Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps because of it, a considerable number of U.S. states ramped up broadband support in 2020, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Twelve state legislatures allocated money to existing broadband funds or to other state entities authorized to finance broadband projects, according to the report. The states added between $1.5 million and $51 million to those funds.
Another six states – Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon and Pennsylvania — passed legislation in 2020 to create new broadband funds, bringing the total number of states with broadband funds to 37. Such funds “overwhelmingly” focus on providing grant money to expand broadband infrastructure, the researchers said.
Both Democratic and Republican governors seem to have determined that broadband is good for politics. Forty of them outlined broadband initiatives in their annual state of the state speeches, Pew Charitable Trusts noted.
State Broadband Support
Several states gained broadband offices in 2020, including Louisiana, Kansas and Florida, while others – including Wisconsin, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Colorado – established task forces that will help lead and administer state broadband deployment programs, according to the Pew researchers.
The broadband offices and task forces were generally established by legislators, but three governors used executive orders to establish either an office or a task force.
States also continued to clarify which entities can build broadband networks or provide service.
Three states – Arizona, Nebraska and Virginia – gave electric utility companies the option of using easements for construction of middle-mile broadband networks. And five states – Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and West Virginia – gave electric and telecom cooperatives the option of leasing their utility equipment to provide last mile broadband service.
As a previous Pew Charitable Trusts report noted, some states used some of the money provided to the state through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support broadband. The new report notes that North Carolina, Oregon and Arkansas directed some CARES Act funding to existing broadband programs, while at least seven states – Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia – established emergency infrastructure grant programs.
Some states seem to be anticipating additional federal funding for broadband. The new Pew report notes, for example, that Kentucky, Texas, New Mexico and Idaho “established offices or programs or passed laws outlining how federal broadband funding will be allocated.”
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts state broadband support report, the states’ heightened focus on broadband illustrates the need for states to have a defined role in any federal broadband effort.
“Clearly setting that role would allow for great coordination between levels of government,” the authors wrote. And that, they said, “would better ensure effective stewardship of public funds and help the nation more quickly achieve universal availability of high-speed, affordable broadband.”