The Federal Communications Commission is committing more than $1.1 billion as part of its $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program, aimed at boosting broadband access for students, school staff, and library patrons. The agency has already committed nearly $2.4 billion to date. The FCC has processed nearly 60% of the applications it received for emergency connectivity funding during an application window that closed in August, surpassing an internal goal to process 50% within two months.
There are several root causes of the digital divide: lack of available broadband, lack of affordable solutions and other barriers to adoption, such as digital literacy and housing instability. Though no one policy will solve all parts of the puzzle, and a comprehensive strategy is needed, public policy efforts can’t be effective without a better understanding of where gaps exist. We urge our colleagues in state and local governments to ensure investments are driven by detailed, reliable data.
Despite nearly 70,000 North Carolina households and businesses conducting internet connection speed tests as part of a year-long survey, the state “still has a lot more to do” before it can begin a $1 billion broadband expansion, according to state officials. The survey, launched in July 2020 by North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute, found that at least 450,000 households, or roughly 10 percent of the state, lacks adequate broadband coverage.
State IT officials are starting to see the effects of federal pandemic recovery money flowing in, and are using the funds to better equip remote workforces, improve network security and expand broadband. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed in March 2021 included $350 billion tailored for state and local governments.
Tennessee will spend $500 million of its funding from the American Rescue Plan to expand broadband, though exactly where the money goes hinges on a statewide coverage map that’s still being developed.
Several nonprofit groups held a “wireless boot camp” for Tribal nations from Northern California, the first in what organizers said will be a series of training sessions for Native American communities seeking to improve their connectivity where commercial internet service providers haven’t. Members of the Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe and Bear River Band met with experts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the Internet Society and the University of Washington. The gathering, attended by about 20 people, was a chance for tribes that received
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture are spending $8 million to build a rural broadband testing site in Ames, Iowa, that both industry engineers and researchers from Iowa State University plan to use for developing wireless technologies and piloting rural connectivity strategies.
Cisco opened a Rural Broadband Innovation Center in North Carolina, which the company said will show off technologies designed for cost-effective broadband expansion. The center, located in Morrisville, a Raleigh suburb, is part of Cisco’s push to address the digital divide. Small, rural providers will play a key role in ensuring equitable broadband access, so they need access to the latest solutions and information on how to implement them, CEO Chuck Robbins said.
Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel offered measured confidence about expanding broadband connectivity in schools following the pandemic. Addressing a virtual roundtable meeting of local officials from around Maryland, Chairwoman Rosenworcel promoted a trio of programs funded by Congress and the FCC aimed at improving connectivity for disadvantaged schools and communities.