How the infrastructure package could fix America’s internet problems

He’s been spearheading a community effort to bring broadband to the lake region of Maine for over a year. New $65 billion federal investment in broadband includes bipartisan infrastructure law being signed on Monday could eventually help make it a reality – but he cautions it still won’t be easy.

“The money that comes in gives you hope,” Ritter said. “But there will be ups and downs. That will be a tagline.”

Many rural areas across the country lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet largely because the infrastructure installation is not worth the investment for internet service. suppliers to undertake. The cost is too great and the profit too small. After being informed by the supplier that Denmark, with 1,000 homes, too small to serve, Ritter is trying to bring more communities together.

The unprecedented amount of federal funding for broadband aims to bridge the digital divide in a different way from what the government has attempted before. It will put money in the hands of communities that know how to best solve problems. The funding will target three major barriers to adoption: the cost of building infrastructure, the usage fees charged to households, and people’s familiarity with using the technology.

$65 billion targeted for digital division

About 30 million households across the country do not have access to adequate internet service, said Deputy Commerce Minister Don Graves in a press call last week. Communities of color, low-income areas and rural areas are less likely to broadband connection.

“Reliable, high-speed internet is a necessity, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made that painfully clear,” he added, noting how children are expelled from school. home for virtual learning and many people are starting to work from home.

Each state will receive at least $100 million in disbursements over the next five years through grants to local communities with the plan. expand internet access let them homes and businesses. Internet service providers will be required to offer at least one affordable and transparent pricing plan by applying the “broadband consumer label”, which is suggested earlier of the Federal Communications Commission and may resemble the nutrition facts labels found on food products.

Peggy Schaffer, executive director of the ConnectMaine Authority, a council that disburses state grants for local broadband projects, said federal funding will go a long way in the country. Maine, where tens of thousands of households do not have access to high-speed internet. Previously, the team only made about $1 million annually and couldn’t fund all claims.

“We’re probably looking at a significant amount of money not only running on the home’s electrical wiring, but making sure they can afford it and know how to use it,” says Schaffer.

“The pandemic really ripped the envelope. The internet is an integral part of our civic, economic and social lives. It’s a great balancing act,” she added.

Elevated communities that internet providers won’t reach

There are many challenges to face community wants to expand broadband access. They must first survey residents to determine how many are underserved by the existing network. They then decide what type of system is best – DSL, fiber or wireless – and who will build, own, and operate it.

But funding is the biggest obstacle. In Georgetown, an island town less than an hour from Portland, Maine, a community group was denied federal funding from a program run by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Carlos Barrionuevo, a member of Georgetown Broadband The project also serves on the board of directors for the state’s Maine Connectivity Authority.

After more than 4 years of planning, the project broke ground and is now halfway completed. It will bring a fiber optic network to the island, which has only moved away from dial-up service in recent years.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Barrionuevo, who occasionally runs to the local library to upload a particularly large file.

But he hopes the timeline will be much shorter for other communities in new federally funded Maine.

Given that the Georgetown broadband project has been a success, it’s possible that the community can leverage new federal funds to expand the system that’s being built right now – whether that’s by adding telehealth programs, for example or make services more affordable.

“This is probably the best chance we have to fix the problem. Now the question is how the states and communities will use the money,” Barrionuevo said.


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