Bridging the digital divide with American Rescue Plan Act funding

Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

One year after ARPA was signed, states, cities and counties are making meaningful progress to expand broadband access.

In this day and age, access to broadband is not a luxury. Trust me—I know. 

In 2019, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance named Brownsville, Texas, as one of the “Worst Connected Cities” in the country. That was the same year I was elected mayor. 

At the time, two-thirds of households lacked high-speed (cable, DSL or fiber) internet access. I knew that if Brownsville was going to be a thriving community, the issue of broadband must be one of my top priorities. 

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, which placed a huge spotlight on the digital divide. Throughout 2020 and 2021, we saw schools close and many businesses transition to working from home. The sudden transition was harder for some than others. A Rice University study of the Houston area in March 2021 found one in three Black families and one in four Hispanic families reported challenges with internet and/or digital access, compared to just one in 10 white parents.

Across the country, lack of high-speed internet forced some students to park outside libraries in the evenings so they could access free Wi-Fi just to complete school assignments. And the ability to work from home was only available to those who had the means and resources to do so. 

Like many other elected officials, I knew that bridging the digital divide would be one of the key issues to ensure today’s workers, and our children, would be ready for the jobs of tomorrow. And this past year, we were aided by the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act that was signed into law on March 11, 2021. 

In Brownsville, we are using those funds to build out 95 miles of "middle-mile" infrastructure to bring high-speed internet to homes throughout some of our most underserved communities. These investments will bring down the cost for residents, add resiliency to existing networks, and create the infrastructure that will make possible the all-important “last-mile” work.

And Brownsville is not alone in making this kind of investment. I’m part of a network of NewDEAL Leaders, consisting of state and local elected officials across the nation who share an innovative, results-driven approach to governing. Some of my colleagues making progress on internet access include Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix, who has worked with local providers to ensure 250,000 families have high-speed internet for students in some of the city’s most high-need areas.

Delegate Brooke Lierman spearheaded legislation to set up Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband in 2021. With the support of ARPA funds, the office is providing grants of up to $10 million to local jurisdictions to extend existing broadband service to unserved areas. 

And in Santa Cruz County, California, the government is partnering with a local ISP provider to bring broadband access to 4,000 local residents through ARPA funding, with a focus on rural areas.

Throughout the country, the American Rescue Plan has enabled dozens of other local officials to tailor investments where we need it most. According to Brookings, there are nearly 50 projects to expand access to broadband across 39 localities. A separate analysis from FiveThirtyEight showed 22 states have spent $7 billion from ARPA on broadband efforts. 

Still more to do

Looking ahead, my colleagues and I are not done making improvements. Broadband access is a major component of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The progress made with funding from ARPA is crucial for laying the groundwork for maximizing the impact of those further investments coming down the road. 

Access to broadband will help students keep up with their homework, even as schools have reopened. It’s a way for grandparents to keep in touch with children and grandchildren. It’s a way for local elected leaders to get the word out about how residents can get Covid-19 vaccines and access other key services. And it is increasingly how we apply for jobs, perform work and access health care. 

Leaders in Congress, along with President Biden, trusted local leaders to make smart, high-impact investments through the American Rescue Plan. Only one year after the bill was signed into law, that trust is already paying dividends here in Brownsville and across the country.

Elected in 2019, Trey Mendez is in his first term as mayor of Brownsville, Texas and is a member of the NewDEAL Leaders network.

NEXT STORY: How a public defender’s office transformed client management into a people-centered solution

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.