Recently, I joined 3,500 city officials at the National League of Cities (NLC) annual conference in Kansas City. In attendance were mayors, city managers and planners of every description.
And as is always the case, there’s a myriad of issues facing these municipal leaders. But one that has their immediate attention is the need to close the digital divide in their cities with increased access to fast, reliable broadband. Cities across the U.S. are grappling with the best way to make sure that broadband is widely available, affordable and that their residents understand its benefits.
Our CEO John Stankey addressed that issue head-on in his keynote Q&A with NLC CEO Clarence Anthony.
“At AT&T, we believe every American should be connected to the internet,” John told the audience. “That requires effective public-private plans to spur investment in underserved communities. Working together with state and local partners, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help close the digital divide.”
However, navigating the best path for public-private partnerships can be confusing. Especially because federal funds are available through several sources including the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
What I explored while participating in NLC’s Solution Session panel – Moving Fast on Broadband Expansion in Your City – is how many decision-makers are unclear on the best way to move forward. Here are three tips that can help get high-speed internet deployed quickly to your communities.
- Take advantage of ARPA funding now. ARPA funding is available now and its rules allow flexibility for how these federal funds can be spent on broadband immediately. The city of Amarillo provides a great example of effective use of ARPA funding. BEAD funding will not be available until late 2023 at the earliest and will have a host of conditions attached.
- Choose the public-private partnership model. Working with an established private internet service provider with firm financial footing and expertise can help get the network built quickly and ensure it is maintained long-term.
- Pick the most future-proof technology available. Fiber has the fastest downlink and uplink speeds available, and a path to even faster speeds in the future. It can provide the necessary speed and reliability for critical applications in education and telemedicine, as well as for connecting with loved ones and streaming entertainment.
Some municipalities will understandably need to wait for BEAD funding to be made available. To ensure you get the most out of the programs, it’s important to understand how the rules for each program work in both the planning and execution phases. To learn more about the nuances in federal broadband funding project – check out my colleague Jeff Luong’s post on putting all of the puzzle pieces together. Local input will be critical as states develop their plans for how to use BEAD funding to expand access to high-speed internet.
Understanding the various options for federal funding is key for municipalities to successfully enable the deployment of robust broadband connectivity and close the digital divide for their citizens. But don’t ignore the importance of choosing a great private partner with the right technology for today and beyond. AT&T and the rest of the broadband industry are eager to work together with government and nonprofits to ensure greater access to technology needed today and tomorrow.