Appalachian Regional Commission

Content tagged with "Appalachian Regional Commission"

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Connect Humanity, Microsoft Join Forces to Fund Appalachia Broadband

The nonprofit digital equity organization Connect Humanity has struck a new partnership with Microsoft to fund the deployment of affordable broadband access to long neglected residents of Appalachia.

The new partnership, outlined in a recent announcement, will leverage the Connect Humanity’s IDEA Fund (Investing in Digital Equity Appalachia) to help finance community-focused Internet Service Providers (ISPs) “best placed to meet the digital needs of residents and businesses in Appalachia’s unserved areas.”

Appalachia – which technically stretches from the Catskill Mountains in New York State to the hills of Mississippi – continues to be among the least connected areas in the nation. Appalachian residents are 31 percent more likely than the national population to lack a broadband subscription, and fewer than 20 percent of households use the internet at broadband speeds.

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Appalachia heat map from ILSR

Only 25 of the existing 423 Appalachian counties meet or exceed the national average for broadband speeds – and all were in metropolitan areas. Given the unreliable nature of FCC broadband maps, Appalachia’s digital divide is likely worse than measurements indicate.

New $4 Million Open Access Project Brings Fiber Service To Rural West Virginia

A new $4 million project funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration will help bring affordable fiber broadband to long underserved parts of West Virginia.

The project primarily targets the rural counties of Randolph and Tucker, long stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The RFP for the open access middle- and last-mile file project was issued last summer, seeking partners to help maintain the network and manage access leases in partnership with the Woodlands Development Group (WDG), which will own the finished network.

“The Route 33 Broadband Deployment Project will deploy backbone fiber from Elkins along Route 33 through Bowden, north to Harman, up to Canaan Valley, and ending in Davis, establishing last-mile broadband access to 40 businesses, and enabling future last-mile projects to serve at minimum 480 households and 25 additional businesses located within 1,000 ft of the backbone fiber,” the RFP states.

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West VA Woodlands Development Group Fiber Map

WDG, a 501(c)(3), had already been awarded a $1.7 million grant laying the foundation of the effort courtesy of 2021 COVID relief legislation (courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act). The remainder of the $4 million project will be funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Kentucky Hopes To Shake Off KentuckyWired Boondoggle as State Gets Ready for BEAD Funding

Kentucky is one of many states undergoing a baptism by fire as they jocky to take advantage of billions in historic federal broadband grants. The Kentucky Office of Broadband Development didn’t exist a year ago; now it’s tasked with identifying state broadband gaps and managing one of the most complex broadband subsidy efforts ever attempted.

All while shaking off a history of costly state boondoggles.

Kentucky officials last year announced they’d be spending more than $203 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to shore up broadband access. Now they’re preparing to spend hundreds of millions more courtesy of $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Kentucky Office of Broadband Officials have spent the last few months on a listening tour getting an earful from frustrated state residents angry about high broadband prices, spotty coverage, and sluggish speeds. Kentucky currently ranks 30th nationwide in such metrics thanks in part to monopolization by local cable and phone giants.

Like so many states, the lack of affordable, reliable broadband access was particularly notable during the Covid home education and telecommuting boom, driving a renewed interest in creative broadband deployment alternatives.

Avoiding The Sins Of The Past

Past Kentucky efforts to bridge the digital divide haven’t gone particularly well.