As we approach the fall, US residents are also coming up on the two-year anniversary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s approval.
The act allocated $65 billion to boost internet access and connectivity across the country. At two years in, we wanted to check in with DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) to see what progress has been made.
So far, OCTO has been at work on a few broadband efforts for the district — though State Broadband and Digital Equity Office Director Keisha Mims confirmed that the below programming is not related to the Infrastructure Act funding.
In 2020, the Tech Together Partnership was created in response to the pandemic, bringing together government officials, nonprofits, academic partners, industry leaders and more. This group meets once a month to discuss new ways to support DC connection and also offers 101 workshops, largely aimed at seniors.
Starting in 2022, the office also gave out 10,000 Chromebooks to residents — a program that ended in June. OCTO also has a partnership with local housing authorities, providing free high-speed internet to 700 residents.
Still, DC government estimates that approximately 88,000 residents in 39,000 households (about 13%) don’t have internet service, the office told Technical.ly.
“We are going to have to look at a lot of different other ways to make broadband available because we still have a gap, even though we’re a largely connected smaller city,” Mims said. “So we’re exploring a lot of options.”
One push comes from the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which originates from the Infrastructure Act and allocated $100 million to DC for high-speed internet infrastructure and tech upskilling. The office is in the middle of the planning period, for which it was granted $5 million for salaries and contractor support. This five-year planning period began in 2022, and Mims said that OCTO plans to submit its initial proposal for spending the funds at the end of the calendar year.
Mims declined to share any details of the initial proposal, but she did offer some of the primary reasons why DC residents remain unconnected. One of the largest, she noted, is cost, which remains a huge barrier to access.
“Due to heavy inflation, now it’s like: How do you convince someone to create a new bill in the house?” Mims said.
One such solution is small internet service providers (ISPs) that can have lower costs than big names like Verizon and Xfinity. Mims noted that one strong point of ISPs is their grassroots efforts; she said that many do a great job of just knocking on doors and letting residents know what’s available, like DC Access, Starry and more.
They are in smaller areas, though, she said, and primarily located in Ward 5 and the Trinidad neighborhood. But the folks that use them, she’s heard, love them.
“I do think people are looking for ways to save money,” Mims said. “So if these new ISPs come around, I think that having a better price point is always gonna help.”
Going forward, Mims said that the OCTO is very focused on exploring how it can best use all of the BEAD funding, be it measuring how much something will cost or garnering resident feedback. And there’s still plenty more to be done, with the planning period not ending until 2027.
In the meantime, she’s honing in on the main goal for the funds and her work.
‘We just want to make sure that all residents of the district are able to thrive in this new world that we’ve entered,” Mims said. “So that means that we have to make sure that our brothers and sisters who are a little bit behind can get with it and just have all the opportunities that everybody else can have.”
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