March 2, 2021 – Federal block grants are an effective way of deploying broadband quickly, and the federal government needs to hear local stories to understand that, said the CEO of network builder Tilson.
Joshua Broder said at an Incompas event on February 9 that the historic debate about whether federal agencies or states should handle money from Washington should be clear: States understand their issues better and can deploy broadband quicker if given the block grants from the capital.
The CARES Act has provided a number of examples of that, Broder said. The program allows funding for states to quickly deploy broadband in response to the pandemic. The Tilson company, which was a recipient of a block grant, has worked with state governments receiving federal block grants and helped build networks for the grant recipients.
Broder said Tilson enjoyed expedited builds thanks to its partnership with cooperatives and believes everyone can advocate for better broadband wherever they live. One way to raise support, he said, is for beneficiaries to share their experiences.
Cities take advantage of block grants
Broder cited Tucson, Arizona, which is using $4 million in federal CARES Act grant money to fund the Community Wireless Program to help close the digital divide.
The Arizona Daily Star reported Census data showing that 10,798 households in the city do not have access to the internet. Through the broadband deployment program, 5,000 routers will be distributed to those who need it most and who have experienced hardship due to the pandemic. Thanks to this federal block grant, many families will be able to have the means to support their children’s online schooling, he said.
The State of Vermont has also benefitted from federal block grants, Broder noted. A press release from the Vermont Department of Public Service said, “The Department of Public Service issued $3.9 million in grant awards to Internet Service Providers to serve over 5,800 eligible locations with broadband connections in response to COVID-19.”
Conveying the importance of broadband to government leaders is a serious challenge that can be overcome, Broder added. “Tell stories about how broadband works and why it’s needed,” Broder said.
“We need to unleash creativity at the state level and let states map themselves where there are underserved areas. Federally funded but state implemented federal block grants are what we need.”
Broder added, however, that affordability is still an issue, which can be alleviated using more federal funds.