One could be forgiven for assuming that California, a state famous for technology, would have better connectivity for even its rural residents. But many of the state's counties have profound broadband challenges, including the classic example of big telecommunications companies not investing in infrastructure in more remote areas due to a lack of a compelling business case.
When Congress and former President Trump pushed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, little did they know that a less-discussed part of the bill might make closing the digital divide more difficult. As of now, $42.45 billion in federal broadband grants — as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program — is taxable income due to the 2017 tax cut law.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill appears to transform how the federal government subsidizes broadband infrastructure. But evidence suggests that big companies may not allow the status quo to change without a fight. In a break from the past, the majority of new broadband infrastructure money won’t be distributed by the Federal Communications Commission, which tended to award grants to the biggest companies.
If one goes by the experience of Georgia, a national leader in broadband mapping, a truth seems evident: A state must, over a lengthy period, negotiate with providers and undergo a trial-and-error technical process in order to complete a map of all the high-speed Internet coverage within its borders. The recent experience of Montana suggests broadband mapping doesn’t have to be as complicated. In less than two months, Montana was able to receive a completed initial coverage map from LightBox — the same company that sold Georgia a master address file for its groundbreaking work.
The urgency for wider access to high-speed Internet has been palpable in the past year. The federal government has ramped up its focus on the issue, devoting billions in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In turn, states are setting aside eye-popping amounts of money themselves. But is all that money enough to help everyone?
Many people with Internet problems are wondering how much of a dent the infrastructure bill's $65 billion for broadband will put into the digital divide. The bill's broadband section features $42 billion in grants to states for broadband infrastructure and about $14 billion to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) for low-income citizens.
As local areas and states keep slugging away at the digital divide, time and money may separate the winners from the losers in the broadband infrastructure game. One potential way to save time and money is through a “dig-once” approach, which refers to the idea of minimizing the number and scale of excavations when installing telecommunications infrastructure in highway rights-of-way. If a dig-once policy can make so much sense, why isn’t everyone doing it?
What might happen on the local level in California if its net neutrality law indeed becomes enforceable? Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel for Free Press, said California’s law would “give a forum” to local complaints, which may or may not translate to violations.
A $1.3 million state grant is helping Longmont (CO) expand broadband service to K-12 students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. The project involves a partnership between NextLight, Longmont’s fiber-optic broadband system, and the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD).
In 2020, states directed millions of CARES Act funds toward broadband infrastructure. While any money for high-speed Internet is a good thing, these dollars initially came with an aggressive Dec 2020 deadline, meaning that some local stakeholders were better positioned than others to take on the timeline burden. Some PA and VA county leaders did not feel comfortable pursuing the money because of uncertainty as to whether their broadband challenges could be interpreted as COVID-related issues, as local connectivity problems existed well before the pandemic struck.