Dleł Taaneets is the traditional name of my hometown of Rampart; it means “the hanging moose hide,” which the bluffs near our village mimic in color. My ancestors survived on these lands by following the lifeways of the season: spruce tips and birds in spring, salmon and plants in the summer, berries and moose in winter, trapping in the winter. Living off the lands of Alaska is unforgiving due to extreme weather, but my lineage endured and thrived by maintaining respect for one another, having gratitude to the animals and plants, and honoring the gorgeous lands that sustained them.
After a year of operation, half of all households eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) internet subsidy are unaware of the benefit. A January 2023 survey of low-income households finds that over 50% say they have never heard of the program or do not know anything about it. Although many eligible households are unaware of ACP, the survey points to ways in which policymakers and community leaders can encourage enrollment. First, outreach can make a difference.
Over the last two years, in California and across the country, billions of public dollars have been allocated to end the digital divide. The Digital Equity LA coalition, supported by the California Community Foundation (CCF) Digital Equity Initiative, has mobilized to ensure these investments are directed to the communities that need them most—those that have been historically marginalized and are disproportionately disconnected—and deployed in support of the most effective long-term solutions.
As state and local governments and their partners plan to invest billions of dollars in federal funding to build broadband infrastructure, choosing the best technology will have significant long-term implications.
A remarkable wave of public-private collaboration in broadband is underway—a wave that began in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and will likely reach a crest in the next few years as many tens of billions of dollars of public and private capital are invested in next-generation broadband. COVID-19 demonstrated to American policymakers the absolute need for plentiful connectivity and the crises faced by those who don’t have it—and simultaneously demonstrated to private investors the economic potential of best-in-class, future-proof broadband.
One might think this is the moment for community broadband networks. The truth is, locally-directed networks have been serving their communities for a long, long time. In discussing his administration’s plans for broadband, President Joe Biden noted that municipal and cooperative networks should be favored because these providers face less pressure to turn profits and are more committed to serving entire communities.
July 2021 brings us things to celebrate, things to denigrate, and things to absolutely deplore. On the good side, we have come to see that high-speed broadband has become an essential component of modern-day infrastructure. The ambitious broadband proposals of the Biden Administration have rightly gained strong public support, not just in one party, but both. We are also witnessing the reinvigoration of public agencies to protect the public interest, something Biden made clear in his Executive Order on competition.
Schools and libraries have an enormous window of opportunity to help their students and patrons obtain affordable internet access. At the end of this month, the Federal Communications Commission will open a 45-day filing window for the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which will make $7.17 billion available to fund broadband service and devices off-campus.
It would not be a stretch to say that the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction has left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. While the FCC was quick to announce success immediately after the close of the auction simply because most eligible areas were assigned, many policy makers and communities see the results as highly problematic and have roundly criticized the outcome, leaving us to ask: Is the FCC’s reverse auction fatally wounded or just bloodied?
With a proposal to spend $100 billion to ensure that all Americans have affordable and reliable internet service, the Biden Administration has made closing the digital divide a huge priority. Much remains to be done to fill in the specifics of what this means, but two types of policy tools come to mind when thinking about how to address the digital divide. Top of mind is promoting competition. Fostering competition means investing in new infrastructure, thereby giving consumers more choice for very high-speed service.