High-speed Internet for every home and business in this country has been out of reach for the past 20 years, despite the efforts of administrations on both sides of the aisle — until now. Thanks to the incredible work of the Biden administration and leaders like US Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, Colorado and the rest of America have a historic opportunity to close our digital divide once and for all.
The bipartisan infrastructure package allocates $65 billion to connect the remaining 6% of American homes without high-speed Internet access, including some of Colorado’s most rural and remote areas. With more than 6% (approximately 350,000 residents) of Coloradans lacking access to broadband, according to BroadbandNow, it is critical to ensure that a portion of this historic investment allocated to federal broadband funding is used to connect the unserved of Colorado residents.
As a teacher and member of the Adams 12 Five Star Schools Board of Education, I have seen firsthand the effects the pandemic has had on student learning across our state. While some students had parents or guardians who could stay home with their children and help them with online and home schooling, the vast majority of parents had to continue working to pay rent or mortgages and provide food. on the table for their families, putting them in a bind to act as a distance learning assistant and provider for their family.
In addition, too many families did not have access to broadband during the pandemic. As a result, students were forced to walk to school parking lots and connect to the school internet in order to continue attending school during the pandemic.
Now that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to level the digital playing field, we need the federal government to remove barriers to success—our elected leaders in Colorado can make sure their hard work does what it’s intended to do by updating our outdated state rules access to drugs. Successful and rapid broadband expansion will require much-needed changes to pole access.
Utility poles play a vital role in our communications infrastructure, and this is only becoming more true with our increasing reliance on the Internet. For unserved areas—communities without access to any high-speed Internet infrastructure—the most effective way to bring them online is for ISPs to attach their technology to existing poles.
However, most broadband providers do not own the towers; small utilities, cooperatives, electric companies and other entities. Therefore, providers must obtain permission to access the poles and pay a fee to attach their technology.
All of this would be fine if there was a working pillar access system.
Unfortunately, the process of obtaining permits can be complicated and opaque. Not all pole owners have the same sense of urgency about broadband as unserved Coloradans. Although providers have shown a willingness to pay the costs associated with their new pole connections, in some cases there are disputes over access costs. These disputes can take months to be heard and then resolved.
Without a dispute resolution system or quick access to drugs, this process can drag on, leaving underserved communities without access to the Internet and thus critical services they need, including distance learning, telehealth and more.
Rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack broadband access than those in urban areas. To put that into perspective: while 6% of the country overall lacks access to broadband infrastructure, that number rises to over 24% in rural areas. In addition, more than one in six people living in poverty do not have access to the Internet.
Coloradans and Americans alike need solutions that bring transparency and reform a broken, outdated system, or the millions of Americans the infrastructure bill is supposed to help will face the same connectivity challenges that have held them back for generations.
Congress can build on its admirable work on infrastructure by taking steps to accelerate drug access and resolve drug switching disputes so that we can take this opportunity to bring high-speed Internet to every home and business. Many Americans count on our leaders to connect. Congress should establish clear rules to quickly resolve disputes between pole owners and providers so that the expansion of broadband infrastructure is not unnecessarily delayed.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill holds great promise that every home and business will finally have access to high-speed Internet. We need leaders in Washington like Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to make sure we create the right conditions to allow this bill to do what it was intended to do.
Lori Goldstein lives in Westminster.
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