Tens of thousands of journalists are losing their jobs, newspaper chains are going under, and vulture capitalists are picking over the remains. We need a news bailout — but one that overhauls the existing corporate model and pushes the media to put the public before profits. Journalism needs more than just stimulus; it needs a major structural overhaul. And it requires permanent and public support.
It’s been about a decade now since EPB, the public electric utility in Chattanooga (TN), made headlines with plans to make gigabit broadband available to all citizens. As gigabit service becomes more commonplace, there is a real question whether gigabit alone is enough to create the next Chattanooga.
Internet service in western Colorado was so terrible that towns and counties built their own telecom
Internet outages became a distant memory in April as a good chunk of western Colorado turned on a new broadband system. But this wasn’t built by a typical telecommunications company. It took a band of local governments and partners from 14 rural communities to stitch together the 481-mile network, dubbed “Project Thor.” Communities from Aspen to Meeker craved better access and affordability but also demanded reliability.
Susan Crawford, a Harvard Law School professor, says the root of the digital divide is that big companies like AT&T and Comcast both control the internet pipelines and charge us to gain access to them. They don’t have an incentive to build affordable internet everywhere.
A 400-mile fiber network built to provide broadband Internet access to 14 mountain communities across northwest Colorado officially went online the week of April 6. The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments has spearheaded the work, dubbed Project Thor. The loop starts in Denver and runs west, using Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) fiber along Interstate 70 and a combination of fiber services going north through Meeker, Craig, Steamboat Springs and Grand County.
The main barrier to broadband deployment in rural areas is not government regulation but simple economics. Rural areas with low population densities cannot provide fast enough returns on investment to satisfy the requirements of for-profit companies. Local governments, such as townships, have little to no control over any regulations that would have any effect on broadband deployment costs.
Rural North Dakotans Get Free, High-Speed Internet Access Thanks to Electric Cooperative Responding to Covid-19 Emergency
North Dakota telephone cooperative BEK Communications is offering new subscribers four months of free Internet access on its Lightband Fiber-to-the-Home network. The co-op is also increasing speeds and implementing other efforts through its “BEK Cares” initiative, which aims to make better broadband accessible to rural North Dakotans in response to the growing Covid-19 emergency. Valley City Commission President Dave Carlsrud said, "We have been utilizing BEK’s business services for years, however with the current COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly found out how important they truly were.
Our lack of will to expand broadband access has left millions of students disconnected during closures
Internet providers stepping up in the midst of this crisis to maintain affordable service is the right thing to do in this moment—but it’s a short-term fix for a decades-long problem. To truly close the digital divide, cities and states (and Congress if needed) should follow the playbook from the 1930s, and from the many communities—red and blue, urban and rural—who have brought high-speed internet to all residents:
A photo essay that is part of a 10-city tour to surface America's persistent digital divide.
The expansion of TV White Spaces as a potential solution to close the digital divide in rural areas will require more unlicensed and available mid-band spectrum, which has become quite scarce among providers. More access to fiber will be necessary to make these networks effective. Further, how we serve the “edge of the edges,” and especially those rural areas and local broadband companies that do not qualify for streamlined funding will need to be creatively addressed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the consequences of America’s “digital divide” on full display. This dire situation makes clear the need for universal rural broadband. To finally deliver on this promise, we need an effort on the scale of the Rural Electrification Act (REA), passed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the depths of the Depression to power farms and small towns out of poverty. We must pass a 21st century version of that act, one that equips local communities with the resources they need to bring connectivity to the last mile of rural America.