Connect Humanity Project Aims To Bring Broadband To Rural Appalachia

Appalachian Regional Commission Logo

Connect Humanity and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) have struck a new $7.9 million coalition partnership they say will help deliver affordable, next-generation broadband networks to more than 50 communities across 12 Appalachian states.

The project announcement states ARC has already awarded $6.3 million via its new Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE) program, which is designed to help marginalized communities prepare for the more than $45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity Act (DEA) funding arriving later this year.

Funding from both programs is currently bottlenecked behind the Federal Communications Commission’s longstanding and troubled efforts to accurately map broadband access. That’s been a particular problem in rural America, where fixed and wireless broadband providers have overstated real-world broadband access for the better part of a generation.

ARC data indicates that rural Appalachian communities, which stretch from New York State to Mississippi, are far more likely to have been left stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. That’s thanks in part to telecom monopolies that either refuse to revest in lower ROI rural areas, or have failed to live up to past taxpayer subsidization obligations.

Connectivity in the region lags well behind the national average, and in 26 Appalachian counties, fewer than 65 percent of households have a broadband subscription. 88 percent of Appalachian households currently have one or more computer devices—nearly four points below the national average. Only 23 Appalachian counties were at or above that same national average, and all of them were in metropolitan areas.

Appalachia map.

“ARC’s first ARISE grant to Connect Humanity has tremendous potential to drive large-scale, regional transformation around broadband access,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin.

“Broadband access is essential for Appalachia to thrive and compete in a global economy; without this support, our most rural communities may be left further behind,” she added. “I commend our states and community partners in every Appalachian subregion for coming together in order to fully participate in our digitalized world.”

The Appalachian coalition includes not just ARC and Connect Humanity, but numerous other organizations ranging from the Center on Rural Innovation to the Virginia Funders Network. Collectively, the coalition hopes to assist communities that may lack the resources or expertise to benefit from an historic wave of federal broadband funding.

Connect Humanity logo

The ARC says the coalition will be awarding $6.3 million in funding to 50 fifty of the most-impacted communities across Appalachia, with additional funding coming from Connect Humanity and matching grants from the participating municipalities.

Program leaders say their grants will help communities analyze local broadband shortcomings based on local needs, create potential network designs tailored to regional geography and goals, and help municipalities explore different funding models and business plans.

Appalachian communities keen on participating in the grant program should visit ARC’s grant program website and complete a readiness assessment.

Inline map of Appalachia courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC BY 2.5)