The Capital Projects Fund Helps Utah Bridge Broadband Access Gap

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Digital Beat

The Capital Projects Fund Helps Utah Bridge Broadband Access Gap

"Every Utah household should have access to high-speed internet—and we want to help make that happen."

Gov. Spencer Cox (R-UT)

The Utah Broadband Center and Access Act—enacted July 1, 2021—created the state's broadband office to 1) ensure that publicly funded broadband projects continue to be publicly accessible and provide a public benefit, 2) develop the statewide digital connectivity plan, and 3) administer the Broadband Access Grant Program. The Utah Broadband Center was also charged with working with the Utah Geospatial Resource Center to create a database and interactive map displaying statewide economic development data which includes voluntarily submitted broadband availability, speeds, and other data.

The law also allows the Utah Broadband Center to:

  • make recommendations to state and federal agencies, local governments, the governor, and the state legislature regarding policies and initiatives that promote the development of broadband-related infrastructure in the state and help implement those policies and initiatives;
  • facilitate coordination between broadband providers and public and private entities;
  • collect and analyze data on broadband availability and usage in the state, including internet speed, capacity, the number of unique visitors, and the availability of broadband infrastructure throughout the state;
  • create a voluntary broadband advisory committee, which shall include broadband providers and other public and private stakeholders, to solicit input on broadband-related policy guidance, best practices, and adoption strategies;
  • work with broadband providers, state and local governments, and other public and private stakeholders to facilitate and encourage the expansion and maintenance of broadband infrastructure throughout the state; 
  • apply for federal grants;
  • participate in federal programs; and
  • administer federally funded broadband-related programs.

Utah's Digital Divide

BroadbandNow ranks Utah 13th in the U.S. for internet coverage, speed, and availability, estimating that nearly 97 percent of residents there have access to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload broadband. BroadbandNow estimates that nearly 95 percent of Utahns have access to 100 Mbps broadband and 86 percent have access to 1 Gigabit service. Just less than half have access to a fiber-based broadband network. But only 20 percent of residents are able to purchase broadband at a price of $60/month or less.

The Utah Broadband Center estimates that approximately 61,600 households and businesses lack access to broadband.

Utah's Broadband Plan

In 2021, the Utah legislature also created the Broadband Center Advisory Commission to:

  • make recommendations to the Utah Broadband Center with respect to strategic plan development and the application for and use of broadband infrastructure funds;
  • solicit input from relevant stakeholders, including public and private entities who may assist in developing and implementing the strategic plan and public and private entities whom the strategic plan may impact;
  • provide recommendations for strategic plan development and implementation;
  • review strategic plan drafts; and
  • recommend changes.

The advisory commission consists of nine voting members including the executive director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, four members of the Utah state legislature, and four people, appointed by the governor, who currently work in the public sector and who have professional experience in broadband or broadband infrastructure, applying for federal grants; or financing infrastructure. The director of the Utah Broadband Center serves as a non-voting member of the commission. 

With the Broadband Center Advisory Commission's guidance, the Utah Broadband Center will develop the statewide digital connectivity plan including strategies to:

  • implement broadband connectivity statewide;
  • promote digital equity;
  • apply for federal infrastructure funds; and
  • apply for additional funds.

In late November, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded $5,676,684.53 in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet service throughout the state. The money will be used for:

  • Identification of unserved and underserved locations;
  • Training employees of Utah’s broadband program and increasing office capacity;
  • Asset mapping across Utah to catalogue high-speed Internet service adoption, affordability, equity, access and deployment;
  • Development of “All Utah, All Online” project, a 5-year action plan supported by the precise assessment of current Internet service speeds and a better understanding of barriers.
  • Development of a statewide digital equity plan;
  • Building digital access program capacity; and
  • Provision of funding to create local digital equity plans.

Utah's Broadband Programs

The Broadband Access Grant Program

In the Utah Broadband Center and Access Act, the legislature created the Broadband Access Grant Program. Through the program, the center awards grants of less than $7.5 million to extend broadband service to individuals and businesses in an unserved area or an underserved area by providing last-mile connections to end users.

The law directs the state broadband office to 1) efficiently maximize the leverage of federal funding, 2) avoid the use of public funds for broadband facilities that duplicate existing broadband facilities that already meet or exceed federal standards, and 3) account for the benefits and costs to the state of existing facilities, equipment, and services of public and private broadband providers.

Broadband providers are eligible for grants Tribal governments and public-private partnerships. Applicants must consider additional funding sources including federal grant programs. Awardees are required to provide affordable, high-speed broadband service with download speed of not less than 100 megabits per second and an upload speed of not less than 20 megabits per second, low latency of less than 100 ms, and packet loss of less than 2 percent. The program prioritizes projects that will provide fiber to the premise at symmetrical Gig speeds. Awardees are given 30 months to complete projects.

Utah Rural Last Mile Broadband

On December 1, 2022, the U.S. Treasury approved Utah's plan to use Capital Projects Fund support for broadband infrastructure projects. Utah is using $9.8 million – 7 percent of its total Capital Projects Fund allocation – to fuel the Utah Rural Last Mile Broadband Grant Program, a competitive grant program designed to deploy high-speed broadband to households and businesses in rural and economically distressed areas across the state. The Utah Broadband Center will administer the program and support projects designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. Per Treasury rules, supported networks will participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program—a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families ($75/month if located on Tribal lands).

The Utah Broadband Center estimates that the Capital Projects Fund support will help connect 3,080 households and businesses, representing approximately 5 percent of locations in the state still lacking high-speed internet access.

The Utah Broadband Center has already awarded five rural recipients: Box Elder County, Croydon, Millard County, West Mountain, and Montezuma Creek in the Navajo Nation in San Juan County. Due to rurality, economic need, or high cost, these areas would not otherwise have broadband infrastructure without the grant incentive. The Capital Projects Fund support will be combined with $5.1 million of matching funds.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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