FCC Launches Fund to Bring Broadband to Rural America

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking steps to combat the digital divide with a $20 billion rural broadband fund. Over the next ten years, this fund will be used to assist rural communities in bringing high speed internet access to their areas.

In a 2018 report, the FCC found that approximately 24 million Americans still lack access to high speed, reliable internet, also called broadband.

This report was met with criticism by private sector groups claiming that the FCC overestimated the number of families with broadband access. Microsoft’s data, for example, shows that approximately 163 million Americans do not use high speed internet.

Reports from the FCC indicate the $20 billion rural broadband fund will function through $2 billion subsidies every year for the next ten years to build 5G networks in rural areas; the goal is to reach 4 million residences and businesses.

The fund will subsidize companies that create the technical infrastructure needed to support broadband access.

A recent Centre Daily Time reader input survey published in Government Technology Magazine found that over half of rural Pennsylvania residents felt “residents, government and private industry of the state need to act quickly to implement high-speed Internet infrastructure in rural areas.”

Each day that goes by without advancing this goal (of rural broadband connectivity) is one more day that we and our economy suffer,” explained Wayne Campbell, president of the Pennsylvania Grange. “Our children, our senior citizens, our emergency services and many more suffer. We need to push for achieving the goal every day.”

However, Penn State telecommunications expert Sascha Meinrath expressed concern that the reliance on 5G may not produce the intended benefits.

Meinrath explains, “5G technologies are 99% marketing hype and 1% snake oil — anyone who thinks this is going to bridge the digital divide is either incredibly naive or worse. The fact remains — major new investment in open access fiber networks are an essential intervention — one that is expensive, but easily pays for itself over time.”

The FCC has focused on 5G technology in recent years to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive with foreign countries also working to develop the technology.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted during a briefing with President Trump announcing the initiative, “By next year, the United States is on pace to have more 5G spectrum than any other country in the world. That's a big statement because, as you know, some people got ahead of us. We should have been doing this a long time ago, as advanced as it may be.”

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