Every state is about to dole out federal funding for broadband internet – not every state is ready for the task

When the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed in late 2021, it included US$42.5 billion for broadband internet access as part of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program. The program aims to ensure that broadband access is available throughout the country. This effort differs from previous federal broadband programs because it promised to allocate the funding to individual states and allow them to figure out the best way to distribute it.

Nearly two years later, the federal government informed the states exactly how much money each will be getting. The sizes of the awards are significant: 19 states will receive over $1 billion, and the average award across the 50 states is $817 million. Texas received the largest allocation at over $3.3 billion.

The states are working with the federal government to develop plans for how they will distribute those funds. The states have until Dec. 27, 2023, to submit their initial proposals. As of Nov. 15, no state had completed that process.

Even after the states receive the federal funding, it’s expected to take years for the states to award contracts to internet service providers to install the broadband networks and for the companies to complete the work. States are also in something of a race with one another: The first ones to the funding can get money to the private sector, which can begin hiring from the limited pool of technicians capable of installing fiber optic cables.

Plans and deadlines

An estimated 11.8 million locations – households and businesses, rural and urban – are considered either unserved or underserved. Unserved locations are those where providers only offer internet speeds below 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream. Underserved locations are those where providers offer internet speeds below 100Mbps downstream and 20Mbps upstream.

Each state’s plans for how to get broadband service to those locations must be approved by the overseeing organization, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The plans must include information on existing broadband funding that has yet to be deployed from other federal programs, plans for handling challenges, plans to coordinate with tribal and regional entities, how the state will address the need to recruit and train workers to install broadband, and how it will address the issue of broadband affordability. States’ initial proposals can be viewed online.

A dashboard the federal government recently released summarizes the progress made by all 50 states plus U.S. territories in getting these plans approved and receiving the first chunk of the promised funding. Some states are further along than others.

The dashboard includes eight steps each state or territory must complete before getting the first 20% of its promised allocation. As of Nov. 15, 2023, most states had completed four of the process’s eight steps. Only three states – Louisiana, Nevada and Virginia – had…

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