Device Ownership Critical to Improving Rural Broadband
Monday, January 3, 2022
The now-stalled Build Back Better Act means $475 million in grant money is also stalled - money that would go to communities for laptops, tablets and other internet devices.
Groups working to improve rural broadband access in eastern Kentucky say getting more people online is essential to the region's economic recovery.
President of the Mountain Association Peter Hille said building the infrastructure to get communities connected to high-speed broadband is only one piece of the puzzle.
"In order for that to happen," said Hille, "they need to be able to have the devices that are able to connect to the internet, and they also need to be able to afford the internet service that's available to them."
The Build Back Better Act's Connected Device Program contained funding for community groups to purchase and distribute hardware to people who qualify, as well as subsidies for schools and libraries to help keep students and staff connected.
Although the legislation hit a dead-end last year in the U.S. Senate, lawmakers say the House-passed version of the bill could be pared down and revised until it gains the support needed to become law.
Hille pointed that out private companies stand to benefit from massive federal investments in broadband and other rural infrastructure.
"And I think that it should be incumbent upon those private-sector players who benefit from these public investments," said Hille, "to be sure that they are playing their part in making internet affordable, particularly to low-income households."
Natalie Roper - director of special projects at the Just Transition Fund - said under-resourced communities face numerous challenges in getting federal grants, and noted there are provisions in the bill aimed at addressing those gaps.
"Which really focuses on investing in critical local capacity for rural communities," said Roper, "to build out locally driven led solutions and more easily access federal programs."
One provision would provide $100 million for outreach efforts to rural communities about broadband affordability grants and programs administered through the Federal Communications Commission.
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