially for children, Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, said teachers and others working in schools have been aware of the issue since years.

“There are so many lessons [from the pandemic] because they apply to equity and education and the gaps that persist, gaps that so many of us who have been in this profession already knew,” said Hayes, a former Waterbury teacher, during of the call.

Gene Sperling, senior adviser to President Joe Biden and coordinator of the US bailout, noted that federal investments in broadband will continue, especially with the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. This law invests an additional $65 billion to expand broadband access across the United States

“The pandemic has been a national teaching moment that quality, affordable high-speed broadband is a necessity,” Sperling said. “It’s an economic and educational necessity and not a luxury in the United States today.”

But while the state uses some federal funds to mitigate disparities in broadband accessibility, most Connecticut municipalities have not designated their ARPA funds for this purpose.

Cities and towns in Connecticut received combined funding of $1.5 billion under the Pandemic Relief Act. But as of April, only eight were using it for broadband projects, spending a total of around $5 million. These municipalities are Canton, Middlebury, Milford, New London, Roxbury, South Windsor, Waterford and West Hartford.

Andrew Brown contributed to this report.