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Stronger Communications Start With Stronger Infrastructure

Back in September 2021, I wrote an article, Rural Broadband May Soon Get a Boost, about the bipartisan infrastructure bill which was being debated in Congress. The Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed in November of 2021.

This bill -- the first since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that advanced communications technology was examined on such a large scale -- approved $65 billion to extend broadband networks to those who don’t have access or cannot afford broadband service. The Covid 19 pandemic exposed the lack of reliable internet access in many rural and other underserved communities. This bill is an opportunity to reduce the “digital divide” that exists in the United States and expand access to advanced communications to many Americans. .


How the IIJA Addresses Both Broadband Access and Speed

The bill identified key areas that will be funded:

  1. Local ISP networks: States will receive $40 billion to improve local ISP networks.
  2. Improved broadband speeds: Broadband bandwidth speeds are defined as 100Mbps/20mbps, which will be a vast upgrade for many underserved populations.
  3. Affordable Internet service: Providers that accept government funds must offer a low-cost tier of services.
  4. Subsidized services: The fund earmarks $14 billion for a $30/month subsidy towards broadband service for qualifying households.

Other elements of the bill include funding for rural broadband programs including grants to Tribal nations, basic digital skills training, access to connected devices, and the build-out of the middle mile of the network infrastructure.

As stated above, the IIJA allocated $65 billion of investment into broadband. Of those monies, $48.2 will be administered by the NTIA’s newly established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. As directed by the IIJA, the largest of the new NTIA programs is the Broadband Equity and Deployment Program (BEAD). This program will distribute $42.45 billion (of the $48.2) to states, territories, D.C., and Puerto Rico. There are another five broadband programs that are also monitored by the NTIA, as established by the IIJA. (Note: according to the General Accounting Office, there are 25 Federal Programs across 15 agencies with broadband being the main purpose.)

IIJA is the first significant Federal investment in our country’s infrastructure in over 25 years. Organizations that are eligible for these funds are state and local governments, K-12 schools, and higher education organizations. Most have already gone through the grant application process. In my home state of Texas, funds will begin to be distributed by the Fall of 2023.


The Bill Passed in 2021. What's Happened Since?

The good news is that these funds are now flowing into states and projects are starting. I recently saw an RFP for the expansion of the middle mile and local loop broadband access in a large metropolitan area. The middle mile is the part of the communications network infrastructure that connects the local loop to the network service providers. There has been a lot of excitement about this project and others like it. Complex projects such as these require many kinds of expertise to accomplish them. Other projects include small cells antennas installed on city-owned in lamp posts in northern California and the distribution of internet accessible devices and training for residents on tribal lands. There are more of these projects to come-

These projects include many elements of network expansion including the construction of fiber pathways, network equipment, and project management and support. It takes many types of companies to get this work done as these projects are very complex and will take many skill sets to make it all function. Expertise necessary are technology engineers, fiber optic network installers, deisgn engineers, technology consultants, utility construction providers and complex project managers.

If you are not a recipient of federal funds, you may be engaged or employed by companies that are involved in these projects.

You may have read a lot about “smart cities” over the last few years. Widely available broadband is viewed as a prerequisite for a smart city and from that starting point, cities can offer a wider array of services to their populations. These services range from access to public libraries, and education, to innovative solutions that will improve the quality of life and promote economic growth. A more digitally connected population increases the employee base within a community. Opportunities will open up for more call center agents, inside sales representatives and other remote workers. Broadband also makes the network future ready for new city initiatives.

Some Internet service providers will be able to expand the reach of their networks as a result of this funding. This is a great opportunity for some carriers to upgrade their fiber infrastructure, open up services to new customers, and provide resources for innovation. Some middle-mile providers will also be able to take advantage of funds from this bill.

Other industries that will profit from this work will be construction, suppliers, network designers, and consultants. Assembling a great team is key. "Having a superb ensemble of partners who were experts in their respective verticals made our project a success,” said Guillermo Aguilar from Brownstone Consultants.

When I met Aguilar recently, he told me about a project he was part of in southern Texas. Pharr is a Texas border town with a population of approximately 80,000 citizens, and it had previously According to the most recent US Census data and reported by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Pharr, Texs ranked dead last on the list of the number of households with broadband in the United States.

Guillermo was part of a team that helped thec of Pharr expand broadband services to the city’s population. Now, 98% of all Pharr citizens have access to broadband services. Similar projects could be funded by IIJA.

Examples of IIJA funded project include expanding small cell network expansion to extend reliable internet services to the underserved population of San Jose, CA, In Warm Springs, OR, residents of the Warm Spring Indian Reservation was able to offer residents reliable broadband service and set up free Wi-Fi hubs and The City of Chula Vista, CA built on its smart city progress by addressing the digital divide through the creation of a groundbreaking Digital Equity and Inclusion Plan (DEIP). The DEIP is an actionable roadmap to expand access to Internet connectivity, devices, and digital literacy training for all community members.

It is hard to imagine living without the Internet for many of us that have access to high-speed services. Think about how different our world would be without it today. The IIJA will go a long way in providing equal access to quality internet to the underserved.

Not sure where to start? Check out, or your local state government website.