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Officials seeking $5 million in ARPA funding for broadband expansion

President Biden's infrastructure bill includes $65 billion for improving broadband access. The money could help students across the country, especially those in rural areas and tribal communities.
Elissa Nadworny
/
NPR
President Biden's infrastructure bill includes $65 billion for improving broadband access. The money could help students across the country, especially those in rural areas and tribal communities.

Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education are asking for $5 million in ARPA funding to address limited internet access across the state.

Interim State Director of CareerTech Dr. Lee Denney said after the pandemic, broadband expansion has become an essential for Oklahoma students and companies.

"The pandemic has showed us that our students need to be connected. It's also imperative for workers who are relegated to working from home during things such as the pandemic," Denney explained. "Companies have found out that they get a lot of work done when working from home so teleworking policies are becoming very popular in businesses."

The demand for internet access closely follows the need for people to be trained in broadband deployment.

The proposed expansion is seeking $5 million to buy machinery that will be used in career techs to teach students how to install fiber optic cables into the ground as well as into buildings.

While officials can't pinpoint the exact number of projected students in the new program, Denney said she anticipates at least 1,000.

"We have a huge number of waiting lists at several of our career techs, some to as many as 1200 students on waiting lists," Denney said. "I expect that as we're promoting that we are teaching this and that broadband is definitely coming to the last mile in Oklahoma — we will have a large contingency of students."

Denney said the potential average annual wage for broadband workers is similar to the salary of an electric lineman, who makes anywhere between $70,000 and $80,000.

Before making her way to Public Radio Tulsa, KWGS News Director Cassidy Mudd worked as an assignment editor and digital producer at a local news station. Her work has appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates across the country.