RI Nets $5.5M Broadband Grants to Upgrade Ocean State’s Network & Provide Affordable, Reliable, High-Speed Internet for All

U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline on Monday joined U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo and Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth Tanner at the Providence Public Library to unveil $5 million in federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding and $506,000 in Digital Equity Act funding to enhance broadband access and help close the digital divide. 

The federal funding will support the state’s planning and pre-deployment activities as they enact a five-year action plan to bring broadband to underserved areas across Rhode Island.

Last year, Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin, and Cicilline helped pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (P.L. 117-58), which President Biden signed into law, to invest $65 billion nationwide to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade.  Under the law, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will administer $42.5 billion in BEAD funding to states nationwide. 

Rhode Island will receive a minimum of $100 million in formula-based funding and could qualify for additional competitive BEAD grant funding.  The state may distribute BEAD funds to non-profits, public-private partnerships, private companies, utilities and local governments to ensure every Rhode Islander has access to reliable high-speed internet.

In addition to BEAD funding, the state will also receive over $506,000 in federal Digital Equity Act funding to address digital inclusion efforts in three main areas: affordable internet, access to technology devices, and digital skills-training.  Overall, the Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion nationwide, divided into three programs to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy:

  1. $60 million for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program.  This is the funding Rhode Island is receiving today to develop digital equity plans.
  2. $1.44 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program to fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of digital equity plans.
  3. $1.25 billion for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to fund annual grant programs for five years to implement digital equity projects.

“The funding for Rhode Island today is the first step to ensuring affordable high-speed Internet is available to every resident,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said. “This money will allow the state to conduct the important planning and digital equity work vital to making this program a success. I thank Governor McKee, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline for their commitment to connecting Rhode Island and bridging the digital divide.”

“Expanding and improving internet access helps expand opportunity.  This is a smart investment in upgrading the state’s digital infrastructure.  This funding will advance a coordinated strategy to get all Rhode Islanders connected to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband service and close the digital divide,” said Senator Reed.

“Reliable broadband connects Rhode Islanders to work, school, and other aspects of daily life.  This federal funding will allow Rhode Island to create a framework that equitably closes the digital divide across the state,” said Senator Whitehouse.

“In today’s 21st century economy, so much of our daily lives depends on access to a steady internet connection. It’s long past time that every American has access to high quality, affordable internet, both here in Rhode Island and throughout the nation,” said Congressman Langevin. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Rhode Island will be receiving upwards of $100 million in federal funding to close the digital divide once and for all. Today’s announcement represents a major step forward for Rhode Island’s plan to deliver high-speed, reliable internet across every corner of our state.”

“The COVID pandemic laid bare just how deep the digital divide is – and the need for action to address these inequities,” said Congressman Cicilline. “Those with broadband access were able to work, shop for necessities like food and hygiene and safety products, and attend school from home, while those without broadband simply could not, and were forced to leave home to find connectivity. Your zip code should not determine your ability to access high speed, reliable internet. Broadband is not an indulgence, and this investment will enable us to start treating it like the utility that it is.”

“During the pandemic, households had increased reliance on broadband connections as access became essential for employment, education and daily activities,” said Governor McKee. “We thank the Biden Administration for this funding as it will help us in our mission to tackle barriers to connectivity, ensuring Rhode Islanders have better access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet and the valuable resources and information it provides.”

Rhode Island’s $5 million BEAD grant will develop a 5-year action plan by funding:

  • Identification of unserved and underserved locations
  • Capacity-building and employee training of the state broadband office; 
  • Asset mapping across Rhode Island to catalog high-speed Internet adoption, affordability, equity, access and deployment; 
  • Support for the Rhode Island Broadband Development Program, including a 5-year action plan and enhancing a previous statewide assessment of infrastructure and Internet service availability; 
  • Refining state goals, principles, priorities and strategies for digital equity; 
  • Reaching more than 3,000 people to better understand barriers to Internet access, affordability, adoption, digital literacy, online privacy and cybersecurity, and access to digital opportunities and devices.

Rhode Island will receive $506,100.07 under the Digital Equity Act to fund various activities including:

  • Development of a statewide digital equity plan;
  • Engage local and regional stakeholders on Internet access and equity issues;
  • Conduct a digital equity survey and coordinate with local governments to ensure statewide outreach.

According to state statistics, nearly 50,000 families across Rhode Island — about 12 percent of all households — are not connected to the internet. Another 35,000 households only have access via a smartphone and data plan, according to U.S. Census data.

Rhode Island Commerce issued its draft Broadband and Digital Equity Strategic Plan in August.

Now that the state has its initial planning funding it can continue to develop, advance, and finalize its high-speed internet deployment and digital equity plans. 

Between the $100 million in BEAD funding, Affordable Connectivity Program funding, Capital Projects Fund and Community Development Block Grant funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Congressional delegation has secured about $200 million since 2020 to enhance the state’s high-speed Internet network and improve broadband access.



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