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.

ARP: Boosting Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband

Maryland established the Office of Statewide Broadband in 2021, thanks to legislation championed by then-Delegate Brooke Lierman. With a major boost from American Rescue Plan funds, the office assists local governments by making resources available to help cities reach those still unconnected or struggling with poor connectivity. For example, the office offers grants between $50,000 and $10 million to local jurisdictions to extend existing broadband service to unserved areas. The state office defines what is considered high speed but allows local governments to determine how they want to expand their network. Local governments can pursue partnerships with local providers or build their own network with fiber cables, hotspots for a mesh network, or other solutions.

ARP: Brownsville TX, Closing the Digital Divide

Soon after he was elected, Mendez made closing the digital divide one of his top priorities. Before the American Rescue Plan passed, he had already collected information on where the city needed to invest in infrastructure, and had a plan for long-term solutions like a fiber-optic network rather than hotspots.

In 2021, Brownsville allocated nearly $20 million of ARP funds for its Middle Mile Broadband Initiative. The program will build out 95 miles of infrastructure to bring high-speed internet to homes throughout underserved areas of Brownsville. As the NewDEAL Forum noted in its report about broadband, these investments “add bandwidth and resiliency to existing networks, reduce costs to consumers, and help cities develop the infrastructure needed for last-mile projects.”

The initiative should be completed in 2023, and could turn a profit as soon as five years after completion. But profit is not the primary goal. “[T]his initiative will ensure that the City of Brownsville stays connected in today’s globalized economy,” Mendez told Texas Border Business in July 2021.


In July, Mayor Trey Mendez signed an agreement kicking-off a public-private partnership to extend high-quality, affordable broadband to homes and businesses. Mendez will commit $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding focused on middle mile fiber lines, and the private entity will cover last mile construction as well as maintenance costs. Named one of the least connected cities in the United States in 2018 and 2019, Mendez believes that the city’s new broadband initiative will help existing small businesses grow and bring new businesses to Brownsville. “During the pandemic we saw just how important internet was, and it made the situation even more critical,” Mendez said. “I’m happy to say we’re moving forward with a full broadband plan that’s going to connect all of our communities, provide accessibility and affordability for residents and businesses here in the city of Brownsville,” he said.

ARP: Phoenix AZ, Connects 250,000 Families to High Speed Internet

Using a combination of city and federal funds, including funding from the American Rescue Plan, Phoenix launched an initiative to connect 250,000 families to high-speed internet. 

The Phoenix Digital Education Connection Canopy, or PHX DECC, launched on September 1, 2021. Alhambra Elementary, Cartwright Elementary and Phoenix Union High School are the first schools to benefit from the program, according to KJZZ. The innovative wireless solution uses existing technology, rather than reinventing the wheel, to enable schools to provide internet to some of Phoenix’s underserved communities. 

“Children will no longer need to sit in library parking lots or coffee shops to access high-speed broadband to do their homework,” Councilmember Laura Pastor said in a statement. Mayor Kate Gallego called PHX DECC a “cost-effective, collaborative, digital divide solution we’re proud to champion.”

The city also worked to bringing highs-speed to help small businesses. The city is offering grants ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 to businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. As of December 2021, 115 such grants had been awarded.


Trey Mendez, Mayor (Brownsville, TX)

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.