The Treasury Department has approved more than $90 million in funding to help Vermont expand affordable broadband access across the state. The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF), will help Vermont close its digital divide by connecting nearly 14,000 homes and businesses to reliable, affordable high-speed internet.
“These past few years have only exacerbated the growing digital divide between urban and rural America,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “That is one of the many reasons why Congress acted with the passage and enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act. From Beecher Falls to Bennington, this American Rescue Plan funding will increase equitable access to high-speed, quality internet service in Vermont at an affordable cost. These funds will give the ‘last mile’ rural communities throughout Vermont the ability to stay connected with the digital, global economy.”
With the funding, 13,818 households and businesses will be connected to high-speed internet, representing 22 percent of locations in the state that still lack high-speed internet access.
The funding will go to the Vermont Community Broadband Construction Grant Program, a formula grant program that provides funding to communities for the construction of locally defined and prioritized broadband infrastructure projects through a system of regional Communication Union Districts (CUDs). The Treasury Department noted in a press release that the total funding amount allocated for each CUD was determined based on the percentage of road segments without existing access to high-speed wireline facilities.
The Broadband Construction Grant Program is designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses. Treasury also noted that this funding represents 80 percent of the state’s total allocation under the CPF program. Vermont has submitted additional plans for the remainder of its CPF funds, which are currently being reviewed by the Treasury Department.
“The pandemic exposed longstanding challenges that workers and families face when they don’t have adequate access to the internet, especially those living in rural areas and other unconnected communities. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration’s broadband investments across the country are so critical,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “This funding through the American Rescue Plan will help provide affordable, high-speed internet service to communities across Vermont, including the most rural parts of the state. We commend Vermont for targeting this funding to places where it is most urgently needed.”
Following the Treasury Department’s guidance, Vermont’s approved plan requires service providers to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s new Affordable Connectivity Program. The program helps ensure that households can afford the high-speed internet by providing a discount of up to $30 per month.
Additionally, funding recipients are also asked to consider whether the federally funded networks will be affordable to the target markets in their service areas. The Treasury Department further encourages recipients to require that a federally funded project offer at least one low-cost option at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users.