In a May 18th press release, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) reintroduced a bipartisan plan to assist state and local governments in driving further investment in the expansion of rural broadband internet service.
The legislation, dubbed the Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act, would permit state and municipal governments to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of communications facilities to underserved areas, in addition to providing for public-private partnerships and allowing the federal government to assist with bond payments. The bill would also create a federal tax credit that could be directed to rural broadband projects.
With the number of families working and learning from home at an all-time high, the need for rural broadband has never been more apparent. The FCC reports approximately 35% of rural homes lack access to broadband internet service, with ‘broadband’ being defined as 25mbps of download bandwidth and 3mbps upload bandwidth. In practice, this is an almost comically low bar to clear, given that a single group video conferencing call can require about 2mbps of upload bandwidth. Even in more heavily developed areas, many service providers with a local monopoly offer plans with severely limited upload speeds, forcing countless American families to choose which family members can work or learn remotely at a given time, and which cannot.
IT professionals are well familiar with being expected to do more with less and have a unique opportunity to advocate for additional support for rural broadband funding. IT services providers have an even more powerful platform given their connection with so many members of their communities. By actively participating in local technology advocacy groups, companies can provide crucial expertise and experience, in addition to valuable technical knowledge and assistance to legislators that are often not technically savvy and are heavily lobbied by legacy providers who wish to keep regulations weighted in their favor.
As more businesses and government agencies continue their transformation from physical locales to operating in digital spaces, and an increasing percentage of the population embraces cloud-based products and services, there is no better time to take action to ensure all Americans can have access to high-speed internet service. Such service is no longer a luxury or convenience, it is an essential utility.