The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners voted to invest $1.75 million in American Rescue Plan Act money toward helping communities finance broadband infrastructure.
Communities in St. Louis County with little or no high-speed internet connection will be able to apply for up to $400,000 in assistance under the new broadband infrastructure grant program. The grant will require communities to provide an equal match.
The county can cover costs that include architectural and engineering fees, consulting, personnel costs, surveys, construction and broadband equipment.
The county also expects to receive federal assistance specifically devoted to expanding broadband coverage.
While supporting the grant program, Commissioner Ashley Grimm said in Tuesday's meeting she hopes the board can develop a strategic plan to make sure the county's federal assistance money is meeting needs.
"You're right that this money is going to go very quickly," Grimm said. "I think we do need to flesh out our guidance for the choices we make. I think we also need to do that with our American Rescue Plan funds in general because there really isn't a reason we should be giving only $2 million to one of our biggest priorities, and $2 million to housing. But this is what's going to happen unless we really embrace strategic planning as board."
The board voted to establish another broadband grant program back in July, investing $250,000 of ARPA funding toward broadband. That money assists communities with broadband planning and development costs.
"One of the top priorities I consistently hear from my constituents and from people throughout the county relates to broadband," Commissioner Paul McDonald said in a release. "We know larger federal and state solutions are needed, but this is a first step in supporting our cities and townships, as well as providers, in their efforts to bring broadband service to residents and businesses."
The county's planning and community development department will host a virtual meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday to give an overview of the new broadband infrastructure grant program. The public is welcome to attend.