The Biden administration’s long-awaited allocation of high-speed internet funding will give 19 states at least $1 billion each in federal aid from a 2021 infrastructure law, with Alaska, West Virginia, Wyoming and Montana leading the list in per capita aid.
Texas is slated to receive the most money, $3.3 billion, followed by California at $1.9 billion and Missouri at $1.7 billion from funding that targets rural or remote areas. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington are also among the states that will receive over $1 billion each.
“It’s the biggest investment in high-speed internet ever,” President Joe Biden said Monday in Washington, D.C. “For today’s economy to work for everyone, access is just as important as electricity or water or other basic services.”
The state-by-state allocations also show the benefits for heavily Republican states even as GOP members of Congress criticize Biden and Democrats for spending in the first two years of the administration. Congress provided the internet funding in a 2021 law when both chambers were controlled by Democrats.
States that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 will get 56 percent, or $23.4 billion, of the money, a reflection of the lack of high-speed internet service in many of them. States that voted for Biden will get 42 percent, or $17.6 billion. Another 1.5 percent, or $637 million, would go to territories that don’t have electoral votes, like Guam and Puerto Rico. The administration said it will deliver most of the aid over the next two years.
“I promised to be a president for all Americans, whether or not they voted for me or whether or not they voted for these laws,” Biden said. “These investments will help all Americans. We’re not gonna leave anyone behind.”
The funding, which White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients said in a Friday call with reporters would “close the digital divide,” comes as the House Republican majority is seeking to use fiscal 2024 spending bills to try to claw back unspent money appropriated when Democrats controlled both chambers.
In Alaska, whose estimated 734,000 people are represented by one at-large House member, Democrat Mary Peltola, funds of about $1 billion amount to roughly $1,387 per capita, based on 2022 estimated population data, more than twice as much as the per capita amount in West Virginia, where a $1.2 billion allocation amounts to $682 per person.
West Virginia Republican and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito said in a statement Monday that the funding is a “major breakthrough” in broadband coverage efforts.
“This funding, which is the largest amount of broadband funding awarded to the state to date, will assist in our efforts to provide communities with the resources they need to improve connectivity overall,” she said. “We are on the cusp of a major breakthrough — one that I am committed to seeing through.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., attended Biden’s announcement, and the president noted his support. Manchin had been opposed to Biden’s nominee, Gigi Sohn, to fill a vacant fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission, leading to her withdrawal from consideration in March. The FCC provided the updated map in May used to divvy up the broadband money proportionately.
The FCC map shows about 8.5 million unserved broadband serviceable locations across the U.S. That leaves about 7 percent of the U.S. unserved, according to senior White House officials.
Wyoming ranks third in per capita funding, with $347 million amounting to almost $600 per person. Montana follows, at about $560 per person for a total of $629 million.
Every state will receive at least $107 million from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, which will deliver $42.5 billion of the total $65 billion provided for internet access by the 2021 law. GOP lawmakers have supported BEAD funding, focusing instead on rescissions from other spending in the spending bills now moving through the chamber.
“Congressional Republicans are calling to overturn historic legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act, that is reducing costs, fighting climate change and creating good-paying manufacturing jobs,” Zients said in the Friday call. “We have a historic opportunity here to make a real difference in people’s lives, and making sure that we deliver on that potential is what we’re about every day.”
The announcement kicks off an administration effort to publicize the spending, with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Cabinet officials traveling the country to do so. Biden struck on themes common among his other infrastructure announcements, saying the broadband cash will “build the economy from the middle out and bottom up,” support small businesses and bring jobs back to the United States.
States and territories will have six months after they receive their formal allocation notice on June 30 to submit initial proposals on how they will run their grant programs. Once approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency overseeing the program, states and territories will be able to access at least 20 percent of the funds. Senior officials said Friday they are hoping to roll out 80 percent of the funds by summer 2025.
House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called the announcement an important step to close the digital divide.
“Energy and Commerce will continue our oversight to make sure NTIA is carrying out its responsibilities according to congressional intent, which includes making those investments in a technology neutral way that avoids overbuilding and other wasteful spending. That is how we make sure every unserved American has access to affordable, reliable broadband services,” she said in a statement.
Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, said the timeline is “aggressive,” especially given that the country has been dealing with the issue for decades.
“The question is, what is the extent to which the monetary investment aligns with what we’re capable of deploying in areas that have been historically hard to serve,” Lee said.
With an election next year, the administration is working against the clock to avoid the spending being upended by partisanship, even if it currently enjoys bipartisan support, she added. But the high cost of fiber, which the NTIA is prioritizing over other modes like fixed wireless, as well as general updates could make that difficult.
“As states are pulling these funds, we should already be thinking about upgrades and maintenance to these expanded networks and their capacities to meet the growing demands of emerging technologies,” Lee said. “The Biden administration is betting a lot of money on this. … It should behoove the administration to think about the future beyond deployments.”