How the Infrastructure Package Could Solve America’s Internet Problems

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He’s been leading a community effort to bring broadband to the Maine Lake District for over a year. The new $ 65 billion federal investment in broadband included in bipartisan infrastructure legislation signed on Monday may finally help make it a reality – but he warns it still won’t be easy.

“The money coming in gives you hope. But there will always be ups and downs. It will be a chore,” Ritter said.

Many rural areas across the country do not have access to affordable high-speed internet, in large part because installing the infrastructure is not worth the investment for internet service. providers to be covered. The cost is too high and the return too low. After being informed by a supplier this Denmark, with its 1,000 homes, was too small to serve, Ritter is trying to bring more communities together.

The unprecedented amount of federal broadband funding is aimed at bridging the digital divide in a different way than the government has tried before. It will put money in the hands of communities who may know how to best deal with the problem. The funding will target three main barriers to adoption: the cost of building the infrastructure, user fees charged to households, and people’s familiarity with the use of the technology.

$ 65 billion targeting the digital divide

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

“Reliable broadband internet is a necessity and the Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear,” he added, noting how children have been kicked out of school for virtual learning and that many people started working from home.

Each state will get at least $ 100 million to spend over the next five years through grants to local communities with a plan to expand Internet access to their communities. homes and businesses. internet service providers will be required to offer at least one affordable package and to be price transparent by adopting a ‘broadband consumer label’, which was already proposed by the Federal Communications Commission and might look like the Nutrition Facts label found on food products.

Federal funding will go a long way in Maine, where tens of thousands of homes do not have access to high-speed internet, said Peggy Schaffer, executive director of the ConnectMaine Authority, a grant-making board of directors. State for local broadband projects. The group has only distributed around $ 1 million per year in the past and has not been able to fund all requests.

“We could look at a substantial amount of money that will not only get the wire through people’s homes, but also ensure that they can afford the connection and know how to use it,” Schaffer said. .

“The pandemic has really ripped off coverage. The Internet is an integral part of our civic, economic and social life. It is the great equalizer,” she added.

Communities are growing where internet providers won’t go

Communities wishing to expand broadband access face many challenges. They must first survey residents to determine how many people are not served by the existing network. Then they decide what type of system would be best – DSL, fiber, or wireless – and who will build it, own it, and operate it.

But funding has been the biggest obstacle. In Georgetown, an island town less than an hour from Portland, Maine, a community group has been denied federal funding under a program run by the US Department of Agriculture.

The group was finally able to afford to finance its broadband plan after receiving private money from several families in the city, said Carlos Barrionuevo, a member of the Georgetown Broadband project who also sits on the board of directors of the state’s Maine Connectivity Authority.

After more than four years of planning, the project has started and is now halfway. 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 sometimes goes to the local library to download a particularly large file.

But he expects the deadline to be much shorter for other communities. in Maine given new federal funding.

Since the Georgetown Broadband Project has already opened, it is possible that the community could take advantage of the new federal funds to expand the system being built, whether by adding telehealth programs, for example, or by making the service more affordable.

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


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