Connect Humanity: Accelerating Appalachian Broadband Access

Accelerator participants gather in Washington, D.C., in late 2023.

Improving access to high-speed internet is vital for strengthening Appalachia’s economy. Fast, reliable broadband supports quality health care, education, tourism, business growth and so much more.

Although Appalachians’ broadband access increased by 12 percentage points between 2017 and 2022, Appalachian households still have less access to high-speed internet compared to the national average. That is why ARC invested nearly $6.3 million in Connect Humanity’s Appalachia Digital Accelerator, a project to expand broadband access across 12 Appalachian states.

The Accelerator is the first-ever grant supported by ARC’s Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE) program, which drives large-scale, regional economic transformation through multi-state collaborative projects.

Training and technical support 

The Appalachia Digital Accelerator provides participants with grant funding, training, technical consultants, data and other resources including interactive maps to create connectivity plans tailored to each community’s unique needs. Each grantee is paired with a dedicated lead community agency (LCA) for guidance and support to develop their plans.         

LCAs and participants evaluate key assets, priorities and challenges in their communities to develop a comprehensive baseline for broadband planning. Then, technical assistance providers teach grantees applied skills like broadband economics and public grant requirements via webinars, open house discussions and one-on-one support. The tools and knowledge grantees gain through the Accelerator will benefit their communities long into the future.

Garrett County, Maryland, for example, already has strong infrastructure in place for broadband installation, but its efforts to ensure residents have access to devices has been constrained by limited resources. According to “The Chartbook,” ARC’s annual data overview of the Appalachian Region produced in partnership with the Population Reference Bureau, over 9 percent of Appalachian Maryland households had no computer device, including smartphones, between 2018 and 2022. The Accelerator will help Garrett County develop a connectivity plan that addresses affordability, digital skills and opportunities for economic growth.

Building local leadership capacity 

Red Bird Mission provides some of the most rural communities in Eastern Kentucky with public services like affordable housing, schooling, clinical services, food assistance and more. Red Bird Mission sought to include broadband in its services because connectivity is sparse in the area: only 80.7 percent of Appalachian Kentucky households have a broadband subscription, compared to 87.2 percent of non-Appalachian Kentucky households. Thanks to support from the ARISE Connect Humanity project, Red Bird identified its technical assistance needs and broadband infrastructure framework.    

By the end of the program, communities will not only have developed connectivity plans to serve their unique needs, but also expanded relationships and knowledge surrounding broadband and digital equity. Participants will identify relevant funding opportunities, negotiate partnerships with internet service providers (ISPs) and develop funding applications with grant writers and other experts. These advances will be invaluable for seeking and developing future broadband projects.

Through this collaborative, multi-state project, we’re looking forward to the stronger, more accessible future Connect Humanity is building with Appalachian communities!

ARC is grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration for their historic investment to bolster American infrastructure through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Through BIL, ARC was able to launch ARISE and support this project. Learn more about ARC’s BIL-funded investments here.