Broadband already powers much of our modern lives, but COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant, a fuel of sorts that has driven many essential activities online. The most significant way to move the dial for Americans without broadband is by changing policy at the federal, state and local level, not only for more funding but to remove roadblocks so that broadband can reach rural and underserved Americans faster.
4-H and Microsoft released a report that captures how much broadband can mean to youth and their communities. The report is based on a survey of more than 1,500 teens, ages 13 to 19, that was conducted in November 2019.
It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent.
Based on the way older technology was rolled out, waiting for organic rates of adoption to close that digital divide is not an option. Especially when the physical infrastructure required to support wires is concerned. The reasons for slow rates of wire-based take-up are numerous and include lower population densities and greater distances between dwellings. Microsoft believes closing today’s digital divide is a priority and that failing to do so risks leaving behind millions of people.
There are two fundamental problems with the data used for broadband mapping right now.
Microsoft met with Federal Communications Commissioner Starks’ legal advisor on March 11, 2019, to discuss broadband mapping. Microsoft asserted the FCC’s broadband availability data appears to overstate the extent to which broadband is actually available throughout the nation. Microsoft suggested the FCC’s effort to accurately measure broadband could be improved by drawing on the FCC’s subscription data, along with other broadband data sets from third parties such as Microsoft, to complement survey data submitted under the current rules.
More than 19 million people living in rural America do not have access to broadband, a service as necessary as electricity in today’s digital economy. Microsoft President Brad Smith reiterated his call for a national strategy to close the rural broadband gap and highlighted that this is a problem the country can solve. The Microsoft Airband Initiative launched in July 2017 with the goal of working with partners to make broadband available to 2 million Americans in rural communities who lack access today and to help catalyze an ecosystem to connect millions more.