Remote learning continues to be out of reach for millions of students who lack a reliable internet connection at home. But that doesn't have to be a permanent reality, and efforts are already underway to ensure that it isn't. Achieving universal broadband access would cost billions of dollars and will likely take time to build the infrastructure and political will to make it happen.
Built by E-Rate A Case Study of Two Tribally-Owned Fiber Networks and the Role of Libraries in Making It Happen
Six tribal libraries and two schools in north-central New Mexico aggregated their demand for broadband and built two tribally-owned and -operated, 60-mile fiber-optic networks. The first tribal projects of their kind since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the E-rate modernization in 2014, and the largest E-rate award in the state of New Mexico in 2016—the highspeed broadband networks deliver superior speeds at significantly lower costs, with an ability to scale their usage to meet future broadband demand.
Now six months into the COVID pandemic, the Internet has offered Americans a welcome economic, educational and sometimes even psychological lifeline to weather the crisis. Given Americans’ increased reliance on broadband, politicians on both sides of the aisle are now actively campaigning on the issue of expanding broadband deployment. Republicans are focusing on promoting private-sector deployment, while Democrats are pushing for the expansion of government-owned networks (“GONs”).
Near the Heart of Silicon Valley, a Community Failed by the Big Internet Providers Is Building Its Own Network
Scott Vanderlip can see Google’s headquarters from his house in the town of Los Altos Hills (CA) (pop. 9,000). But still, some of his neighbors struggle to access the online world that the tech company has helped shape. Even the residents who could connect to AT&T or Comcat’s networks, such as Vanderlip, were dissatisfied with the monopoly companies’ poor service quality. So they created Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation that’s bringing a local, high-quality connectivity option to the area.
Getting the internet to everyone is not just about tech: It’s even more a policy question, one tied up in politics.
The Western Governor’s Association (WGA) represents all of the states west of the line starting with Texas north to North Dakota, includes Alaska, Hawaii, and the western American territories. In July, the WGA issued a policy position paper that lays forth goals for broadband for 2020 through 2028.
If you live in rural Wisconsin, you know how bad the internet service can be. More than 40 percent of rural residents lack access to high speed internet, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin government has done relatively little to help. From 2013-2019, the state funded about $20 million in grants for expansion of broadband, an amount experts say is less than negligible.
Iowans are used to forging their own path when it comes to broadband. The state is already home to more municipal broadband networks than nearly any other state, and four more are under construction. When the private sector has failed to provide high-quality Internet service at an affordable price, time and again, Iowa’s local cities have stepped up to build their own networks.
More than a decade after experimenting with free municipal Wi-Fi, the city of Dayton (OH) wants to give it another try as COVID-19 increasingly forces people to use the Internet for medical appointments, work, learning, communication and staying in touch. The city is looking at using some of its federal coronavirus relief funds to offer free wireless Internet in northwest Dayton to provide access to telemedicine platforms and remote health care services during and after the pandemic, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said.
With the end of the federal Keep Americans Connected pledge and the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive broadband aid, it’s clearer than ever before that local governments are the last line of defense against the digital divide, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. However, in 21 states, legal barriers — often enacted at the behest of corporate telecommunication lobbyists — prevent local governments from investing in community broadband solutions to close the digital divide.