Utah receives more than $15 million in federal funding to improve Internet access

The Utah Broadband Center, an initiative of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, has launched “Connecting Utah,” which will develop a five-year action plan to expand access to affordable high-speed Internet in non-Utah connected and underserved by the state. (Fotosani, Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY – There are currently 70,000 households in Utah with limited or no Internet access, according to the 2021 American Communities SurveyBut the state just received more than $15 million in federal funding for two projects that will help change that.

The first is Utah Connectionlaunched on November 29 through the Utah Broadband Center, an initiative of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Connecting Utah will develop a five-year action plan to expand affordable high-speed Internet access in unconnected and underserved areas of the state, according to a news release.

Utah Broadband Center director Rebecca Dilg said the project received $5 million from the federal government Broadband Equity Access and Implementation Program, a $42.45 billion program that helps expand access and use of high-speed Internet. The program is overseen by the US Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Additional funding for Connecting Utah came from the Digital Equity Act, which awarded $2.75 billion to three federal grant programs, also overseen by the NTIA. Dilg said the amount of money received from the Digital Equity Act “isn’t an easy, rounded number.”

The second project will expand broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the state, connecting approximately 3,080 households and businesses, according to a news release. The Utah Broadband Center announced Wednesday that it will receive $10 million to fund this work through the Coronavirus capital projects fund as part of American bailout plan.

The Utah Broadband Center has already awarded five rural recipients:

  • Box Elder County
  • Croydon, County Morgan
  • Millardo County
  • West Mountain, Utah County
  • Montezuma Creek, San Juan County

The CFP is a $10 billion program that funds projects that enable job, education and health tracking in response to the pandemic, according to the news release. Utah is among five other states that have received CPF funds.

Utah Connection

Dilg said his office heard about funding the broadcasting equality program a year ago. After the deadline of August 15 this year, he received the funding by November. Utah is one of 14 states and territories currently receiving the funding, she added.

The money is now going to Connecting Utah’s five-year plan, the first step of which is to identify the areas that need Internet access the most. Dilg said the state has had maps of internet availability for more than a decade based on information from internet service providers, but now they hope community members will visit speedtest.utah.gov to run internet speed tests at their various addresses.

“This gives us another level of information,” Dilg said. “Are these areas actually served? Are they represented?”

He also highlighted the outreach work his office has done, including workshops, a website and social media campaigns, with the help of local consultancy firm Horrocks.

The five-year plan also includes rolling out Internet service in underrepresented areas, Dilg said. They will provide grants and “have partners in this venture.” Their first priority is to connect every family, she said; then they will focus on improving speed.

Dilg said that, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everything is being done online, from telehealth appointments to driver’s license renewals to remote working. His team cares about “digital immigrants” — older generations who didn’t grow up using technology — as well as young people who don’t necessarily have all the skills needed to navigate a digital world.

“We envision a digitally connected Utah where everyone is able to fully participate in modern society,” said Dilg.

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