As the Arkansas General Assembly recently found in enacting SB74, “without access to voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless telecommunications services, citizens of Arkansas also lack access to healthcare services, education services, and other essential services; and that this act is immediately necessary to allow government entities to provide high quality voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless telecommunications services to their citizens.” As a result, the Arkansas Senate voted 35-0 and the House voted 94-0 to give government agencies substantial new powers to help accelerate
As many local governments have scrambled to secure internet access for children in virtual school, some policies could last past the pandemic. One popular approach in cities like Washington (DC) and Chicago has been providing low-cost or free service to families who can’t afford a broadband subscription, and the tech devices to go with them.
Since Comcast is doing so well, one might think they could afford to be a good corporate citizen and community partner when it comes to bridging the digital equity divide. But apparently Comcast officials don’t have to play nice when they are the dominant game in town. Instead, the company has been at constant odds with Baltimore City officials and advocates over access to the internet services Baltimore children need for online learning.
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.
Monopoly control of high-speed internet access is leaving many Americans — particularly rural communities and communities of color — disconnected, underserved, or, at best, paying too much for substandard service. While community scaled internet service providers are more effective at delivering fast, affordable, and reliable Internet, monopolies, state-level regulations, and other factors stand in the way of these locally driven solutions to America’s broadband challenges. The report recommends a range of policy actions for improving broadband at the local level, including:
So long as our local, state, and federal governments do not prioritize delivering future-proofed infrastructure to all people, our ability to make full use of the 21st century Internet will be limited. What the Internet becomes in the mid-to-late 21st century will not be an American story, unless we aggressively course-correct our infrastructure policies soon.
In Dec 2019, I spoke to the members of Gov Roy Cooper’s (D-NC) broadband task force and noted how, from the viewpoint of anyone looking objectively at the issue of broadband access, the public-private partnership model advocated by the NC League of Municipalities (NCLM) is a “no-brainer.” Obviously, a lot has happened in the world since then.
The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, is planning a $750,000 project to connect fiber optic cable to town-owned properties so its staff can have broadband internet access at work. The town has such access now but will have to start paying $45,000 a year to Charter Communications to continue using the company’s fiber network infrastructure because of an expiring agreement that has allowed the town to use the fiber at no cost beyond what it pays its internet service providers. The town pays currently approximately $4,500 per year for internet access.
Kamala Harris should be the de facto secretary of rural development, in charge of closing the connectivity gap
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is too smart and energetic to be just the vice president, a position with few official responsibilities.
The Mesa, Arizona community is taking major steps to bridge the digital divide for residents across their community. Although Arizona has begun to see a decline in their COVID-19 cases, the municipal government, school district, and community leaders continue to take decisive action to ensure that every household has access to technology and the internet for as long as stay at home orders remain in place. Mesa’s specific focus on their student population is a method adopted by many communities across the country.