R.I. receives $5.5M for broadband improvements

RHODE ISLAND received $5.5 million in federal funding to improve broadband access and equity. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – Almost 50,000 families in Rhode Island, or around 12% of all households, do not have internet connection, according to state data. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau found, another 35,000 households only have web access through their smartphone’s data plan. 

To help close this access gap, the Ocean State received a $5.5 million federal infusion toward expanding and improving broadband access, particularly in underserved areas, officials announced last week.  

The federal dollars are broken into $5 million from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment fund, and $506,000 from the Digital Equity Act. 

The grants will fund the planning and pre-deployment steps in the state’s five-year action plan to improve internet access in underserved communities. 

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce and former Gov. Gina M. Raimondo joined R.I. Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth Tanner and the R.I. Congressional delegation at the Providence Public Library on Nov. 21 to announce the funding. 

At the event, officials said the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed glaring gaps in broadband access throughout the state. 

“Reliable broadband connects Rhode Islanders to work, school, and other aspects of daily life,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said in a statement. “This federal funding will allow Rhode Island to create a framework that equitably closes the digital divide across the state.”

“Your zip code should not determine your ability to access high speed, reliable internet,” said Rep. David Cicilline. “Broadband is not an indulgence, and this investment will enable us to start treating it like the utility that it is.” 

The state is set to receive at least $100 million in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funding. 

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com. 

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