Oklahomans encouraged to advocate for broadband service amid first wave of ARPA funding
Thursday, September 21, 2023
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The submission window is now open for broadband service providers to apply for federal funding that will expand and improve Oklahoma broadband infrastructure.
Rural residents lacking access to a quality, high-speed internet connection are encouraged to advocate for broadband service with their qualifying providers.
The Oklahoma Broadband Office announced this month that service providers can compete for $374 million in grant funding made possible through the American Rescue Plan Act to expand high-speed internet throughout the state. The application portal closes Oct. 9.
“This is the first time we’ve had any state-level money to help solve this problem,” said Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University Extension specialist in rural economic development and chair of the Oklahoma Broadband Expansion Council. “Before, we were just relying on federal programs, but this is the first time we’re hopefully going to take a big step toward solving this problem.”
Whitacre said internet providers must specify the exact locations and buildings where they propose to expand or improve a broadband connection.
“If your area or house is unserved, you can talk to local providers, such as electric cooperatives, and they can receive priority points for funding,” he said. “Be vocal, talk to the provider in your area and tell it you need a connection.”
To assist in identifying areas of the state with poor internet service, the Oklahoma Broad Office commissioned a firm to develop an interactive map that reports Oklahoma’s current availability, speed and equity of internet service. Residents can zoom to an exact address and view the building’s status of underserved, unserved or served. The new map will improve the accuracy of a similar diagram managed by the Federal Communications Commission and allow Oklahoma residents to offer feedback on connectivity data.
“It’s striking that the larger numbers of unserved populations are in eastern Oklahoma, but the higher percentages of unserved individual homes and businesses are in the west,” Whitacre said.
Following the Oct. 9 deadline for ARPA proposals, Oklahoma is slated to receive additional rounds of broadband infrastructure funding: $167.7 million from the ARPA Capital Projects Fund and $797.4 million in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funds.
“The ARPA funds will prioritize areas where a lot of unserved locations can be reached at once,” Whitacre said. “The other pot of money will support remote residents in very hard-to-reach areas. Just because you’re not connected this time around, we still think we can help you. It will just take a little longer.”
To learn more about advocating for broadband improvements and expansion as well as the latest ARPA funding window, visit a local OSU Extension county office or public library.