New Federal Funding for Broadband: Where Do Utilities Fit in Closing the Digital Divide?

By Elin Katz

Hint:  Right in the Middle

The December 2020 COVID-19 Relief bill contains substantial funding for broadband programs, including:

  • Emergency connectivity funds for low-income families.
  • A $1 billion tribal broadband fund.
  • Millions for telehealth, mapping, and broadband for rural areas.
  • $2 billion to rip and replace Huawei/ZTE equipment.

Prior versions of the bill contained billions in block grants to the states for broadband deployment and broadband programs. The block grants were cut from the bill that passed, but there are indications that significant broadband dollars for states may be coming in future stimulus legislation.

Now is the time to consider what role your utility will play in supporting high-speed broadband deployment to your underserved consumers under this new paradigm.

Many utilities are deploying broadband fiber along their transmission and distribution systems for grid modernization projects. With proper planning, utility networks can be upsized with excess fiber that can provide “middle mile” infrastructure supporting broadband deployment to your underserved customers.

Is your utility positioned to access the billions of federal dollars being deployed to support broadband access?


  • Have you engaged with your Governor’s Office, Commission, State Broadband Office, or Legislature on broadband deployment?
  • Do you have existing or planned broadband infrastructure for your own needs that can support “last mile” deployment by third parties?
  • Can you access the stimulus dollars to build infrastructure that supports your grid modernization efforts AND supports last mile deployment?
  • Are you conversant in the language and architecture of broadband deployment?


Tilson is on a mission to build America's information infrastructure, and we share our utility clients’ commitment to delivering essential services to all Americans – including broadband.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more about how Tilson can support your utility broadband efforts:


Elin Katz

Elin Swanson Katz serves as Tilson's Managing Director, Utilities, and Associate General Counsel. As a senior member of Tilson's team, Elin brings utility experience and perspective to Tilson's Utility practice for both utility and government clients.

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