CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVDN) – The Just Transition Fund (JTF), the only national philanthropic initiative focused solely on coal community economic transition, has announced its Broadband Initiative, including nearly $1 million of investments in eight projects that have the potential to leverage $59 million in federal funding and subsidies to connect over 52,000 households in communities affected by coal mine and power plant closures.
As part of the organization’s Federal Access Center, the Broadband Initiative offers grants and technical assistance to organizations working to equitably expand broadband in their communities and equip them to apply for federal funding. The JTF is prioritizing broadband and investing in groups leading the charge to improve access and affordability in rural energy communities because it is essential to the organization’s mission of creating inclusive and equitable local economies.
“Roughly one-third of residents in the rural and tribal areas we serve cannot access high-speed internet — an inequity that restricts work, education, health care, public services, and civic engagement in coal communities that already face economic challenges from the energy transition,” said Natalie Roper, director of special projects at the JTF.
Despite a massive increase in federal broadband funding to address this problem — a combined nearly $100 billion in the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and 2021 and 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Acts — many communities lack the resources to develop inclusive plans and apply for public investment.
“That’s why Just Transition Fund’s Broadband Initiative pairs direct investments with technical support to build both immediate and long-term local capacity to help communities overcome the obstacles to applying for federal broadband funding,” said Roper.
The Just Transition Fund’s Broadband Initiative is made up of two components: early-stage and application-ready support. Through early-stage support, the JTF helps organizations build the long-term capacity they need to be competitive for federal funding within the next two years. Through application-ready support, the JTF helps organizations with immediate needs like grant writing to develop and submit applications for current broadband funding opportunities.
“Funding for digital equity makes up less than one percent of overall giving by large foundations — and we intend to change that. By ignoring our nation’s broadband crisis, philanthropy is missing a huge chance to create economic opportunity in some of the hardest-hit places in rural America. Our first round of investments represents organizations working in some of the places that have received the least attention from philanthropy to help close the digital divide,” said Heidi Binko, executive director and co-founder of the JTF. “We’re committed to accelerating investment in energy communities that need digital infrastructure, but for too long have lacked the resources to access it.”
To kick off the Broadband Initiative, the JTF has invested nearly $1 million in eight organizations working to close the digital divide in coal-impacted communities across the U.S.
Through larger investments of up to $150,000 and technical assistance, the JTF is supporting four organizations to build staff capacity to develop broadband projects for future federal funding. These grantees are Generation West Virginia in West Virginia, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council in Illinois, Native Renewables in Navajo Nation and Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning in Colorado.
With grants of up to $25,000 and technical assistance, the JTF supported SOAR KY in Kentucky, Computer Reach in rural Pennsylvania, Marshall University Division of Community Health in West Virginia and Campbell County Council of Community Services in Wyoming to apply for the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program and enroll more households in the available monthly broadband subsidy, which received $14 billion in additional funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
There are broadband grant deadlines coming up in the next few months, including for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Connect program. Interested organizations can apply for grants and assistance from the JTF to help develop and submit competitive applications. More information about the Broadband Initiative and the first round of funded projects can be found on the JTF’s website.