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Advancing Meaningful State Broadband Solutions through New Federal Coronavirus Relief Funding

By Adam Quinlan

The long-anticipated $900 billion coronavirus relief package is now law, and although the final bill omits block grants, funding for essential broadband connectivity has remained. The need for affordable and accessible internet connectivity across the U.S. has been a long-standing issue that has been underscored by the current crisis, and now, it is more important than ever that states undertake foundational planning efforts to capitalize on opportunities that may arise to advance both short, acute connectivity goals as well as long-term, sustainable infrastructure initiatives.   

Learn more about Tilson’s broadband deployment services.

Lessons Learned from the CARES Act 

The passage of the CARES Act earlier in 2020 unlocked more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus, of which, $150 billion was earmarked for “state, local, and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.” This funding was available for local governments to expand and improve broadband access but was only available for unanticipated costs arising as a result of the pandemic through the end of calendar year 2020. Among other caveats and constraints, efficiently leveraging this emergency funding within a matter of months was a colossal undertaking for many states. Despite the tight timeframe, Tilson was able to deploy broadband connectivity in both Vermont and New Hampshire.

As it relates to improving broadband access, states responded to this emergency relief funding in numerous ways depending on the posture of their underlying connectivity initiatives and the local impact COVID has had. Several states without a defined broadband grant program were motivated to develop such systems to facilitate quick-turn disbursement of these emergency funds and to establish a strong baseline for future funding (e.g., Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Carolina). Other states utilized the funding as an opportunity to strengthen existing broadband grant programs, deploy public Wi-Fi access points, purchase broadband-related equipment or devices, or provide funding to certain types of entities to cover some of their connectivity costs.   

Across these initiatives, including the ones Tilson has supported, it became clear that establishing processes and infrastructure early on was essential to acting swiftly and purposefully. 

Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act 

Almost 9 months after the CARES Act, the pandemic rages on with numbers continuing to climb, leading to a second round of federal relief that was drafted with strong bipartisan support. The recently passed bill, entitled the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, is a $2.3 trillion omnibus spending package that includes $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the principal differences between this round of funding and the last is now states are afforded a longer timeframe. States applied initial CARES Act funding to many temporary connectivity solutions in the face of this pandemic, such as public Wi-Fi access, hot-spot deployment, and broadband-related device subsidization. While these expenditures certainly provided much-needed short-term connectivity solutions, there remains significant opportunities to solve the longer-term issues surrounding adequate and reliable universal service.

This second round of funding presents a new opportunity for states to plan not only immediate support, but also long-term connectivity solutions beyond the pandemic to increase quality of life, public safety, and long-term economic growth for their communities.

This opportunity also presents a challenge. More comprehensive solutions mean increased stakeholder engagement and planning efforts through the application and award process, all the way to the post-award audit and reporting phases. The construction and deployment of such infrastructure alone can take many months and even years, especially in a period where we are seeing increased lead-times for fiber and materials because of high demand. That is why early consultation with partners, accurate mapping, and cross-agency coordination is essential to a program’s success. (Learn more about Tilson’s broadband consulting services.)

A Coordinated Strategy 

As future federal funding is contemplated, it is important for state, local, and tribal governments to develop action plans and strategize about how best to capitalize on an influx of federal money to promote their connectivity goals, both short and long-term. Important strategies that other states have found highly effective in improving connectivity for their citizenry include: 

Above all, having an efficient and dexterous grant administration process in place, ready to distribute not only state but federal funding, is key to effectively leveraging all funding available for broadband infrastructure. With the need for affordable and accessible internet connectivity across the U.S. being at its greatest, it more important than ever that states undertake foundational planning efforts to capitalize on opportunities that may arise, advancing both short, acute connectivity goals as well as long-term, sustainable infrastructure initiatives.  

About Tilson 

As Tilson’s core mission is to build communications and information infrastructure that reaches all Americans, we partner with public and private sector community leadership to plan, design, and maintain viable and cost-effective broadband networks. Our experienced consultants have multidisciplinary industry knowledge and a deep understanding of networks. Tilson’s broadband consulting team can lead you through the full broadband implementation lifecycle and provide best-in-class consulting from start to finish, tailored to meet and exceed project goals: 

Learn more about Tilson’s broadband services or contact our experts to discuss your specific broadband deployment needs.

Adam Quinlan

Adam Quinlan

Adam Quinlan serves as Manager of Broadband Consulting at Tilson, leading a team of experienced consultants to plan, design, build, and maintain viable and cost-effective broadband solutions. Adam joined Tilson in 2016, with a strong technical background and leadership experience as a managing partner of a small law firm focused on the intersection of law and technology. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law, and is a licensed member of the Maine and Massachusetts Bar.

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