R.I. awards up to $1.7M to boost internet access

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE announced $1.7 million in internet access CDBG grants on Tuesday at the Florence Gray Center in Newport./ PBN PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

NEWPORT – Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Tuesday announced up to $1.7 million in internet access grants for Rhode Island households with low and moderate incomes.

The awards announced at the Florence Gray Center are funded through Community Development Block Grants and managed by the R.I. Office of Housing and Community Development. Recipients were selected following a request For proposals.

The program will involve installation of fixed wireless systems for households in need in 11 Rhode Island communities.

“Our administration is committed to boosting internet connection throughout the state,” said McKee. “Today’s awards will help Rhode Islanders better access reliable and affordable high-speed internet and the valuable resources it provides. This funding will complement additional awards and investments that will be made in this area in the near future, and I thank President Biden and our federal delegation for their continued support of this important funding.”

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R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and Housing Authority of Newport Executive Director Rhonda R. Mitchell were among those in attendance at the event.

“As the COVID crisis has laid bare, broadband and high-speed internet is not a luxury, but a necessity,” said Pryor. “Today’s announcement helps expand access across Rhode Island, connecting residents businesses and organizations. We are pleased to take this important first step – one of many planned – to ensure Rhode Islanders have the tools needed to succeed in this digital age.”

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, chairwoman of the House Committee on Technology and Internet, was in attendance, and said this is a fine first step, but it is not broadband. Ruggiero has been pushing legislation calling for installation of a statewide, fiber-based broadband network.

“This is a band-aid that will fall off in about five to six years – it is not the solution for the digital divide,” she said, noting that the grants will fund basic internet service for 11 Rhode Island communities.

Ruggiero said fixed wireless access involves transmission of an internet service via radio waves from a transmitter affixed to a building or tower, while broadband relies on a fiber connection to an internet source.

Ruggiero is focused on legislating the use of the federal funds that will be coming Rhode Island’s way per President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The plan includes $65 billion for broadband access nationally, with the potential to deliver more than $100 million directly to Rhode Island for this purpose.

In Rhode Island, 49,573 families, or 12.2% of households, are not connected to the internet and another 34,936 families or 8.6% only have access via a smartphone and data plan, making nearly one-quarter of Rhode Islanders under-connected, according to the 2019 US Census’s American Community Survey.

The CDBG grant-funded communities and proposed projects are:

• Newport: up to $980,000

• East Providence: up to $367,000

• One Neighborhood Builders: up to $125,000

• Providence: up to $99,000

• Neighborworks Blackstone River Valley: up to $92,500

• Smithfield: up to $38,000

• Cumberland: up to $35,000

• North Providence Housing Authority: up to $21,000

• Forest Farm Assisted Living/Middletown: up to $20,000

• Domestic Violence Resource Center: up to $4,200

• Pawtucket Housing Authority: up to $3,200

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.


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