Our Big List of American Rescue Plan Community Broadband Projects Hits 250

It’s been nine months since we launched our Big List of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Broadband Projects, tracking what communities are doing with the various pots of federal money intended to go towards solving local broadband challenges. Since then, we’ve recorded 250 community projects and 27 states which have announced significant broadband grant programs or disbursement for new infrastructure projects. Here we highlight some of the community projects we’re really excited about, including those that have decided to build their own networks and those building on existing projects, as well as those using ARPA dollars for open access networks, affordable connectivity, or Internet access for students. We also discuss some examples of solutions we believe are less permanent, forward-thinking, or likely to result in long-term success, including the distribution of hotspots and the allocation of funds to monopoly providers. 

What We’re Excited About: Community-Owned Networks and Open Access  

Fortunately, we’re seeing a number of communities approve plans to spend their Rescue Plan dollars on building their own municipal networks. In Lexington, Tennessee (population 8,000), the city is collaborating with Lexington Electric to bring broadband to the community. An ARPA grant is expected to cover about $20 million of the total $50 million price tag, and the city will issue bonds for the rest. If this grant is received, Henderson County (28,000) – where Lexington is located – has agreed to a 10 percent match (from $300,000 to $500,000). 

Maine has also allocated just over $15 million to eight broadband projects through the ConnectMaine Authority, $8.5 million of which comes from the American Rescue Plan. The funding will go to five municipal projects and three provider-led initiatives, and will serve approximately 6,000 residents “in some of the least-served areas of the state.”

Other communities are deploying fixed wireless solutions. Cuyahoga County, Ohio (1.2 million), for example, will spend $20 million to expand connectivity to 25,000 households in the county’s lower-income, less-connected suburbs. The project would bring a wireless connection to about 20,000 low-income suburban households, but also a wired connection to about 5,000 residents living in apartment buildings and housing authority complexes. Mesa City, Arizona (509,000) has allocated $4.5 million in Rescue Plan funding to extend broadband access to students living in Mesa’s western neighborhoods. The project will likely include a partnership with Mesa Public Schools and will involve the construction of 21 new cellular radio towers to reach unserved students and their families. These wireless solutions in Cuyahoga and Mesa are good, but we stand by fiber connections as the best permanent solution to connectivity needs.  

We’re also seeing several communities build on existing infrastructure. Decatur, Illinois (70,000) is using $115,000 of its ARPA funding to expand its existing fiber backbone. The expansion includes an Institutional Network (I-Net) that will connect 11 school districts and 3 firehouses. Greenfield, Massechussetts (18,000) will likely leverage Rescue Plan dollars to complete the city's existing municipal network. Skagit County, Washington (127,000) has earmarked $1 million of $25 million in its own funding to extend the county’s broadband network and support ongoing connectivity projects

Rescue Plan dollars are going to Communications Union Districts (CUDs) in Vermont and Public Utility Districts (PUDs) in Washington state as well, which is exciting. The PUDs have long been at the vanguard in building locally controlled fiber in the Northwest, and the CUDs look like an especially promising model to meet the persistent connectivity crisis in rural Vermont permanently.  

For instance, the Lewis County PUD (33,000 customers) in Washington is currently undertaking an ambitious $130 million project to build a countywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. In May, the PUD asked County Commissioners for an allocation of $1 million in ARPA funds for the project; the PUD is expected to issue a formal request to the county to allocate additional funding for broadband. The state of Vermont has created the Broadband Construction Grant Program, which will distribute $116 million of a total $150 million pot of American Rescue funds to “CUDs, small communications carriers, and/or Internet Service Providers working in conjunction with a CUD to cover construction costs related to broadband projects” to build out to all unserved and underserved residents. Vermont’s first $10 million has already gone to four CUDs for planning and engineering work.

Additionally, a number of communities have launched open access projects. In Erie County, New York (919,000) for example, ARPA dollars are resuscitating the construction of an open access fiber backbone, which will be owned by the county and operated by ErieNet, a nonprofit local development corporation in the area. The backbone will be directly available to anchor institutions, but partner providers will be responsible for building out last mile infrastructure and providing service to residents. York County, Pennsylvania (274,000) voted to allocate $25 million of $87 million in ARP funding to build a middle-mile fiber network. The network will be comprised of seven rings, which can be utilized by multiple ISPs to provide fiber Internet service to residents and businesses

What We’re Less Excited About: Short-Term Solutions and Funding for Monopoly Providers 

Though hotspots served as important immediate solutions during the pandemic when connectivity needs are urgent, we advocate for broadband investments that will serve communities’ connectivity needs over the long term. About 20 communities on our list are using Rescue Plan dollars to deploy hotspots or other wireless infrastructure. These projects are in large part to provide affordable connectivity to residents or to connect students and their families so that homework can be done at home, either where infrastructure doesn’t reach or connections are too expensive for those families. 

We’ve seen a lot of activity in locally-owned broadband, but a number of communities are using their Rescue Plan allocations to fund broadband buildouts by monopoly providers. Delaware, for example, will give $110 million in ARPA dollars to the huge monopoly providers that have refused to build underserved areas in the state because it’s not profitable enough. Comcast, Verizon and Mediacom have received $33 million, $12 million, and $11 million, respectively (nearly $56 million total), under Delaware’s Broadband Infrastructure Grants program to bring “high-speed, wired broadband service” to 11,600 additional addresses. 

Other communities giving money to monopoly providers include: Clay County, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Androscoggin County, Maine; Calvert County, Maryland; Gage County, Nebraska; Guilford County, North Carolina; and Roane County, Tennessee. Search “monopoly” on the Big List to read more. 

States and communities don’t have to use Rescue Plan funds until 2026, so we expect to see many more projects at both the state and community level across the country. 

Continue to check our Big List for new projects and updates on those already listed. Feel free to email ry@ilsr.org with any corrections, additions, or updates.