This summer, Americans will again enjoy “normal” activities, like community gatherings and baseball stadiums filled to capacity. The ease in COVID-related restrictions stems from rapid vaccination rollouts, which were made possible through significant investments in connectivity and IT modernization. Vaccination mega-sites, for example, were aided by CARES Act funding, allowing them to have reliable connectivity to access patient data and more effectively manage vaccine appointments for the hundreds of thousands of Americans.
But the CARES Act is just the start when it comes to making IT-related improvements. In March 2021, $1.9 trillion in federal funding was made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Though ARPA resembles the CARES Act, which was passed in 2020 to provide economic assistance to both industries and individuals, ARPA offers extensive funds for purposes beyond lost revenues. In fact, ARPA offers funding specifically for IT modernization initiatives in the public sector and government agencies to improve citizen experiences by strengthening the connectivity of agency services and education institutions.
But up to this point, the support for IT infrastructure and cloud services have been largely overlooked.
The silver lining: there is significant opportunity to tap into the billions of IT modernization funds that have been largely untapped.
A Generational Opportunity
The US Treasury website specifies four major funding objectives for ARPA funds, ranging from COVID-19 response efforts to economic stabilization and public health challenges. Though none of the act’s four major funding objectives clearly state “IT infrastructure,” further explanation of what constitutes acceptable investments with ARPA funds includes government services that are defined as, “modernization of cybersecurity, including hardware, software, and protection of critical infrastructure.”
In short, ARPA’s $1.9 trillion has the opportunity to positively impact the connectivity and modernization of public agencies, as well as to significantly improve citizen experiences across the country. Examples of the types of improvements these funds could make possible include:
- Investments in modern information systems and network connectivity to drastically improve wait times at DMVs and public health departments.
- Investments in K-12 classroom technology, like enhanced connectivity and connected devices, to ensure public teachers and their students can remain engaged in the classroom and beyond.
- Investments in broadband and WiFi technologies to support more distance learning opportunities within higher education.
- Investments in upgraded communication and administrative portals for state-run agencies to improve citizen access to critical services without disruptive wait times.
- Investments in critical infrastructure cybersecurity, such as water and power control systems.
- Investments in public transportation control systems and networks to improve the connectivity of traffic control systems.
There are hundreds of uses for ARPA’s IT modernization funds have been specifically earmarked for use in certain industries.
For example, ARPA includes adding $1 billion to the Technology Modernization Act funding vehicle. As of June 11, 2021, only a small portion of this fund has been awarded; just 11 projects totaling $83.3 million. This leaves more than $900 million available to any organization.
Outside the Technology Modernization Act, ARPA includes multiple funding areas that apply to technology improvements. This includes $122 billion to help K-12 schools prevent loss of learning, $40 billion to help higher education institutions with distance learning and $650 billion to help state and local agencies improve cybersecurity and technical infrastructure.
Though the ARPA funds were initially established in an effort to address the COVID crisis, the funds are also intended to help organizations create more resilient technology infrastructures to thrive today and in the future.
Consider, for example, the challenges organizations encountered as they quickly shifted their employees to remote work. Connectivity issues and device challenges plagued the rapid shift to distributed work. ARPA funds can help businesses better respond to these and similar challenges in the future.
Though ARPA presents a significant opportunity to mitigate these previously unforeseen challenges, government agencies, education institutions and healthcare organizations, among others, still need to navigate and understand the award and justification processes. Basically, organizations must determine the best way to apply for ARPA’s readily available funds, how to manage the funds they’re granted and how they’re allowed to spend it.
To get started, IT staff and other technology-focused employees should identify any resources needed for organizational resiliency and reach out to their governing offices to see if any application is planned. For example:
- K-12 agencies should contact departments of education.
- State agencies should contact their governor’s office.
- Higher education institutions can go directly to federal offices.
In reaching out, IT staff can ask “have you considered applying for ARPA funding to invest in our broadband infrastructure?” or “what’s our plan to address our legacy network?”
As pandemic-related restrictions ease, organizations and IT staff are exploring how they can create a safe and trusted workplace experience for their employees utilizing the existing office space environments. IT modernization funding from ARPA is intended to support investments of this sort, and to help mitigate additional technology bottlenecks brought to light by the recent health crisis. Leading cloud communications service providers, like NWN Carousel, can offer effective network and communications solutions to ease America out of this public health crisis and into the future of work.
Learn more about the services NWN has available to leverage ARPA funding by contacting us or sending me a DM on Linkedin.