The Just Transition Fund Invests in Closing the Digital Divide to Strengthen Economic Resilience in Coal-Affected Communities

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Digital Beat

The Just Transition Fund Invests in Closing the Digital Divide to Strengthen Economic Resilience in Coal-Affected Communities

Adrianne B. Furniss

The Just Transition Fund (JTF) provides grants, technical assistance, peer-to-peer support, and education to help coal communities identify, prepare for, and apply for federal funding for broadband projects that meet local needs.

Roughly one-third of residents in the rural and tribal areas the JTF serves cannot access high-speed internet—an inequity that restricts work, education, health care, public services, and civic engagement. Community and economic development organizations and government entities have essential roles to ensure that people in rural areas have equitable access to this critical infrastructure, can afford the service once it’s available, and can learn the necessary skills to use the internet to expand opportunities.

The Just Transition Fund was established in 2015 to help communities secure funding through the Obama Administration’s POWER Initiative, the first federal program aimed at helping communities affected by the changing coal economy. Since its inception, the JTF has helped its community partners leverage nearly $300 million in public and private funding, guided by their belief that the most sustainable solutions come from local leaders and are built from the ground up.

With historic levels of federal funding available for broadband, JTF wants to drive public investment to the coal communities who often face substantial capacity barriers to leveraging these resources.

JTF offers grants of up to $150,000 and technical assistance to help organizations access federal and state funds to expand broadband access. This program is designed to offer flexible support for what local organizations need. Grants and technical assistance can be used for:

  • Grant writing to put together a successful application
  • Identifying grant programs that are a good fit for a community project
  • The community’s portion of infrastructure project matching funds
  • Building internal staff capacity to further develop and refine a community broadband project
  • Feasibility studies and additional project planning

The Fund prioritizes communities in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Texas.

Recipients of broadband grants or technical assistance, which are provided on a rolling basis, are invited to join JTF’s community of practice. Through ongoing open calls and relationship-building, the JTF supports communities and connects them with one another to facilitate peer learning, mentorship, and the sharing of best practices.

The JTF works with national experts to develop resources and host webinars so that community and economic development organizations in coal communities are aware of opportunities to get involved. Topics include upcoming federal funding opportunities, the role of community organizations in accurate broadband mapping, opportunities for comprehensive outreach about the Affordable Connectivity Program, and workforce development and digital skills training in rural areas.

We appreciate Natalie Roper, Director of Special Projects at the Just Transition Fund, for her contributions to this article.

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

More in this series

These articles and much more in Pathways to Digital Equity: How Communities Can Reach Their Broadband Goals—and How Philanthropy Can Help

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
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Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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By Adrianne B. Furniss.