Federal, state programs to bring better internet access to rural Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is spending billions to increase the reach of broadband internet. Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced $100 million to do the same in under served areas of the state.

The FCC estimated in 2016 that 41% of schools, representing 47% of the nation’s students, don’t meet the Commission’s goal for high-speed internet. While Arizona has worked to provide a network for students, Wes Brownfield, with the Arizona Rural School Association, said it is the home network that is the issue.

“We have a broadband super highway right up to the school, which becomes two tin cans and a string for way too many of our rural families,” said Brownfield.

Ducey announced the new grant program, called the Arizona Broadband Development Grant Program. It will use $100 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and will help communities build or improve broadband in schools, homes, libraries and more. Brownfield said rural schools in particular will greatly benefit by the funds overall, but there’s a 10% cash match, funds many small, rural school districts don’t have on hand.

“We’re still at a point now where we’re trying to find out what the ‘granulars’ are in this, but it will make a huge difference for a lot of people,” said Brownfield.

In a release, Ducey said, “In today’s digitally connected world, ensuring access to high-speed internet is key to growing opportunity.”

Grants for the state program will be available for service providers, local governments, schools, libraries, native American tribes and more. The FCC said about 41% of Americans living on Tribal lands—about 1.6 million people—don’t have access to high-speed internet as of 2016. President Biden’s infrastructure bill will push $65 billion dollars for increasing and improving broadband around the nation.

As we’ve seen the need increase for internet access in a remote world, Brownfield said rural communities will, and are, fighting for themselves for access.

“For rural kids to compete with their urban peers, they need internet,” he said.

Applications for the Arizona Broadband Development Grant Program must be into the state by December 10 at 5pm.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.

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