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Infrastructure Plan Would Bring Broadband Access, Jobs to Arizona

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Monday, August 23, 2021   

TUCSON, Ariz - Advocates of broadband internet are urging the U.S. House to pass the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate.

In addition to repairs for roads and bridges, the measure contains $65 billion to extend high-speed internet to rural communities and underserved neighborhoods.

About 13% of Arizona households don't have internet service, and 5% live where there is no broadband.

Fernando Roman, a broadband technician, is a coordinator for the Communications Workers of America's "Build Broadband Better." He said access to high-speed data isn't a red or a blue issue.

"Broadband and bad broadband is a bipartisan issue," said Roman. "I don't care if you're part of the 1% or one of the poorest people in the United States - if you have a bad internet connection, it's going to affect you the same. Everything is online now."

Arizona would receive at least $100 million to expand broadband coverage, providing access to 350,000 residents who don't have it. Another 1.8 million low-income Arizonans would be eligible for assistance with their internet bills.

Shad Ercanbrack, another coordinator for the "Build Broadband Better" program, said they're also pushing Congress to make sure the new services under the plan foster much-needed competition in the marketplace.

"If done right, this should create more competition," said Ercanbrack. "Because what it's going to allow is for companies to enter a market where they're getting the cost of the buildout subsidized, and they should be able to enter more markets where you have two companies or three companies competing for that customer's service."

Ercanbrack said he thinks previous programs to expand broadband in Arizona have been poorly managed and resulted in shoddy work. He said CWA is hoping lawmakers will set high standards for installation companies and that they'll provide well-paid union jobs.

"Ultimately, our goal was not only to get broadband expansion in the Infrastructure Bill," said Ercanbrack. "But we were looking for two pieces of key legislation with that broadband expansion - one was labor protections, and then, two was some oversight."

The bill would require companies receiving federal subsidies to create low-cost service plans and prevent "digital redlining" by providing equal access to broadband for low-income and rural communities.


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