States Invested in Broadband Expansion Despite 2020 Budget Woes

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The need to move routine activities online during the pandemic sharpened policymakers’ focus on expanding access to high-speed, reliable internet for residents, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

States continued to invest in broadband even amid pandemic-driven budget woes in 2020, according to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The research cited the need to close the digital divide and provide reliable, high-speed internet access for schools, virtual doctors’ visits and more as reasons states focused on broadband investment. 

State policymakers have established programs to oversee broadband development and expand the types of entities that could engage in broadband deployment projects, according to Pew. 

The research points out that 12 state legislatures have allocated funds to existing broadband budgets, with totals ranging from $1.5 million to $51 million, or to outside entities that are authorized to fund broadband projects. In addition, the study highlights six states—Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon and Pennsylvania—that passed legislation in 2020 to create new broadband funds.

States have also come up with entities to focus mainly on broadband expansion. Pew says multiple states created broadband offices (including Louisiana, Kansas and Florida) and task forces (including Wisconsin, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Colorado), which will play critical roles in leading and administering state broadband deployment programs.

Meanwhile, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly all expanded their states' broadband programs through executive orders. 

To fund the expansion of broadband, Pew references the use of federal funds by Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. All aforementioned states have used Coronavirus Relief Funds to establish emergency infrastructure grant programs. On the other hand, North Carolina, Oregon and Arkansas used those funds to boost existing broadband programs. 

“States are taking aggressive action to meet connectivity goals,” Anna Read, senior officer of the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a statement. “Clearly setting that role would allow for greater coordination between levels of government. That would better ensure effective stewardship of public funds and help the nation more quickly achieve universal availability of high-speed, affordable broadband.” 

In addition to their efforts, states are starting to receive billions of dollars in federal pandemic-relief aid that they can use to address short- and long-term connectivity needs. 

To read more about the research and analysis click here

Brent Woodie is an associate editor at Route Fifty

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