With the world rushing towards the days of 5G, it’s easy to forget that many rural areas still lack a decent broadband connection. Even as large cities celebrate the arrival of the newest, fastest Internet protocol, millions across rural America struggle to connect at all. Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping in to shrink that digital divide.
The agency just earmarked $20.4 billion worth of federal funds to increase broadband access in rural areas. It says that the move is its “single biggest step to date to close the digital divide.”
Digital Opportunity for All
In today’s world, access to the Internet is all-important. Not only does it grant people opportunities, but it also provides access to free learning and endless resources. For those in well-populated areas, it’s hard to find a spot that isn’t covered with either Wi-Fi or mobile broadband.
For others, a decent high-speed connection might be a 10-minute drive away at the nearest coffee shop. The new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund seeks to change that. Over the next 10 years, it will allocate more than $20 billion to various broadband providers, cable companies, and wireless carriers. It’s worth noting that the latter two were excluded from similar government plans in the past.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says that the huge fund will target, “Rural areas across the country where residents currently lack access to adequate broadband and would deploy high-speed broadband to millions of rural Americans in an efficient and effective manner.”
Although it sounds like expanding broadband coverage to rural America is a no-brainer, not everyone on the FCC board thinks so. In fact, the vote to allocate the funds was split among the five FCC commissioners 3-2.
The duo voting against the funding believes that current estimates of broadband coverage are based on faulty data. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes that the money should be used to better determine where coverage is needed rather than doling it out to Internet companies.
She says, “Right now, if a single subscriber in a census block is identified as having broadband, we conclude broadband is available throughout.”
Obviously, there are some issues with that logic. The availability of the Internet shouldn’t be determined by such lax estimates.
Rosenworcel goes on to add, “That’s not right. It masks so many people who are unserved and erroneously suggests our broadband efforts are done.”
It’s safe to say that most everyone can agree on that. However, the FCC’s decision to push the funds towards improving broadband access is a helpful one. The earmarked $20 billion will go a long way towards helping improve high-speed coverage in America’s rural areas.
However, the work won’t stop there. To truly shrink the digital divide, Internet providers, mobile carriers, and the government will need to continue working together. Despite the minor disagreements, it’s refreshing to see such a massive team-up that’s aimed at helping everyday people.
Moving forward, it must be everyone’s goal to provide equal access to the Internet and the countless opportunities it provides.