As Joseph R. Biden Jr celebrates his victory to become the United States’ 46th President, he has pledged to unite Americans behind his leadership. One key area in which the country is divided is broadband access. Biden has a plan to change that.
Statistics on US high-speed Internet access differ wildly. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims that 21 million American lack access. But a top official told Axios that it “radically overstates” the number of people online.
A 2019 Microsoft survey found that 162m Americans lack broadband – almost half the country’s population. BroadbandNow, a researcher, suggests the real number is somewhere in the middle, around 42m.
Either way the number of Americans left without broadband is an embarrassing statistic for the world’s richest nation – especially when the COVID-19 pandemic is making personal contact between friends and family far more difficult. In particular rural states such as Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas are struggling to connect their citizens.
The FCC recently announced a $20.4bn “Rural Digital Opportunity” fund to help bridge the divide. But experts fear that, with its figures so far out of line, funding and execution will be too.
“US Internet infrastructure significantly lags behind other highly-developed nations — even in major cities like San Francisco and Dallas — and this disparity is a direct threat to the nation’s continued ability to exert its influence and remain competitive within the emerging industries of tomorrow,” writes BroadbandNow.
Biden has long pledged $20bn to help connect rural communities. His campaign said, “Rural Americans are over ten times more likely than urban residents to lack quality broadband access.
“At a time when so many jobs and businesses could be located anywhere, high-speed internet access should be a great economic equalizer for rural America, not another economic disadvantage,” the campaign added.
President-elect Biden’s policy comes off the back of a wider, $1.3tr infrastructure bill aimed at updating dilapidated machinery across the nation. His campaign has also suggested the move could create up to 250,000 jobs, though the policy is light on details.
Biden’s openness to working with municipal providers, however, suggests he is taking the issue more seriously than Donald Trump, who pushed a bill for more broadband and 5G infrastructure without specifying what that would actually be.
Either way, in an economy severely affected by the coronavirus, with academic classes going online and jobs in traditional sectors like agriculture making way for IT placements, watering America’s broadband deserts should be a cornerstone of President-elect Biden’s goals over the coming four years.