January Infrastructure: ARPA funding priorities

At its January meeting the Infrastructure Committee discussed how to respond to the Barnstable County Commissioners’ request for comment regarding priorities for the $41.3 million dollars of federal grant funds allocated to Barnstable County from the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”). The 15 towns of Barnstable County will also receive $26.1 million in ARPA funds. which is allocated by population.

The Committee discussed whether the Cape Cod Technology Council should, as a stakeholder, submit a comment, and if so what the Council’s priorities are. Any comment recommended by the Committee would need approval by the Tech Council Board in order to be submitted.

The Tech Council has had a long standing leadership role in advocating for broadband deployment. The Committee agreed it would be appropriate to submit a comment and discussed what that comment would include. The County Commissioners’ priorities are water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

The Tech Council has cited broadband, sustainable energy, and diversity, equity and inclusion as priorities for this year. The Committee discussed how our comments would align with those priorities, as well as with the Cape Cod Commission’s Climate Action Plan priorities of increasing safe, reliable, clean energy; and addressing transportation issues—reducing vehicles used, and increasing the electrification of the transportation system.

Broadband touches most of these priorities in some way. Advocating for broadband addresses the functionality of city and town communication systems, is tied in with equity issues, and can be part of the solution for sustainable energy.

A Committee member reported that the Justice Department recently came out with the final ruling on ARPA spending. While broadband has always been a consideration in ARPA spending, communities already receiving 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) were not considered underserved.

The Justice Department has now said recipients may fund high speed broadband infrastructure in areas of need that the recipient identifies, such as areas without access to adequate speeds, affordable options, or reliable connections. If ARPA money is used to fund this infrastructure, it must sustain 100 Mbps down and 100 Mbps up. Furthermore, Treasury encourages recipients to prioritize support for broadband networks owned or operated by local governments, nonprofits, or cooperatives.

It was reported to the Committee that in this first stage of the survey the Assembly is looking for input on interest and priorities. When the portal opens for applications, there will be a request for proposals of specific projects, which should be as close to shovel-ready as possible.

The Committee discussed that it would like to see broadband as a priority, but is also concerned that clean energy and transportation are not being addressed among the Commissioners’ priorities. The underpinning of all the priorities discussed – water, sewage, transportation, education – is technology, which hinges on broadband access.

It was suggested that two letters be drafted for consideration by the Board, one focused exclusively on broadband and one focused on broadband, renewable energy, and transportation, for the Board’s consideration.

The Committee agreed that, if approved, the comment would be sent to both the Barnstable County Commissioners and the Barnstable Delegates.

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