42 Million Americans Still Don’t Have Access to Broadband Internet – Forbes Advisor

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Across the country, rural households and low-wage workers are stuck with slow or non-existent Internet while the rest of the developed world thrives on high-speed broadband — a problem that’s more impactful than lack of access. stream the latest Netflix shows.

While the digital divide has been an issue since the George W. Bush administration in the early 2000s, the effects of the lack of broadband internet service became apparent when the Covid pandemic hit and forced people to work and study. people were at home.

For households that can’t afford broadband or don’t have it because of their location, managing life while staying at home is even more difficult. And these problems continue today.

Today, about 42 million Americans lack broadband access, according to Broadband Now, a data technology company.

The FCC defines broadband as having download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (or Mbps) and download speeds of at least 3 Mbps. Broadband technology can include everything from WiFi and satellite to fiber optic cables.

The Biden administration has launched programs that seek to close the access gap by lowering monthly bills—but take-up rates have been low, pending the arrival of broadband. some rural and tribal communities in their areas.

Lack of Broadband keeps employees out of work

Although remote work opportunities have increased for millions of American workers during the pandemic, people without broadband access cannot take advantage of these opportunities.

Michael McMaster has run his video production business on his 90-acre citrus farm for 25 years, and only got broadband less than two years ago — an option he never thought possible in rural California. (Note: McMaster is a friend of mine.)

McMaster said that when he first heard President Barack Obama talk about bringing the internet to rural communities through the ConnectHome program in 2015, he was skeptical because he said it was a “forgotten area.” the rural areas.”

Fast forward five years and a 5G tower has been installed in nearby Porterville, something he calls “a door to another world.”

“Before they put up 5G towers, we were using expensive Wi-Fi jetpacks that were barely a step beyond dial-up,” McMaster said. “And when I needed to download a large file, I had to drive 15 miles to Starbucks and use the Internet. It was sad.”

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The Internet is not only faster, but also cheaper. He reduced his monthly internet bill from $90 per month with a Verizon jetpack to just $40 per month through AT&T. He also saves money by not paying for gas—or coffee—to use the Internet at the local Starbucks.

Bob Rogers, CEO of Oii.ai, a data science firm specializing in supply chain design, says he wouldn’t consider hiring remote workers who don’t have access to broadband Internet.

“I ask potential candidates if they have secure access to an Internet solution because, without it, you’re not going to be successful in remote work,” says Rogers.

Broadband became available to the public in the early 2000s, meaning that the technology and infrastructure built around high-speed internet has been around for 20 years. Besides work, online health care, education and convenience like online shopping work best — and sometimes only — with broadband. During the pandemic, these jobs became necessary for many.

Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit advocacy group that advocates for affordable communications, says people’s lives and livelihoods could suffer. if there is no broadband.

“You can’t run a garage and repair cars without broadband. You can’t apply for a job or have a Zoom interview or phone call without broadband. People with pacemakers or other medical devices can’t connect to the Internet and monitor their health in real time without broadband,” Feld said. “This is more of a problem than not having the luxury. .”

Why Millions Don’t Have Access to Broadband

Broadband has left low-income and rural households behind for one big reason: money. This is a thorn in the side of consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

For many consumers, it’s too expensive to sign up for broadband service—and prices can vary greatly by city or neighborhood. Not only that, people in the same neighborhood may pay the same for less service with the same ISP, The Markup reports.

On average, Internet service in the United States costs about $61 a month, according to Broadband Search, an information technology company.

For ISPs, the challenge is to justify the investment in building rural infrastructure in low-lying areas with fewer customers.

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Although the federal government has poured billions into expanding internet access to low-income and rural households, there are still challenges in making connections.

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and American Jobs Act (IIJA) bill allocated $65 billion to expand broadband access. It also includes the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a $30 per month discount on Internet subscriptions (or $75 per month for households on tribal lands ) eligible households, as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 on purchases. laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

While 51.6 million households qualify for ACP assistance, only 13 million households are enrolled in the program, according to Education Superhighway, a nonprofit that connects classrooms to high-speed Internet. trip.

A recent study by Education Superhighway found that the biggest barrier to ACP enrollment is awareness: a staggering 75% of people in many communities are unaware of the program’s existence. this.

Nationally, the adoption rate is 25%, but adoption rates vary widely from state to state. In North Dakota, only 7% of eligible households signed up for ACP assistance; but 35% of Ohio residents from eligible households are enrolled.

Countries with the Fewest People Enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

STATE Number of eligible households % of eligible households registered in ACP
North Dakota 114,650 7%
Idaho 277,968 9%
South Dakota 129,617 10%
Alaska 96,935 12%

Source: Education Superhighway

Country with the Most Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Enrollees

STATE Number of eligible households % of eligible households registered in ACP
Ohio 1,984,218 35%
Louisiana 904,157 34%
Kentucky 846,290 33%
North Carolina 1,741,427 31%

Source: Education Superhighway

How to Apply for Broadband Help

If your income is less than 200% of the 2022 federal poverty guidelines, you qualify for ACP. For example, a family of four with an annual income of up to $55,50027,750 a year is eligible.

You may also be eligible if you receive a Federal Pell Grant during the current grant year, or if you are already enrolled in programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program (Section 8 Voucher) , or Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA).

Applying for the ACP program is simple; However, you may need to use the Internet to access the application. Public libraries have free internet access.

There are two main steps to the application, but different regions may have different rules, so be sure to check with your local ISP:

  • You can apply online at AffordableConnectivity.gov or print an application and send it by mail.
  • Next, let your ISP know you want to sign up for the ACP program and the discount will be applied to your monthly bill.
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Monopolies raise the price of Internet service

Those who don’t qualify for subsidies must contend with Internet prices charged by monopolies that face little competition.

More than 200 million Americans have a choice between two ISPs, according to a White House report. In these markets, customers may pay up to five times more than those living in areas with more ISP options.

“If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with multiple providers, you can get competition, which can mean better prices and better service,” Feld said. “But most people are not so lucky.”

The Future of Broadband for Consumers

With so much at stake for millions of Americans, the Biden Administration is investing billions in expanding broadband services. Here are some efforts to reduce the digital divide:

  • The Fast Internet for All initiative is investing $48 billion to expand broadband infrastructure and related job training across the country.
  • Tribal lands are severely lacking in broadband access, and the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) is an important step in closing the gap. TBCP received $1.35 billion in bipartisan Infrastructure Act funding to increase broadband access and digital skills training on tribal lands across 15 states.
  • More than $25 billion from the American Rescue Plan will go to three funds to expand broadband access to underserved communities.

Lifeline is another federal program that provides financial assistance for monthly cell phone or Internet service. Lifeline is available per household – not per person – and only one service can be selected (either mobile or Internet).

To be eligible for the Lifeline program, your income must be at least 135% of the federal poverty guidelines (in 2022, which is $18,347 for a single household) or must you are enrolled in a federal assistance program, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or certain tribal programs. Applicants can verify eligibility and apply online at lifelinesupport.org.

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