Areas with internet ‘black holes’ renew fight for broadband

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For decades, policymakers in Washington and state capitals have fretted about the patchwork of broadband access in the United States, which has held back economic development in underserved areas and became a major problem during the pandemic. Now, after years of federal subsidies that have improved but not solved the problem, the Biden administration is proposing to spend $100 billion over the next eight years to finally connect every American household to high-speed internet. But solving the problem isn’t just a matter of cutting a big check to fund the installation of fiber pipelines. The nation, simply put, doesn’t even know where its internet black holes are found.

In the debate over rural broadband, one word pops up over and over: utility. Is broadband a service best delivered by private, for-profit companies? Or should it be a utility like electricity, water or old-fashioned landline telephones that are underwritten and regulated by the government? Increasingly, residents of areas lacking sufficient internet access (both rural and not-so-rural) are pressing for broadband to be run more as a utility or a nonprofit, where providing service to every address at manageable rates is the priority. The global pandemic created new urgency to deliver reliable, fast network connections; technologies like 5G, which connects users wirelessly but still relies on a fiber network, have also encouraged these communities to press for fiber, even if a nonprofit, cooperative or local government has to take up the mantle.

Not-so-remote areas with internet ‘black holes’ renew fight for broadband