The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that nearly 17 million school children lack Internet access at home. Some studies show that because of the way that the FCC collects connectivity data—they count an entire census area as being served if only one household is connected—the actual number is probably double that. By the most common definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas with no broadband infrastructure that meets minimally acceptable speeds.
On any day of the weekend and school holidays, one can find dedicated teachers, parents, and students sitting in cafes, the corners of parking lots, or anywhere they can get free, reliable connection to watch class videos, download assignments, and do relevant research. These pockets of poor connectivity are not restricted to out-of-the-way areas; they also include small towns, cities, and suburbs. Many of the areas lacking broadband Internet access are rural areas or tribal lands. Even for households with DSL, the speeds do not qualify as broadband.
BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS IS THE NEW ELECTRICITY
Access to reliable, affordable broadband Internet access is more than a luxury: it is a requirement for healthcare, employment, and education. As broadband Internet access and reliance on that access increases, the need for data centers and Internet infrastructure has reached a critical point, separating those who have access from those who do not. In its 2021 announcement for President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the White House recognized the importance of this access: broadband Internet is as essential as electricity for work, school, healthcare, and basic communication.
GRANT FUNDING AND THE CREATION OF DISTRIBUTION PARTNERSHIPS
The 2 trillion USD American Jobs Plan commits 100 billion USD to high-speed broadband Internet access. It prioritizes efforts to serve entire communities through support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, or electrical energy providers.
Broadband service delivered by traditional cable or over a fiber-optic network is the fastest, but these services are expensive to build. Lower population densities and lower household incomes can result in urban areas with robust connectivity and suburbs and rural areas with less access. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) administers grant programs that further the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in the United States, which in turn lays the groundwork for sustainable economic growth, improved education, public safety, and health care, as well as the advancement of other national priorities.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Grant Funding
Significant funding is available for the development of Internet infrastructure. On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This Act includes an investment of 65 billion USD to help ensure that all Americans have access to reliable, high-speed, affordable broadband.
NTIA will implement the following programs:
Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program: Dedicates 42.45 billion USD for states, territories, the District of Columbia (DC), and Puerto Rico (PR) to utilize for broadband deployment, mapping, and adoption projects. Each state, DC, and PR will receive an initial allocation of 100 million USD, and 100 million USD will be divided equally among the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The priority for funding is providing broadband to unserved areas (those below 25/3 Mbps), followed by underserved areas (those below 100/20 Mbps), and then serving community anchor institutions (1/1 Gbps).