Closing the Digital Divide in Unconnected Communities

On Tuesday, Maryland Governor Wes Moore announced that millions of dollars in federal funding have been made available to help close the digital divide in Maryland’s communities. State officials unveiled a partnership called ActNow to spread awareness of and enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, with the nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway. Read more about this here.

Elsewhere, C Spire, a tech company, announced a major expansion of its high speed fiber network in Montgomery, Alabama. Many city leaders, including NewDEAL Leader Mayor Steven Reed, believe that this announcement will allow Montgomery to move forward as an emerging technology hub. Mayor Reed has previously said that Montgomery’s goal is to become a leader in both technology and innovation. This broadband expansion, advocates say, will benefit both businesses and residents, as well as bring a big boost to economic development. Read more about Montgomery’s new fiber network access here.

Mayor Trey Mendez: Middle Mile Broadband Initiative Advances

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez campaigned on making broadband more “accessible and affordable” for his constituency, and he is delivering, with his city’s commission approving a public-private partnership to construct a fiber network in the latest step in his Middle Mile Broadband Initiative. Brownsville, which ranked as one of the least connected communities in 2018 and 2019, is now on the edge of a broadband breakthrough. The project will create a 93-mile long  “middle-mile backbone” that will connect “32 anchor institutions” like fire stations, police stations, and medical centers, helping to increase the overall quality of life within the city. The Initiative will use $19.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand the city’s online infrastructure. To learn more about digital-equity pioneers like Mayor Mendez and their exciting broadband initiatives, see the NewDEAL Forum Broadband Task Force’s report, Bridging the Digital Divide, or check out how Mendez and others are using ARP funding in innovative ways in the NewDEAL report The American Rescue Plan – One Year Later.

Mayor Justin Bibb: Ohio Rescue and Transformation Plan

ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION: Ohio – Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has unveiled a series of substantial investments aimed at revitalizing the city and expanding broadband access as part of his Rescue and Transformation Plan. Bibb announced a public-private collaboration expected to bring internet access to an estimated 29,000 homes over the next 18 months. He also recently committed $21 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to a Waterfront Activation Fund, set to support nine projects along the city’s shores. In addition, he has pledged to allocate more of the city’s federal aid towards converting “thousands of acres” of brownfields into land ready for development.

Mayor Kate Gallego: FCC Grant for Affordable Connectivity Program

BROADBAND – Arizona: Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, alongside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, announced a grant to connect more households to high-speed internet. The funding will help community-based non-profit organizations assist residents in accessing the Affordable Connectivity Program, an initiative created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to provide a monthly broadband stipend for eligible households. Currently, about 80,000 Phoenix households are enrolled, and Gallego estimates that an additional 100,000 may be eligible. 

ARPA: Improving Digital Equity in Underinvested Communities

Mayor Kate Gallego and the City of Phoenix prioritized increasing internet access to students and families during the height of the pandemic. Gallego leveraged American Rescue Plan funds to mobilize community partnerships to distribute more than 12,000 laptops to 15 school districts in underserved areas, particularly in public housing communities. Additionally, the city provided 1,600 tablets and Wi-Fi connectivity to families and seniors to help with at-home learning and telemedicine access. This effort was recognized by the National Civic League, earning Phoenix an All America-Cities Award 2022.

“COVID-19 caused a profound shift in traditional learning. As students transitioned to an online learning environment, we knew too many families were missing the basic tools needed to navigate this new way of learning,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “City staff put forth a tremendous effort to close this digital divide, especially for our most vulnerable kids. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and equally proud the City of Phoenix has been honored with the All-America City Award for the sixth time.”

ARP: New Castle County DE, Invests ARPA Funds into Community Priorities

Delaware: New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer has finalized a plan to invest $54 million from the American Rescue Plan’s state and local recovery funds in affordable housing, stormwater management, cellular broadband, and other community priorities. Meyer will use $2.5 million of the federal funding for his Building Better Communities Initiative, which identifies and implements strategies to increase community engagement and reduce violence in underserved neighborhoods throughout the county. “This is a historic opportunity to reimagine the communities in which we live, an unprecedented opportunity to address problems that arose in recent months and divisions that have festered for decades,” said Meyer about the ARP funding appropriation.

ARP: Waterloo IA, Invests in ‘Middle-Mile’ Broadband Network

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart was awarded a $1.8 million federal grant from the American Rescue Plan to build a “middle-mile” portion of a larger municipal broadband network. The Waterloo Fiber project will provide high-quality internet to every business and resident in the city. The project is projected to create 177 jobs and will help improve telehealth services, distance learning, and business development.

Hart added, “Every Waterloo citizen and visitor also deserves the highest quality, fastest Internet service available, and with Waterloo Fiber, this will be delivered by a highly reliable, underground system, 100% fiber based — locally owned and operated.”


ARP: Providence RI, Broadband Among Long-Term Investments

Mayor Jorge Elorza finalized  the city’s spending plan for the final $124 million in ARP funds, prioritizing long-term investments such as housing and water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. The proposals include $20 million for broadband infrastructure, which complements Elorza’s initial $1 million investment to address the immediate need to expand home internet access to low-and moderate income families.

ARP: Santa Ana CA, Analyzes the Digital Divide

Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento will spend $3.5 million from the American Rescue Plan to understand and then address the digital divide. Recognizing that the city’s most disadvantaged residents and businesses were particularly hurt from the gap in access during the pandemic, the city first wants to understand where the divide exists. After a citywide survey to better understand where the gaps are, the city will explore the best solutions to bridging the divide. The city is also using ARP funds to improve its own website and city app to provide better services for residents.

ARP: Santa Cruz CA, Brings Broadband to 4,000 Rural Residents

Santa Cruz County, California, is using the American Rescue Plan to bring broadband internet to thousands of rural residents. 

County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty spearheaded the approval of $500,000 in ARP funds to increase the reach of a program that started at the beginning of the pandemic. Prior to ARP funding, a local ISP provider, Cruzio, began working with community donations to bridge the digital divide with a focus on ensuring children had internet access during days of school closures. The program had worked to ensure every unit of a local farmworker housing project had access to broadband internet. 

With the American Rescue Plan, the county will install 20 new antennae throughout the county, expanding the reach of the program. As a result, 4,000 rural residents will have access to high-speed internet. Coonerty emphasized the importance of the investments for residents whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold and those in the southern part of the county.

Since March, Cruzio, the local ISP provider, has finished installation at seven sites that will serve disadvantaged families. An additional five sites are underway or scheduled, with eight more to come. As a result, over 100 families have already enrolled in the Equal Access Santa Cruz program, which has the goal of ultimately serving nearly 4,000 customers.