If 2020 convinced the country that broadband for all Americans is essential, so 2021 has underscored a fact of life: Goals often require longer timelines than we would prefer. To put it another way, a global emergency has helped the United States recognize the importance of having ubiquitous high-speed internet, and now we are catching up. There is no quick and clean fix, which is a clunky pill to swallow for millions of people who face substandard or no connectivity as a new world of hybrid education, remote work. , online services and telehealth takes over.
The urgency for greater access to high-speed Internet has been palpable this year. The federal government has stepped up its attention on the issue. Like the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, the American Rescue Plan Act allows states and local areas to use federal relief funds for connectivity projects. In addition, the infrastructure bill which passed in November includes $ 65 billion for broadband. In turn, states are setting aside mind-boggling amounts of money, with California presenting a $ 6 billion plan, Virginia committing $ 700 million and Missouri invest $ 400 million, to name a few.
But is all that money enough to help everyone? The short answer seems to be no, according to various experts. While the unprecedented funding will lead to more extensive broadband infrastructure, the cost remains a significant burden on ordinary Americans, and government allowances for monthly Internet bills may decline in value. Perhaps Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, put on the best: “If the states spend it [federal money] responsibly, it should largely solve the challenge of people without a home network. When it comes to the term “digital divide,” we’ll still have tens of millions of Americans who can’t afford it. “
In addition, as Government technology contributor Kipp Bentley suggested in an article titled “Is broadband for everyone really possible? “ the money also needs to come from a greater focus on higher upload and download speeds and improved accountability measures.
If the states spend it [federal money] responsibly, it should largely solve the challenge of people without a home network.
There is hope. At the federal level, there is an interesting potential transfer of responsibility. Over the past 20 years, the Federal Communications Commission has managed the lion’s share of federal dollars for high-speed Internet. But after years of criticism from national and local stakeholders over the FCC’s failure to create fair and accurate coverage maps and to meet the ever-growing demand for higher speeds and lower latencies, the Congress wants the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to manage $ 42 billion in broadband infrastructure funds. The idea is to leverage NTIA’s existing relationships with states so that citizens can get a better deal than they’ve received with many funded projects in the past.
More than ever, state and local governments are realizing the importance of community engagement and agency coordination when it comes to overcoming the problem of insufficient broadband access. Public and private organizations are bringing their best minds together to determine how the money can be well spent. New ideas such as cooperative electricity networks, multi-city partnerships and open access fiber are starting to take off to help neglected populations.
The United States may have been a little late, but 2021 has apparently revealed a collective epiphany that every dollar and every decision must count in broadband.
Government technology is a sister site of Governing. Both are divisions of e. Republic.