The Gulf States will receive $ 100 million to expand Internet access. This is what they favor

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As Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi prepare to receive at least $ 100 million each to expand high-speed Internet access under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a new report from Pew Trust examined how different states fund their broadband projects.

The study found that while most states prioritize reaching unserved communities – areas with internet speeds below the Federal Communications Commission threshold for broadband – which areas are eligible and even those areas. Standards for broadband speeds differ from state to state.

The FCC defines broadband as 25 megabits per second or more for downloads and 3 Mbps or more for downloads – commonly referred to as 25/3 Mbps. This threshold, however, may be too slow for many users as more of our day-to-day functions take place online, according to technical experts. In March, a group of US senators pushed the FCC to update its definition to 100/100 Mbps.

The proper functioning of a 25/3 Mbps connection can be affected by a number of factors, including the number of users in a household and the way they use the connection. Apps like Zoom, which became necessary for the millions of people taking online classes or working remotely during the pandemic, also require faster download speeds.

In some rural counties of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, less than three percent of households have internet speeds of 25/3 Mbps, according to data analysis from Vox’s technology site, The Verge. Another study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that broadband is out of reach for nearly one in four black residents in the rural south.

As states begin to fund their broadband projects, it is important to choose which internet speeds to achieve so as not to create a new digital divide. Anna Read, senior manager of Pew’s broadband access initiative, said this digital divide is called the donut hole effect.

“When you are only looking to find areas where there is no service, you [low speeds] and then incentivizing speeds of 100 Mbps, and you create a pretty big gap between areas that are sort of in the middle of the fact that they’re not served, but don’t have the speed that you’re pushing them to. suppliers to build with these funded projects, ”Read said.

Some states, such as Florida, set their broadband threshold at 10 Mbps for downloads. Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have set theirs at the 25/3 recommended by the FCC, and Mississippi requires new projects to meet the higher threshold of 100/100 Mbps. Both Alabama and Louisiana plan to expand their networks to eventually reach the 100/100 Mbps recommendation – Louisiana hopes to achieve this by 2029.

Pew’s report recommends that states consider how to improve broadband access while keeping internet plans affordable for unserved and underserved communities.

Read says lawmakers shouldn’t be going too fast when trying to speed things up. Slowing down the decision-making process could deliver faster speeds in a more equitable way.

“States have the opportunity to take the time to plan, to ensure that this funding meets the needs of their unserved and underserved areas,” she said.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans, and NPR.

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