PACIFIC COUNTY — Local officials have been keeping busy in recent months, filling out and submitting an array of applications for millions of dollars of funding for Pacific County broadband efforts. Now, a newly signed federal infrastructure bill is opening up the floodgates even more.

President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with both of Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell hailing various provisions in the bill — including funding for roads, bridges, ports, airports, railroads, clean drinking water, electric vehicle charging stations, salmon recovery and, yes, broadband.

Of particular interest to one of the state’s most rural counties, the new law includes $65 billion for high-speed internet projects, most of which will be funneled to the 50 states to distribute. Washington state is guaranteed to receive at least $100 million in funding from the bill.

The infrastructure bill also includes Murray’s $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act, which she says will help close the digital divide in under-served communities.

The act establishes two five-year grant programs, totaling $550 million per year, that will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide. One of the programs will fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each state, and the other is a competitive grant program that will support projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions and communities of interest.

The act requires recipients of the federal funding to offer a low-cost affordable plan, and also requires providers to display a “Broadband Nutrition Label” to help customers shop for a better deal. The act also provides funding aside from just broadband deployment, such as covering the cost for a school to purchase laptops for its students or funding digital literacy classes for senior citizens at a local library.

PUD foresees possibilities

Jason Dunsmoor, general manager of Pacific County PUD, said the infrastructure bill will continue to provide grant funding opportunities for local broadband efforts for years to come through both state and federal programs.

As it stands already, the Pacific County Broadband Working Group and its partners have a number of outstanding applications that they have either submitted and are waiting to find out if they’ve been funded, or are in the process of being completed. That includes a $5.25 million request submitted to the Washington State Public Works Board — the fate of which could be learned this week, Dunsmoor said — and another $5 million application that will be submitted to the Washington State Broadband Office by the end of the month.

With the existing funding requests, Dunsmoor said the broadband group “is concentrating on the unserved areas” in Pacific County, including the entire Chinook area, rather than the more densely populated municipalities in the county where at least one internet provider is available.

The Shoalwater Bay Tribe has also submitted an application to receive $8.7 million in direct federal funds from the NTIA, and will find out the fate of its request in late November. Dunsmoor said county broadband stakeholders also expect to submit an application by the end of next February for federal funding via the ReConnect Program, a recently established U.S. Department of Agriculture program that offers grants and loans to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas.

“It’s kind of crazy right now, there’s just so many [funding opportunities] out there. We’re putting an application into everything,” Dunsmoor said, adding that he was waiting for more specific details about the various broadband provisions in the federal infrastructure bill, but noted it has “a ton of money in it … the IIJA is really pumping a lot of money into the NTIA, so there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities over the next year, probably, before it all gets spent.”

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