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Photo of Shelly Sack
Written by
Shelly Sack
Shelly is Manager of Content Programs for AOTMP®

Interest in broadband connectivity and accessibility has a direct impact on education and opportunity through all levels of a person’s education. Some people are raised in communities with Advanced Placement (AP) courses throughout their high school years and a computer for every student. Other districts struggle to have updated computers students must share and no exposure to AP courses.

One area in this example can be seen is with coding, an early requirement of any IT curriculum. Early exposure to coding shows a direct impact on real-world problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity skills, according to the national education nonprofit Project Tomorrow. These courses may be taught in school but use online resources that can stretch an impoverished district’s resources; access to the internet in remote areas can complicate a budding IT mind’s future path and limit exposures readily accessible to others. “Student interest in learning coding transcends gender, grade level, community type and home poverty, and that interest is growing–middle school student interest in learning coding increased by 23% in just three years,” according to Project Tomorrow.

In March 2020, many schools had to turn classroom-based curriculum into online learning on a dime and major at-home connection issues with multiple children needing equipment and bandwidth became readily apparent. Years before the pandemic, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2016 that internet connectivity was a human right and “expressed concern that many forms of digital divides remain between and within countries and between men and women, boys and girls, and recognizing the need to close them.”

The UN also strongly emphasized its partner states should echo this concern and look within themselves to the “importance of applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach when providing and expanding access to the Internet and for the Internet to be open, accessible and nurtured by multi-stakeholder participation.”

Steps had already been taken in this direction by individual countries such as Finland, which passed an amendment in 2010 to its Communications Market Act. While stopping short of calling it a human right, Finland became the first to declare broadband “a legal right for all its citizens, entitling them to a one megabit per second broadband connection now, with a 100-Mbit/s connection to become a right by the end of 2015.”

Looking beyond the entertainment value that broadband connection provides one can examine the broader picture of what internet access allows. The World Bank Group, an observer of the United Nations Development Group wrote a brief on the subject highlighting the economic and human development byproducts of broadband connection. It even specifically called out workforce growth in information and communication technologies. Online outsourcing of task-based work could provide millions of jobs worldwide, along with job skill development access.

With integrated accessibility not currently in place, “The challenge is to expand broadband access, especially in rural areas. Even ‘digital divides’ in access exist across regions and countries, such divides within countries have a disproportionate impact on rural communities and the poor.”

The World Bank Group is made of five institutions that make leveraged loans through a charter based on reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Focusing on stateside matters, the United States legislation is moving on President Joe Biden’s call to Congress in June to pass a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework as part of his Build Back Better vision. Now called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it has $65 billion appropriated for a broadband package. Approved by the Senate in August, the House of Representatives is set to continue debates Monday, September 27. As of press time, the House was still debating the bill, which it has tied to other legislation pending approval.

broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds – a particular problem in rural communities throughout the country.”

Key Broadband Portion Elements:

Help lower prices for internet service by:

  • Requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost affordable plan
  • Creating price transparency and helping families comparison shop
  • Boosting competition in areas where existing providers aren’t providing adequate service
  • Pass Digital Equity Act
  • End digital redlining
  • Create a permanent program to help more low-income households access the internet

The idea sounds great, but the funding should be scrutinized, according to University of Florida Director, Digital Markets Initiative, Dr. Mark A. Jamison. Reducing the digital divide requires proper oversights of broadband appropriations from the act to avoid a repeat of 2009’s $7.4 billion in broadband stimulus projects through the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he told AOTMP® in a phone interview.

That interview, September 2, was coincidentally scheduled on a day that Jamison was waiting to read his copy of the Gainesville Sun. Jamison, who is also a non-resident Fellow with public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute, had written an op-ed piece for the paper calling on the state to not waste any funds sent its way.

“If you live in rural Florida, you are 20% less likely to have broadband available to you than if you live in an urban area. If you are Black or Hispanic, you are 13% to 20% less likely to have broadband than if you were white,” Jamison stated in his editorial.

He told AOTMP® that many types of communities can benefit from broadband, and while some populations are thirsty for advanced technologies, others may be unaware of its value. A provision of the program should include targeted efforts to help people better understand what ways and how broadband can benefit them.

He offered these suggestions to guide those who may be in positions to disburse funds:

  • Define broadband gaps using mapping from the Technology Policy Institute
  • Write project descriptions to include clear measurables
  • Establish transparent, efficient process for competition of funds
  • Measure results, successes, and failures

He is a strong proponent of the reverse auction process for broadband. “What people should do, once you’ve identified the projects, is use the FCC’s reverse auction process. They’re the best in the world. The first auction saved 70% monetary savings of what the spending is for broadband. If you’re a state that gets money through the bill, if you run it like a beauty contest you will spend it all. Instead of $1 billion, you would only spend half a billion and be able to do additional programs and get a lot more bang for your buck. “I would encourage people in areas where there is no broadband, talk with ISPs and ask them to apply for the subsidy to serve your area. If you do it yourself, chances are they can come in at an auction with a lower price.”

And as simple as it sounds, Jamison recommends foregoing paying until service is delivered, a practice that has not been historically followed.

“Paying before is the way broadband has been done in the past. Make sure the providers are delivering broadband before you pay them. Pay after the service is delivered, just like construction projects work. That’s what I would encourage the states to do as well.” Passing the bill is not so much as important he emphasized as what happens after. “Whether this is important will depend on how it is handled. If it is spent on developing infrastructure through competitive processes, we’ll get more bang for our buck than if it follows traditional government grant processes.”

How will individuals benefit in any specific form? This was our closing question for Jamison. His answer?

“Can’t answer until we know what will be done.”

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