The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges across the country, and the programs funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are designed to address those challenges including those related to expanding access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service, also known as broadband.
In a letter to Governor Ned Lamont, AARP Connecticut encourages his administration to secure additional funds for broadband through the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) before the December 27 deadline, and makes suggestions for how the funding could be allocated to provide increased access for older residents. Below is the letter sent by AARP Connecticut to Governor Lamont on October 25, 2021.
October 25, 2021
Dear Governor Lamont,
AARP Connecticut, on behalf of our nearly 600,000 members, would like to thank you for your efforts and leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that while the worst of this unprecedented time may be behind us, many issues that disproportionately impact older Connecticut residents have been amplified by the pandemic and require continued action.
Several programs funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are designed to address the challenges facing our state, including those related to expanding access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service, also known as broadband. In particular, AARP Connecticut wishes to call your attention to the opportunity for Connecticut to secure additional funds for broadband through the Capital Projects Fund (CPF).
ARPA has given states, territories, and other jurisdictions an unprecedented opportunity to respond to critical consumer needs. However, time is of the essence. Under rules recently issued by the Treasury Department, a state must apply no later than December 27, 2021 to claim funds allocated to it under the CPF and must complete a detailed plan for using those funds by September 24, 2022 in order to receive payment.
AARP Connecticut recommends that Connecticut take immediate action to secure CPF resources and urges you to ensure that Connecticut plans to implement CPF directly address the access barriers that impede older adults’ ability to fully utilize broadband service. Such efforts can include:
- prioritizing network deployment in unserved and underserved communities where older adults are concentrated; and
- acquiring equipment and the construction of community facilities – both eligible activities within CPF – that prioritize distribution of devices to older adults and invest in community centers that are convenient to older residents.
While CPF represents an important and timely opportunity, AARP supports the sustainable, equitable, and measurable use of each component of ARPA funding to address the needs of older adults. In particular, AARP Connecticut encourages that ARPA funds allocated to Connecticut be used to support broadband deployment; enhance and strengthen mapping efforts to support better decision-making; reduce the cost for consumers (particularly low-income older consumers) to access internet service; and, strengthen efforts to build the “digital literacy” of Connecticut residents that have heretofore been left behind.
There is no longer any doubt about the critical importance of broadband access. The pandemic has exposed how residents without access to affordable high-speed internet are at a disadvantage when it comes to combatting isolation, scheduling vaccine appointments, accessing telehealth services, and much more. Yet, AARP’s own research indicates that older Americans’ access to affordable and convenient broadband connections continues to lag behind other age groups. AARP studies show that 15% of adults age 50+ do not have access to any type of internet, and 60% say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem.
ARPA – and the Capital Projects Fund, in particular – provides critical opportunities to address these gaps. We urge you to request Connecticut’s full allocation of CPF funds by December 27 and to prioritize older adults’ needs in plans to allocate those funds. Moreover, we urge you to consider how Connecticut’s broader ARPA funding can be used to support the expansion of broadband deployment, bring down the cost of service, and strengthen digital skills for all residents, especially for the older members of our communities.
We would like to thank you again for your service to our state and for your leadership during these challenging times. AARP Connecticut is committed to working with you to make these critical improvements. If you have questions or wish to discuss this matter further, please contact me or AARP Connecticut’s Advocacy Director, John Erlingheuser.