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Gov. Ricketts Announces $5.6 Million of Federal Awards to Develop Strategic Plans for Broadband Expansion

Media Contacts:  

Alex Reuss, 402-471-1970

Justin Pinkerman, 402-471-1967

 

Media Release:

Gov. Ricketts Announces $5.6 Million of Federal Awards to Develop Strategic Plans for Broadband Expansion

  

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that the State has been awarded two federal grants—totaling nearly $5.6 million—from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA) to develop strategic plans to expand high-speed broadband service.  Earlier this year, Gov. Ricketts had created the Connect Nebraska working group, a team of leaders tasked with optimizing state and federal funds to expand broadband in Nebraska.  The group successfully submitted the grant applications on behalf of the State.

 

“In today’s digital world, broadband connectivity is basic infrastructure,” said Gov. Ricketts.  “No matter the distance Nebraskans live from a city, they should have access to the online tools they need to live, learn, and do business.  Over the past five years, the State has taken major strides toward our goal of connecting every corner of Nebraska with reliable, high-speed broadband networks.  Thank you to the Connect Nebraska working group for successfully securing these awards so that we can maximize federal funds to continue our broadband expansion.”

 

The State of Nebraska has been awarded $4,999,817 of initial planning funds through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.  The BEAD Program provides support to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.  The State will use the grant to generate a state broadband map, set up outreach activities to stakeholders statewide, and enable the Nebraska Public Service Commission to grow its team to meet the needs of the program.  Upon submission of the BEAD Program plan, Nebraska is anticipated to receive at least an additional $100 million in federal funding to develop broadband infrastructure across the state.

 

The State is also receiving $598,745 of planning funds through the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program.  With these funds, the State will develop a plan to ensure Nebraskans in all areas of the state have internet connectivity, devices such as laptops and smartphones, and the skills to meaningfully use internet technologies.  The grant will also promote the use of technologies such as telehealth and precision agriculture, which are in the early stages of adoption and have the potential to significantly impact the lives of Nebraskans and the state’s economy. 

 

The Nebraska Information Technology Commission (NITC)/Office of the CIO will be leading the digital equity planning effort with the assistance of the state’s regional economic development districts and the Nebraska Library Commission.  The one-year grant will start on Dec. 1, 2022.  After completing its digital equity plan, Nebraska can apply for $7.2 million or more in funding over five years to implement a state digital access, skills and opportunities grant program.

 

“Now that we have received planning funds for both the Digital Equity Program and the BEAD Program, we can begin the next phase in our plan to connect every Nebraskan,” said State Broadband Coordinator Patrick Redmond.  “Throughout this process, we will continue to prioritize communication, clarity, and coordination as we develop our comprehensive broadband plans.”

 

“The goals of the BEAD program align closely with the Commission’s priorities to get broadband to unserved areas of our state,” said Dan Watermeier, Chair of the Nebraska Public Service Commission.  “We are eager to administer this program, as we work together to connect Nebraskans through the deployment of high-speed internet access.”

 

Both grants are for programs created through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law in November 2021. 

 

GOV. RICKETTS’ SUPPORT OF BROADBAND EXPANSION IN NEBRASKA

 

Over the past several years, Gov. Ricketts has worked with the Unicameral to strengthen Nebraska’s broadband infrastructure.  His actions include:

 

  • 2018: Signed LB 994 into law to create the Rural Broadband Task Force.  Chaired by Ed Toner, the State’s Chief Information Officer, the task force was charged with helping to better understand Nebraska’s broadband needs.  Their work has assessed gaps in coverage and proposed ways to expand broadband.
  • 2020: Worked with the Legislature to create the Remote Access Rural Broadband Grant Program.  The program allocated nearly $30 million of federal coronavirus assistance to begin connecting 17,600 households with broadband.  This was essential during the pandemic as many services went online. 
  • 2021: Signed LB 388 (the Rural Broadband Bridge Act) into law.  It invested $40 million—$20 million per year in 2021 and 2022—to help another 30,000 households get broadband connectivity.
  • 2022: Signed LB 1144 into law to amend the Rural Broadband Bridge Act.  The change makes it more cost-effective for telecommunications companies to build out broadband in Nebraska’s rural areas by reducing their required share of initial investment.

2022: Signed legislation specifying Nebraska’s plan to use $87.7 million from the federal Capital Projects Fund to develop broadband infrastructure.  In August, the U.S. Treasury Department approved Nebraska’s proposed use of the funds.