That Spotty Wi-Fi? There’s $100 Billion to Fix It.

WASHINGTON – Kimberly Vasquez, a high school senior from Baltimore, faced a difficult problem when the epidemic began. There was no fast internet service at her house, but all her classes were online.

Marigold Levy, a woman from the same school who regularly stayed away from zoom classes due to her slow connection to her home.

Ms. Levy spent a lot of time explaining the zoom absence to the teachers. Ms. Vasquez used her phone several times to sit outside local libraries to access her Internet. These two helped to pursue a successful public campaign for better and free service for low-income families in the city.

“It was very chaotic,” Ms. Vasquez said. “We had to do that because nothing else was going to change.”

A year after the epidemic transformed the country’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is giving top priority to affordable broadband, comparing it to an effort to spread electricity across the country. His $ 2 trillion infrastructure planAnnounced on Wednesday, every household includes $ 100 billion for faster Internet access.

The money is to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, obtain medical care, and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different regions have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, Internet service is not available at all due to the high cost of installation.

“We will ensure that every American has access to high-quality, affordable, high-speed Internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say a cheap thing, I mean it. Americans pay too much for the Internet. We will reduce the price for the families that are in service now. We will make it easier for families who do not have affordable service who will now be able to get it. “

Longtime advocates of Universal Broadband say the plan, which needs congressional approval, may eventually come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem previously identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unaffiliated students during the epidemic added urgency.

“This is a vision document that every American needs access to and access to affordable broadband,” Blair Levine said at the Federal Communications Commission, directing the 2010 National Broadband Plan. “And I haven’t heard from the White House to date.”

Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan could not completely resolve the divide between digital hass and knots.

The plan promises to give priority to municipal and non-profit broadband providers, but will still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to the far reaches of the country. One concern is that companies will not consider their time’s worth of effort, even all the money put in for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install pole and string lines in miles of populated areas.

There are also many questions as to how the administration plans to address affordability. It is one thing to extend service to households; Once you get there, it is much cheaper for the people. The White House was stunned by the details on Wednesday, though it insisted that subsidies alone were not a long-term solution.

In addition, the money will come more than a year after the epidemic closes schools and many people will start reopening their doors. As a result, many students are already a full year behind without a good internet connection.

About 25 percent of students do not have enough broadband at home, with Native American, black, and Latino children the hardest hit, said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the teachers union.

Mr. Biden’s plan will be tested in places such as Chinle, a school district in the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona. As electrification, the farthest homes – especially on native land – received previous service. Today, many homes in that isolated corner of the state have no broadband or speed facilities that run so slowly on a device in a zoom conference that takes up most of the bandwidth. Cellular phone service is nonexistent or spotty in many parts.

The school is slowly returning to the classroom. But until last week, 31 buses were sent daily with packets of printouts for homework and flash drives along with videos of math, science, history and English lessons. Quincy Nate, Superintendent of Chinel Unified School District, said graduation rates are expected to be close to 60 percent this year, down from 77 percent last year.

“It’s been a difficult and challenging year,” Mr. Nate said. “There has been too much learning loss for this group.”

Congress has approved more than $ 10 billion over the past few months to help make broadband more affordable and put more laptops and other devices in the hands of students. Of those funds, the FCC is working to figure out how to distribute $ 7.2 billion for broadband service, devices and potential routers and other devices for homes with schoolchildren.

In February, the FCC Announces $ 50 to $ 75 Broadband Subsidy The $ 3.2 billion low-income families granted by Congress in December for the Emergency Digital Dividend Fund. Both programs include lump-sum emergency funding to address broadband access problems caused by the epidemic.

The administration’s $ 100 billion plan aims to add even the most isolated residents: 35 percent without access to rural homes. In those areas, the White House said, it would focus on “future-proof” technology, which analysts mean is fiber and other high-bandwidth technology. The administration highlighted its support for a network owned and operated by municipalities, nonprofits and rural electricity cooperatives. Several states have banned municipal broadband networks, and the FCC failed in its efforts to overturn those restrictions in court during the Obama administration.

The Biden Infrastructure Plan has a difficult path in Congress. Republicans have pushed back on costs. They also argue about the definition of broadband. Republicans increasingly meet some proposals to require broadband standards – such as 25 megabits for download and 25 megabits for upload, which they say is much more frequent for providers in rural areas. For example, those speeds allow many family members to be videoconferenced.

“I believe this will make it difficult to serve communities that do not have broadband today,” former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly told the House Committee last month.

Teachers lobbied Congress throughout the epidemic to expand broadband in the country. When there was little relief, some took matters into their own hands.

Last April and through the summer, administrators at the Brockton School District in Massachusetts purchased more than 4,000 hot spots with their own funds and federal loans. They were able to reduce the percentage of students without high-speed Internet or devices from about 30 percent to 5 to 10 percent.

Superintendent Mike Thomas said the district is starting to return to classrooms and the possibility of a fall will be entirely in person. But he planned to maintain many aspects of distance education, he said, especially after school tuition.

In Baltimore, where an estimated 40 percent of households lack high-speed Internet, students and community activists fought to raise awareness of their circumstances. Ms. Vasquez and Ms. Levy protested against leading provider Comcast, for its improved publicity and lower costs for its much-publicized low-income program. Their group, Students organizing a multicultural and free society also lobbied the Maryland legislature and the city to give priority to affordable broadband for low-income homes.

“We didn’t have options, and we deserved better,” Ms. Vasquez said.

Adam Bauhmad and some community activists began installing antenna “mesh” networks in closed Baltimore schools hot spots to connect nearby homes. Through the jury-rigged system of antennas and routers, Mr. Bohmad’s group, Waves, received affordable or free Internet service to 120 low-income families.

Mr. Biden’s promise to support alternative broadband providers could include projects led by Mr. Bohmad, who said that the previous year showed how the option of the marauder left Baltimore residents in awe.

“Bouhmad said,” The investment to build infrastructure and support Internet providers is fantastic. He said residents in places like Baltimore would continue to need federal subsidies and the administration should focus on the cost of broadband as a major obstacle.

“There is not equal accessibility in terms of availability value and user experience,” he said.

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