ARPA oversight director fields questions on funding for drinking water and broadband
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While American Samoa has already been allocated $10 million for broadband infrastructure under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, additional funds are expected later under a separate federal grant for infrastructure that includes broadband, and both grants will benefit the private and public sectors.
This is according to ASG’s ARPA Oversight Office executive director Keith Gebauer during a Senate Rules Committee hearing last week when he was called to provide information and answer questions on projects and funding for American Samoa’s share of $479 million under the federal ARPA law.
Gebauer also provided for the committee the American Samoa Recovery Plan Performance Report for the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) 2021 Report, which was released earlier this month by his office and posted to the agency’s website.
The report — which was submitted in July to the federal grantor — summarized American Samoa’s plan for use of the ARPA funds with the majority of it allocated to the Public Health service. (See Samoa News editions Sept. 1st and 2nd for details.)
Among the many questions raised by the committee is the $20 million budgeted for “Drinking Water: transmission & distribution” as well as the $10 million for “Broadband: Other projects”.
Gebauer explained the that the $20 million for improvements to water distribution and transmission will go a long way replace aged pipes that are estimated to be leaking up to 60% of water throughout the distribution system. For broadband funding, it “specifically looks to get base-line standard in the states and the territories, to have speed capability to be on par with the mainland, which is 100-upload speed and a 100-download speed.”
(Samoa News should point that Mr. Gebauer’s statement does not include whether he is talking about Mbps or MB. Megabits per second or Mbps is a measure of data speed while Megabytes or MB is a measure of data volume. To change Mbps to MB divide by 8.
According to Wikipedia, mainland broadband speeds average 144 Mbps download and 68 Mbps upload, The data is according to an average of test results from the three major testing sites and reported on Wikipedia in July of this year.)
Gebauer points out that this funding allocation is separate from other federal funding to help rural communities and low income communities with access to broadband. It also doesn’t include another federal program — the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EEB) Program — which is administered directly through the US Federal Communications Commission.
As Samoa News first reported in May this year, the EEB Program is to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, virtual classrooms, and so much more. Both ASTCA and Bluesky are participants in the program. (For details: fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit).
According to the performance report, the territory’s ARPA Recovery Plan will “allow much needed improvement to our water distribution system, where much of the piping is approaching 60 years in service. These aged pipes are estimated to be leaking up to 60% of water throughout the distribution system”.
It also says that improving “our connectivity and broadband access across the islands will be critical to ensuring American Samoa is better prepared to operate with the current COVID-19 pandemic and to strengthen our broadband infrastructure for future challenges.”
“Having adequate connectivity and bandwidth is critical to allowing our children to continue their education during a pandemic shutdown and allow for commerce and needed government services to operate,” according to the performance report.
Sen. Alo Paul Stevenson queried as to how this broadband grant will impact American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority (ASTCA).
Gebauer responded that the funds are “exclusively for any single government or private sector entity.” And he explained the process to apply: “What will happen is that a category requirement will be defined and then the private sector as well as the public sector will submit their proposal.”
“And based on the strength of their proposals to the eligibility guidelines, it will determine how much is allocated,” he said.
“Additionally, there is what is called, a project fund infrastructure grant, that’s not yet been distributed to American Samoa,” he said, adding that this funding also focuses in on broadband, which is approximately $14 million that is an equal amount shared amongst all of the territories.
“And we are expecting that [funding] to be available at the end of the month — the beginning of the new fiscal year,” he pointed out. “All those funds will go towards the broadband category that benefits the entire territory — whether its private sector or public sector.”