Our country is struggling to ensure equal remote learning opportunities for all students. One of the reasons for the inequality is the lack of high-speed internet access for many students.
After months of negotiations, President Biden and Congress passed the Infrastructure and Employment Act which is providing $65 billion for broadband expansion, which could finally connect every home, business and community in America to high-speed internet.
As Connecticut educators, we’ve seen firsthand that students who don’t have high-speed internet access are at a distinct disadvantage. They are falling behind their peers who have internet access for homework and distance learning. Federal investment to repair our country’s physical infrastructure, including Internet access, is long overdue.
The reality is that life has changed a lot since the pandemic began, and no matter where you live or what you do for a living, broadband access is an essential resource. The passage of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act could not have come soon enough, and while it is commendable that elected leaders recognize that our country’s infrastructure needs to be upgraded, there are still legislative measures to be taken to ensure that Americans fully benefit from this law. .
When it comes to broadband deployment, outdated utility pole access regulations are still a significant barrier to connecting more than 14 million rural Americans.
As is the case with virtually all communications infrastructure, broadband expansion will be impossible without access to utility poles. Internet service providers can quickly deploy broadband by connecting their technology to poles, but providers usually don’t own those poles. Suppliers must be licensed to use the poles by the pole owners, which are often local municipalities, electric or small utility companies, and cooperatives.
Suppliers have repeatedly shown their willingness to pay pole owners for access, but if disagreements arise, there is no system in place to quickly resolve disagreements. This leads to a protracted resolution process. The current non-transparent and disorganized system also neglects the importance of connecting unserved communities.
Millions of Americans remain without adequate high-speed Internet access simply because of where they live. Distance learning is just one of many reasons why we cannot afford to delay closing the digital divide and must remove all barriers that will prolong broadband expansion. Outdated post rules are the most glaring barrier in the way. Our elected officials can and must act to modernize these rules.
Policy makers can bring greater transparency to the pole access process by ensuring clear timelines for permission. We must ensure that disputes between pole owners and those deploying broadband are heard and resolved as quickly as possible.
Expanding broadband access is a major objective of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act. Our federal leaders recognize that access to high-speed Internet for all is essential today. But the goal of providing that access to unserved Americans can only be achieved by removing outdated barriers that are holding up broadband rollout. It is time to set our rules for access to the poles to bridge the digital divide.
Anthony Ditrio is the president of the Connecticut School Administrators Association (CASA).