For many Americans during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, gaining access to high-speed Internet hinged on the temporary charity of private service providers, or perhaps required a family to drive to a more connected area.
Just as COVID-19 has made the Internet a necessity for the vast majority of Americans, it has impacted the short- and long-term plans of state broadband initiatives:
The digital divide in the most isolated parts of the United States is reinforced by risky economic propositions and geographic barriers to connectivity, but a technology in its infancy — TV white space broadband — may help communities clear these hurdles. “The attractiveness of it was this was prime spectrum that was not being used, and it opens up a second Wi-Fi band with significant improvements in coverage, range and bandwidth,” said James Carlson, CEO of hardware manufacturer Carlson Wireless Technologies.
From metropolitan areas in the western US to the rural counties of the Northeast, public school districts that have closed their doors must educate students who have unequal access to digital learning means. Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said his district continues to reach its 700,000-plus students through one of two approaches or a combination of both. The first approach involves the digital learning environment/platform Schoology. This method, while the standard for the district, can’t help certain students.
Limited federal data on broadband coverage has presented a hurdle for states as they try to do their part in erasing the digital divide in local communities. Despite the common observation that Form 477 data from the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t cut it, states have different approaches and different timelines when it comes to their cartographical solutions.
With the introduction of a bill titled Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act in both the Senate and House of Representatives, some legislators believe high-speed Internet could make a difference for pregnant mothers. The bill would require information on maternal health to be included in the Federal Communications Commission’s
Stakeholder reactions to the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund have been mixed. The new FCC money will be divvied up in two phases, with the first distributing the majority of the funds, $16 billion, to Census blocks where data shows no service is available. What some stakeholders take issue with, however, is that the FCC is using Form 477 data, which has driven its funding in the past but has also been widely criticized.
Even if broadband coverage isn’t the problem in a local area, the cost of high-speed Internet service may still hold back families who don’t have much money.
Conventional wisdom says a town with less than 200 people wouldn’t have the resources to establish and maintain high-speed Internet for its residents. But Mount Washington, located in Berkshire County (MA) contradicted such wisdom in Nov 2017 when it activated its municipal fiber broadband service. From one angle, the case of Mount Washington is a miracle.
In recent weeks, members of the U.S. Congress have announced a number of broadband-related bills that aim to ensure that local communities have a better chance of delivering high-speed Internet to their residents. But would these acts, if passed, lead to meaningful results? Government Technology spoke to a number of leaders and experts about the implications of three particular pieces of legislation. Their differing opinions highlight the great complexity of the broadband issue.