Today, broadband is a patchwork of infrastructure and services offered primarily by major corporations like Verizon and AT&T. But swaths of the country have been left with no service, either because of a lack of perceived profits or a lack of the political will to extend fiber to harder-to-reach communities.
Electrifying the entire country a century ago was made possible by a coordinated federal plan from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to areas outside city centers through federal loans to small cooperatives formed to bring power lines and generators to their communities.
While such a centralized effort may be unlikely today without the urgency of the New Deal, the coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service.
As service areas exist today, Geoff Wiggins cannot get broadband internet service extended to his house in Liberty Township, Ohio, near Columbus, even though he lives just a few houses in either direction from available service.
He said a local provider told him he’d have to pay more than $30,000 to get internet cable extended just to his driveway. So he has relied on wireless service from phone providers and weekend excursions to the parking lots of nearby businesses.
Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind. A House bill to accelerate deployment of the $20.4 billion overseen by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a start, but the F.C.C. has estimated it could take $80 billion to reach nearly every American without broadband. House Democrats proposed in April that more than $80 billion be authorized over five years for broadband expansion.
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