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Making a Down Payment on Affordable, Reliable, High-Speed Internet for All

Making a Down Payment on Affordable, Reliable, High-Speed Internet for All

The fiber broadband industry is experiencing a historic moment. According to Joseph Wender, Director of Capital Projects Fund at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, never before (and likely never again) have multiple government agencies provided tens of billions of dollars in funding to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for all Americans and close the digital divide once and for all.

“We are living in a historic moment and it is exciting, which makes our jobs much more important. We have to get it right this time,” Wender said on this week’s Fiber for Breakfast episode.

High-speed internet is essential for the economy, for work, education, healthcare, and more. The pandemic put that into sharp focus very fast, and there was finally enough pressure and enough focus on broadband. The Capital Project Fund (CPF) was created before BEAD; it was one of the few COVID Relief Bills that Congress passed as part of the American Rescue Plan during the height of the pandemic and the reason why Congress specifically put $10 billion in the rescue plan. “It was a down payment on making high-speed internet affordable and reliable for all Americans,” Wender noted.

The $10 billion CPF program has been critical to keeping broadband deployments progressing while larger programs, like BEAD, will take longer to disperse. The fund is distributed to states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments to support critical capital projects.

There are two key requirements for CPF recipients. First, it is the first federal agency to require 100/100 Mbps symmetrical speeds. “Some people say, ‘well, does that mean you’re favoring fiber?’ The standard is technology neutral. However, we know this will result in a large amount of fiber deployment and that is good and I’m not just saying that because I’m on Fiber for Breakfast,” Wender said.

He added that his agency wants to make investments that don’t just last years, but last decades. Future-proofing is important because this level of investment in broadband infrastructure won’t happen again. A re-do or upgrade isn’t possible. Fiber is the broadband technology that can support capacity needs now and moving forward.

The second key requirement for CPF is the projects must be completed by December 31, 2026. “We have a tight timeline, but the result is that we are seeing construction underway and complete in many states around the country, which is just terrific. That’s the ultimate goal of what we’re attempting,” noted Wender.

To date, CPF has awarded approximately $9 billion for broadband, digital technology and equity, and multi-purpose community center projects in all states and the District of Columbia. States estimate this funding will reach over two million locations–that’s two million locations that will get affordable reliable, high-speed internet before 2026. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who will be served annually by multi-purpose community facilities.

For service providers and other stakeholders looking to leverage federal funds, Wender offers, “the states that prepared early, states where the state broadband offices were talking with the providers, vendors, associations, those are the states that are going to be the most successful and those are the states that are moving the quickest. It’s not a surprise that Louisiana was first to be awarded by BEAD. It was the first to be awarded by us, along with Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire. The star students remained the star students and there’s a reason for that.”

To learn more about CPF and its mission to advance affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to all Americans, listen to the entire episode on the Fiber for Breakfast podcast.