Public housing gets broadband love from federal government

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Fresno and Los Angeles made the list of 27 cities and one tribal nation that will be getting federal help in extending broadband service to more public housing residents. The ConnectHome program was announced yesterday by U.S. president Barack Obama. The press release was a hodge podge of details, but it seems to boil down to…

  • Some of the communities – but not LA or Fresno – will get discounted, or even free, Internet access in public housing projects from ISPs, including Suddenlink, Cox, CenturyLink and Google Fiber. Sprint also signed up to provide wireless service.
  • Several companies and non-profits will be contributing consumer equipment and training.
  • The federal housing and urban development department (HUD) will start looking at requirements for broadband connectivity in subsidised residential construction projects. It would also allow cities to use certain grant money for broadband initiatives, although the program seems focused on planning and training rather than infrastructure development.

At the local level…

Mayors…have committed to reallocate local funds, leverage local programming, and use regulatory tools to support this initiative and the expansion of broadband access in low-income communities.

In other words, no new money but broadband does move up the priority list.

ConnectHome isn’t as utilitarian or well-funded as California’s broadband subsidy program for public housing. Paid for by the California Advanced Services Fund and managed by the California Public Utilities Commission, it set aside $20 million for Internet facilities in public housing and another $5 million to encourage residents to use it. So far, the CPUC has received applications that, if all were approved, would account for about half the available money.

For now, the new federal program is relatively small, but if it signals an institutional shift at HUD towards treating broadband as an essential utility, it could have significant benefits over the long term.