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Streamlining Access to Broadband Internet

Big Picture


The passing of the Internet for All Initiative was a crucial step for American digital equality. But it won't amount to much if the funding it authorizes is not distributed effectively and efficiently. The U.S. must take steps to ensure that the application for the $30 subsidy is accessible for people without internet access and emphasizes that the infrastructure effort focuses on the areas in the country that need it most. 


Graphic From: Connect America Fund Broadband Map. Universal Service Administration Co., 2022, https://data.usac.org/publicreports/caf-map/. This figure illustrates where past programs, like the Connect America Fund, expanded internet access. However, much of this data represents service that did not make sure to hit certain standards of speed or quality.


Operative Definitions 


  1. Broadband Internet: A high-speed internet connection that allows the quick transmission of large amounts of data. 

  2. Digital Gap: The gap between the people, demographics and geographic regions who have access to high-speed internet and those who do not; a gap which lends itself to a difference in opportunity.

  3. Tech-Neutral Approach: An approach taken by people implementing internet infrastructure that considers different technologies depending on the situation rather than adhering to one technology for every situation.


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. The number of Americans who do not have access to high-speed internet: 14.5 million.

  2. The Internet for All bill total funding totals $65 billion.

  3. Funding for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program totals $42.45 billion.

  4. Past spending on internet infrastructure in the last 10 years totals $40 billion.

  5. Required internet speed for the infrastructure bill is 100/20 megabits per second (Mbps).


Five-Point Plan 


(1) Develop a standard of implementation. 

The goal internet speed is 100/20 Mbps, which indicates a download speed of 100 Mbps and an upload speed of 20 Mbps. While this is an adequate speed standard, it could be improved by the supplemental provision of each household in need of internet access within their property, instead of doing so geographically in a general area. This is important, as many times, these rural blocks are very large and one spot of internet is insufficient. 


(2) Collect accurate data about which areas are most in need of broadband. 

The administration should focus on collecting maps with accurate data since there is no readily available and accurate information about which areas have suitable internet and which do not. Making such maps with the previous standard of implementation in mind will ensure past mistakes are not repeated, such as counting an area as covered if it has old, slow internet. It will also ensure distribution based on data rather than industry or political connections, which has been a problem in the past.


(3) Only use a tech-neutral approach when necessary. 

A tech-neutral approach, which is defined by considering different electric solutions when solving a broadband problem, can be useful in offering multiple solutions and allowing flexibility based on what would suit each area the best. At the same time, it can lead to the preference for cheaper alternatives in lieu of a high-speed fiber-optic cable network, which would be higher quality and make it easier and cheaper to keep up with technological developments in the future. Alternative solutions should be the answer only when they are the best options, such as when fiber is unable to be installed.


(4) Lower barriers to accessing the internet. 

The $30 or $75 subsidy to pay for the internet is easiest to access through the internet, which may be inaccessible to those who cannot afford the internet in the first place. Mail-based information about the program should be promoted, as well as the currently available option of mailing in the application. There should also be a focus on making the broadband development infrastructure simple and straightforward, as that will aid in a more prompt delivery of internet access to people in need. 


(5) Establish a feedback system.

Having an accountability and feedback system, such as a survey, after deploying the internet services will go a long way towards making sure the funds from the bill are put towards effective internet access. In the past, there have been federal funds from the Connect America Fund that apparently went towards supplying internet, but the people never actually received internet access. A feedback system will hold companies that receive the funding accountable for providing the services they claim to provide. 


Why This Initiative is Important


Making sure that broadband access is distributed effectively is essential in the effort to lower and hopefully eliminate the digital divide in the long run. This will go a long way towards ensuring that every American has the opportunity to access educational resources, healthcare, job opportunities and other necessities. Simply pouring money into the situation will not be effective if there are no steps taken to prevent previous mistakes that hindered effective internet access for everyone, such as inaccurate data and low standards of deployment. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources

 

Barrett, Rick and Kelli Arseneau. “With poor data, deficient requirements and little oversight, massive public spending still hasn’t solved the rural internet access problem.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7 July 2022, https://www.jsonline.com/in-depth/news/2021/07/14/weve-spent-billions-provide-broadband-rural-areas-what-failed-wisconsin/7145014002/.

“FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration’s “Internet for All” Initiative: Bringing affordable, reliable high-speed internet to everyone in America.” InternetForAll, 13 May 2022, https://www.internetforall.gov/sites/default/files/2022-05/Fact%20Sheet%20-%20IFA%20Launch_0.pdf

Furlow, Matt. “Infrastructure Bill Has $65 Billion for Broadband Deployment. Now What?” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 14 April 2022, https://www.uschamber.com/infrastructure/the-infrastructure-bill-has-65-billion-for-broadband-deployment-now-what

“U.S. Chamber Applauds Launch of ‘Internet For All’ Initiative, Provides Recommendations to Ensure Success.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 13 May 2022, https://www.uschamber.com/infrastructure/u-s-chamber-applauds-launch-of-internet-for-all-initiative-provides-recommendations-to-ensure-success

Wheeler, Tom. “5 Steps to get the internet to all Americans: Covid-19 and the importance of universal broadband.” Brookings, 27 May 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/5-steps-to-get-the-internet-to-all-americans/

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