Inclusive Economy | April 24, 2024

Deal spotlight: Connect Humanity blends finance to bring broadband to remote communities

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

The lack of high-speed Internet service in rural and mountainous regions of the US exacts a socio-economic toll, limiting access to jobs, education, healthcare and other opportunities and services. Multiple government programs attempt to fill affordable, high-speed Internet service gaps, including the $43 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, or BEAD, and the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Most recently Biden Administration’s $700 million ReConnect initiative, funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law, aims to extend affordable broadband to all Americans by 2030.

The Public investment is “necessary but insufficient,” said Brian Vo of Connect Humanity, a nonprofit impact investor helping local internet service providers, or ISPs, bridge project financing gaps.

Connect Humanity is raising a $25 million fund to bring services to remote communities in Appalachia. The fund was seeded with first-loss capital from Microsoft.

Said Vo, “With the right partners, it’s possible to build gold-standard internet in every rural and low-income community in Appalachia.”

Reconnecting communities

Connect Humanity blends private debt and revenue-based financing with government programs including BEAD, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and ReConnect.

In Puerto Rico, Connect Humanity offered $1.5 million in revenue-based finance to VPNet to extend a network funded by the ReConnect program.

Revenue-based finance and grants helped family-run ISP Wave 7 Communications extend affordable fixed-wireless service in Enfield, NC.

A loan, blended with state and federal grants and a community benefits agreement, enabled an ISP in Alabama to build a fiber network in Macon County.

Connect Humanity has deployed $3 million to such projects via a proof-of-concept fund, catalyzing an additional $47 million in public and private financing. Connect Humanity focuses on municipal ISPs, co-ops, community-owned networks and privately-owned local providers with “a demonstrated commitment to serving local needs.”

“None of these programs are perfect and inevitably leave patches of unserved communities,” Vo shared with ImpactAlpha. “That’s where we structure flexible financing to plug the gaps.”

This story was originally published on April 24, 2024 with the headline “Connect Humanity pioneers rural broadband in Appalachia.”