Georgia Democrats announce $1.3 billion in grants to expand rural broadband Internet connections

As part of the $42 billion the Biden administration has committed to improving Internet access nationwide, a historic broadband investment has been secured for Georgia’s broadband rollout.

Several members of Georgia’s congressional delegation announced Monday that the state will receive a $1.3 billion grant under a broadband program launched by the bipartisan 2021 party infrastructure law. On Monday, US Senator Raphael Warnock and US Representative Lucy McBath were among Georgia Democrats who hailed the large investment as a significant step toward providing thousands of Georgians with more affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access.

Through the Infrastructure Act and the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration committed $90 billion last year to improve Internet service for millions of Americans. These include providing a $42 billion grant from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program to build thousands of miles of fiber optic cable and providing a $30 monthly internet bill discount to economically disadvantaged families.

The broadband announcement is the start of a three-week nationwide tour in which officials will promote investments during the Biden presidency.

“Today, 24 million people in our country do not have access to high-speed Internet, either because they cannot afford the monthly cost of a plan or because they live in communities that are not yet fully connected to fiber optic networks,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday. “But let’s agree: in 21st century America, high-speed Internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Every person in our country, no matter where they live, should have access to, and be able to afford, high-speed internet.”

The $1.3 billion broadband investment is the latest round of funding in which Georgia’s Democratic and Republican officials have pushed to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban communities and residents who can’t afford faster Wi-Fi connections .

On Monday, Warnock said he heard firsthand from Jackson County residents last year about Internet problems, such as frequent disconnections and limited service providers. He said accurate broadband mapping is important to get the most federal funding for Georgia.

“This federal investment means making life easier for hundreds of thousands of Georgians and provides the tools and infrastructure our communities need to compete in the 21st century,” Warnock said.

A report by think tank Washington-DC on broadband equity referenced a 2022 survey of 1,543 adults living in the rural South that found rural residents with generally lower-income countries expected federal intervention to accelerate broadband rollout.

A Brookings Institute October report called on government officials to ensure broadband programs aim to help individuals living primarily in rural areas, as well as groups most affected by inadequate internet access, including blacks, Hispanics, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

Expanding Georgia’s internet capabilities is critical to the prosperity of small businesses, educating young people and promoting equity, said McBath, who represents a 7th Ward that includes parts of Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

“Families across Georgia depend on broadband access for work, schoolwork, and contact with loved ones,” she said. “I am very pleased to see these federal funds returning to Georgia.”

Since last year, nearly $650 million in American Rescue Plan Act grants and hundreds of millions of dollars in related funds have been dedicated to improving broadband service for approximately 200,000 underserved Georgia residents.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced in January that $234 million had been awarded to internet service providers, including EMCs, major telcos and Georgia corporations, to improve connectivity in 28 counties.

Access to technology has improved for most Americans regardless of socioeconomic status, the Brookings report authors said, but barriers remain.

According to the 2019 American Community Survey, the rural poverty rate was 15.4%, compared to an urban poverty rate of 12%. Meanwhile, income disparities among ethnic minorities living in rural areas were much larger than among white rural residents.

“The global pandemic has highlighted both the importance and availability of online connectivity as millions have complied with calls for physical social distancing and have switched to the internet for remote work, school, healthcare, government services and regular communication with friends and family members ‘ the Brookings report said. “Yet millions of other people still struggle to maintain sustained access to broadband internet, particularly low-income and rural populations.”

Bidenomics is touted

Connecting Americans to high-speed internet is a “key part” of “Bidenomics” — Biden’s plan that “is based on the simple idea that we need to grow the economy from the middle out.” bottom-up – not top-down,” read a memo released by the government on Monday.

During his remarks on broadband funding, Biden highlighted recent job numbers and large private investments in areas like semiconductor manufacturing — a nod to the CHIPS and Science Act he signed in 2022, which provided subsidies for the industry — as evidence of his administration’s accomplishments recent commercial success.

According to the White House, the money will initially be used primarily for the installation and modernization of broadband networks. Once these goals are met, the remaining funds can be used for “Access, Adoption and Justice Purposes.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will administer grants for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and five US territories. Funding comes from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program established under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

States and territories are expected to receive formal notification of allocated funds by June 30.

States, ISPs, tribal governments and community organizations then have 180 days to submit grant proposals. The various grants are detailed at InternetForAll.gov.

States Newsroom reporter Ashley Murray contributed to this report

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