Delaware to invest $20M in broadband access, expansion
WILMINGTON – Months after leveraging a small portion of the state’s federal CARES Act funding for the Delaware Department of Education, Gov. John Carney announced Monday he would use another $20 million to eliminate broadband deserts in rural parts of the state.
“In the last six months, we’ve learned how important internet access is, for students and educators, and those working from home,” Carney said Monday in a press conference announcing the allocation. “Every family and student in our state, no matter what circumstances they come from, should be able to learn while we are living during COVID-19.”
Of that $20 million initiative, $13.6 million would be set aside for voucher subsidy for low-income families to get broadband internet as well as computers. With tens of thousands of students learning from home for at least a part of the upcoming school year and many still working remotely with offices closed, access to high-speed internet has become more important than ever during the pandemic.
Another $5.9 million is designated to incentivize shovel-ready expansions for internet service providers (ISPs) to expand their networks in the state. The remaining $556,000 was allocated to fast-track the state’s $2 million Rural Wireless Broadband Initiative that aimed to assist more than 1,500 residents in rural areas stretching from Laurel to Smyrna with access to broadband.
Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins said this program addresses two issues that the state has repeatedly faced when it came to high-speed internet: access and affordability. Delaware is ranked as having one of the fastest internet speeds in the nation, due to its proximity to Philadelphia and New York City, but areas south of the C&D Canal have been slow to catch up.
“You hear about the last-mile provider. In some parts of the state, that could be the last 5 miles or the last 10 miles,” Collins said. “It could cost up to $18,000 to $20,000 per mile to run that fiber, and without the number of subscribers, many providers do not see that there would be enough return to profit if they make that investment.”
To meet the ISPs halfway, Carney announced the state would use $2 million erect 15 wireless broadband towers along U.S. Routes 113 and 13 by the end of 2020. That investment saw a return of $30 million in private investment to expand internet service to Delaware households. Sensing the need to expedite the project, the CARES Act funds allowed the work to be completed in coming days – about four months ahead of schedule.
The state also partnered up with Bloosurf, an ISP based in Salisbury, Md., to provide internet to 127,700 homes and businesses in rural parts of Kent and Sussex counties. Packages can start as low at $60, and low-income options are available.
In next steps, state officials have put out a survey to help identify ways to improve internet speed in Delaware and further the study of where high-speed internet is available. The results of the survey will allow the state to better tailor future investment efforts. To participate, go to survey.delaware.gov or call 302-739-9701.
By Katie Tabeling