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 affordable high-speed Internet access to unconnected areas and underserved state. (Photosani, Shutterstock)
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SALT LAKE CITY — There are currently 70,000 homes 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 Connect Utahlaunched on November 29 via 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 to unconnected and underserved areas of the state, according to a press release.
Rebecca Dilg, director of the Utah Broadband Center, said the project received $5 million from the federal government. Broadband Fair Access and Deployment Program, a $42.45 billion program that helps expand high-speed Internet access and use. The program is overseen by the US Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Additional funds for Connecting Utah came from the Digital Equity Act, which allocated $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 is “not an easy, round number.”
The second project will expand broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the state, connecting approximately 3,080 households and businesses, according to a press release. The Utah Broadband Center announced Wednesday that it will receive $10 million to fund this work through the Coronavirus capital projects fund as a member of US rescue plan.
The Utah Broadband Center has already awarded five rural recipients:
- Box Elder County
- Croydon, County Morgan
- Millard County
- West Mountain, Utah County
- Montezuma Creek, San Juan County
The CFP is a $10 billion program that funds projects that help monitor work, education and health in response to the pandemic, according to the press release. Utah is among five other states that have received CPF funds.
Dilg said his office heard about the broadcast equality program funding a year ago. After the August 15 deadline of this year, he received the funding in November. Utah is one of 14 states and territories that have currently received the funds, she added.
The money is now going to Connecting Utah’s five-year plan, the first step of which is to identify areas that need internet access the most. Dilg said the state has had internet availability maps 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.
“It gives us another layer of information,” Dilg said. “Are these areas really served? Are they represented?
She also highlighted the outreach work done by her office, including workshops, a website and social media campaigns, aided by local consultancy firm Horrocks.
The five-year plan also includes implementing internet service in underrepresented areas, Dilg said. They will provide grants and “have partners in this endeavor.” Their first priority is to connect every household, she said; then they will focus on improving speed.
Dilg said, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everything is done online, from telehealth appointments to driver’s license renewals to working remotely. His team worries about “digital immigrants” — older generations who haven’t grown up with technology — and even 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,” Dilg said.