We must act urgently to make the Internet a reality for all

Many of us take it for granted that we can unlock our phones or open our laptops and instantly connect to the wealth of information that is the internet. We can only understand how much we depend on high-speed access until we experience a Wi-Fi drop. But for many of us, this momentary annoyance is unfortunately a constant reality for the millions without access to broadband, making it difficult to unlock the same opportunities we might take for granted. It doesn’t have to be this way.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the importance of connectivity in almost every aspect of life has become even more acute. While we tend to associate infrastructure with highways, bridges and clean drinking water, high-speed broadband itself is critical infrastructure – an integral part of the data movement that underpins our daily lives and economy. It is the foundation that will secure our future, from smart grid technology to healthcare to public safety.

Therefore, legislators have paid particular attention to the issue of broadband access. Last year, leaders from both sides of the aisle came together to pass the landmark Infrastructure Act that established the Broadband Efficiency, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to lay the groundwork for broad deployment and more equitable and affordable access to broadband services. .

On November 18, the Federal Communications Commission released a new and detailed map of US broadband coverage, which will be critical to the allocation of $42.5 billion in BEAD funding. Its release is an important step toward achieving broadband equity, as it will better identify who still lacks fundamental access to our interconnected society. Broadband connects us to essential resources and powers our schools, hospitals and workplaces. Broadband also has a positive impact on our local communities – promoting economic development and helping businesses reach new customers near and far.

Yet despite these advantages, our nation’s digital divide persists. The bipartisan infrastructure bill has rightly made high-speed internet a priority because, like clean water, broadband should be treated as a basic human right. We applaud the MPs for solving this problem. Now is the time to help close that gap, and with this generational investment, we must in turn make technology choices that will last at least another generation.

Fiber optic connectivity with virtually unlimited bandwidth is the fastest, most reliable and most innovative solution to bridging the digital divide. Other options, such as fixed wireless access, may be faster to deploy, but require more maintenance, have limited capacity, and require significant new investment over a relatively short period of time. Fiber also requires less maintenance, is cheaper to run and is a more sustainable option.

Many rural areas, long served by community-based providers, have had a chance to keep up with the advances in broadband seen in more urban areas. While the digital divide may remain stark in many other rural communities, progress is now being made here as well.

Consider the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. Thriving small towns, large lakes, deep forests, unforgettable mountain and valley views, and four seasons of relatively mild weather attract people from near and far to take advantage of the low cost and high quality of life. Twin Lakes’ expanded fiber network has led to economic growth in the region by meeting the high-speed connectivity needs of new residents and business owners.

Service providers and suppliers are coming together to invest in innovation and connect the unrelated to increase production, but the private sector cannot do this alone. Last week, we were pleased to join the US Department of Commerce, the Telecommunications Industry Association and Corning Incorporated in North Carolina to celebrate IIJA’s one-year anniversary and explore how facilities like Corning’s are expanding their manufacturing capacity and leading workforce development training. building towards an internet for all.

We need more trained technicians to keep up with growing demand, and we need lawmakers from town hall to Capitol Hill to match the speed and scale required to address this critical problem. We applaud the FCC for releasing an updated broadband map so we know where the gaps in connectivity are right now. And we’re asking state broadband offices to quickly publish their five-year action plans and digital capital plans so the industry can ensure the resources deployed match the unique needs of the regions they serve.

We can all agree that every American should have access to broadband, regardless of their location, and now is the time to make it a reality. The goals set forth by the bipartisan infrastructure law were ambitious but necessary and brought us one step closer to closing the digital divide. While more rural areas are beginning to meaningfully come online thanks to significant fiber investment, there is more work to be done and more communities that could benefit from broadband. If we use all the tools at our disposal, combined with private sector innovation and public sector resources, high-speed internet for all can be within our reach.

Shirley Bloomfield is the CEO of the Rural Broadband Association and Gary Bolton is the President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.

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