Infrastructure Bill Supports Digital Inclusion, Says Advocacy Group: Broadband Breakfast

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According to the latest U.S. Census figures, approximately one in four American households is blocked without internet. And a quarter of a million people with Home internet always listens to the shrill cry when they jump online.

The majority of people without an Internet at home live in states with large rural populations and high rural poverty rates, such as Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama.

In Mississippi, for example, 60% of homes do not have broadband, satellite Where compose. And 53% of the state’s population is considered rural with a rural poverty rate of 23%.

Limited options and slow speeds top the list of reasons rural states are home to high numbers of disconnected households. But high costs are the most imminent barrier to home internet in rural areas.

According to a 2020 report on internet prices in the world By Cable.co.uk, the United States is the most expensive country for the Internet of all the developed Western countries. Here, the internet costs an average of $ 60 per month. Internet in the cheapest country Ukraine costs an average of $ 6.40 per month.

Dive Deep into the Digital Divide: Issaquena County, Mississippi

Issaquena county is the least connected county in Mississippi with just 20% of households paying for an Internet connection. The median income there is $ 14,154 per person in 2019, compared to the national median income of $ 31,133. The overall poverty rate in the county is 29%, which is about 16% higher than the United States overall.

This is in stark contrast to the most connected county in the most connected state: Morgan County, Utah. Morgan County is home to 95% of households with an internet connection, the median individual income was $ 37,091 in 2019, and the overall poverty rate is 3%.

Residents of Issaquena County are lucky if they can achieve download speeds of 25 Mbps, which is the Federal Communication Commission’s current definition of “high-speed Internet.” The slowest speeds available, 5 to 12 Mbps, are barely enough to stream in HD, let alone connect to a Zoom call.

If we limit our view to Valley Park, a town of just over 100 residents in Issaquena County, we find that some residents have the option of opting for a single AT&T DSL Internet plan.

The AT&T plan costs $ 660 per year for speeds of 25 Mbps, barely matching modern critical online tools like e-learning and telehealth.

Our case study from Issaquena County and Valley Park, Mississippi, highlights other opportunities related to home connectivity and equality:

  • Access to online learning. About 23.7% of residents of Issaquena County have graduated from high school, while 3.2% have no education. Online education enables individuals to expand their knowledge and further their careers.
  • Better access to decent wages.5% of residents earn a family income of $ 10,000 or less. This figure is further divided by race: In 2019, black and African American residents earned a median family income of $ 21,146, while white residents earned a median family income of $ 52,188.
  • More job opportunities. The employment rate in Issaquena County has declined steadily since 1990. Today, 10.6% of residents are considered unemployed.
  • Better access to health care. The US Health Resources and Services Administration found that half of Mississippi residents live in counties with more than 2,000 patients per primary care physician. Issaquena County has been designated Medically underserved area since 1978, which means the county lacks primary, dental and / or mental health care providers. Better access to telehealth also allows residents who cannot get to the nearest hospital or clinic.

Resolving the digital divide

To work for equal access, more affordable options must be created. The broadband emergency benefit fund is an option, but it remains largely untapped by American households. Grants like Lifeline can also reduce barriers to internet access, but participation remains low.

Community-based solutions are probably a better answer, like Land O’Lakes American Connection Project. The project opened more than 2,800 free public Wi-Fi locations in places like the tractor supply store in Spooner, Wisconsin, to keep farming communities connected.

This year’s infrastructure bill, which calls the states to determine localized needs and strategies to improve Internet accessibility and access.

State-funded projects can also solve the severe lack of competition among US broadband services. This should reduce the costs incurred by suppliers of the last mile connect to intermediate networks, which could and should save households money. Concrete example: California recently introduced a middle-mile open access project with the aim of providing non-discriminatory access. The bill was passed unanimously.

A modernized definition of what is referred to as “high speed Internet” would also benefit rural households. Currently, the standard for 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds deprives rural users of opportunities related to telehealth, e-learning and distance working.

This obsolete definition allows service providers to achieve minimum viable network extensions and mark areas as “connected”. It also discourages providers from upgrading existing but below par networks, such as the 10Mbps DSL line I found offered near Morton, MS.

One thing is clear: the way the United States has approached internet access in the past is not working. New strategies and policies are needed to bridge the digital divide. Access to the Internet is a right and not a privilege in today’s world.

Catherine McNally is the editorial manager for Reviews.org, where she reviews Internet service providers in the United States. She has a passion for using data to highlight the need for better Internet access across the United States and believes the Internet is a vital lifeline in today’s world. It has also published speed tests and pricing reports to help everyday consumers make informed decisions. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts comments from observers of the broadband scene. Please send articles to [email protected] The opinions expressed in expert opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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