Finding out you lost your internet connection is one of the most frustrating messages you can receive while working on the computer. Unfortunately, it’s one that many Americans have grown accustomed to seeing. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a bright light on this need to close this digital divide. First, let’s explore the nation’s broadband infrastructure, current incentives to address the digital divide, and potential solutions for increasing broadband connectivity.
Impact of the Digital Divide
Since creating the World Wide Web, the internet has quickly transformed from a luxury to a necessity. Every aspect of daily life was moving online. That was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were forced to close, and people worked solely from home. The dramatic shift gave proof to just how damaging the digital divide is. But in what ways are people impacted by the digital divide?
Access to Broadband
Since you are reading this article, you have internet access. Would it surprise you to know there are areas of the U.S. where there is no internet access? When it comes to access to broadband, rural areas are typically the focus. According to a 2020 report from the Federal Communications Commission, 22.3 percent of Americans in rural areas and 27.7 percent of Americans in Tribal lands lack coverage from fixed terrestrial 25/3 Mbps broadband. While in urban areas, only 1.5 percent of Americans lack the same broadband coverage.
Just like designing a network of highways, building broadband infrastructure is no small task. The average cost of placing fiber is $20,000 – $50,000 per mile. This steep installation cost causes even the most optimistic business to shy away from expanding rural broadband. Unfortunately, it makes sense from a business perspective. Companies won’t have a return on investment due to a lack of population and density of consumers. So just like any other infrastructure project, monetary incentives are crucial to improving rural broadband access.
Reliable Connection to Broadband
The entire country is currently debating how to handle the aging infrastructure in the U.S. Included in this conversation, the major facelift scheduled for the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. Most of the country’s power grid was built using copper wire. Although copper is perfectly adequate for providing power, internet, and cable to one’s home, it has minimal bandwidth. Newer technology, fiber-optics, provides over 1,000 times as much bandwidth and can travel more than 100 times further than copper. In addition to this, Fiber lines are not subject to water damage or electrical interference the way copper lines are. Overall, fiber is smaller, lighter, and more durable than copper cabling. The downside, it is far more expensive.
Much of the country still uses copper lines for broadband connectivity. The demand for the internet has surpassed the capabilities of current copper lines. The system struggles to handle it. For example, if all members of a copper-lined household were to use the internet, it would slow down. If you had fiber, this would be a sign to increase your internet plan to allow higher download speeds. But since you have copper, it’s time to vote someone off the Wi-Fi.
The country’s power grid is improving though. Right now, the U.S.’s two largest telecommunications companies are in the middle of a long-term project to eliminate traditional copper-based telephone lines in favor of fiber-optic cables. Progress takes time though. As of 2020, only 30% of broadband infrastructure is fiber-based.
Cost of Broadband
The final impact of the digital divide is the cost of having an internet connection. According to 2021 data from Pew Research Center, 13% of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year do not have access to smart devices, computers, or broadband at home. Most of these households reside in urban areas.
Just because an area has broadband connectivity doesn’t mean a person can access it. A $60-a-month internet option, about the national average, is only available if you can pay $60.
Why are telecommunication services so expensive? The first factor, installation of new broadband connections, is expensive. Second, telecommunication companies don’t really compete much on price. In many areas, there are one to three providers of high-speed internet access, so they can set prices without the fear of losing customers.
Solutions for Building Better Broadband
Building better broadband begins with funding. Expanding the reach of broadband and switching lines from copper to fiber can’t be done without incentives for companies. On their own, companies large or small don’t have the capabilities to improve internet access in rural areas. Communities can begin working with their local companies on plans to build broadband services without immediately increasing local taxes.
Impact of New Infrastructure Bill
In early 2021, U.S. legislators took the next steps to address aging infrastructure. The Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. It now sits in the House of Representatives waiting for a vote. If both chambers pass the bill, President Biden says he will sign it, allocating $65 billion toward improving current broadband connections and making it more affordable.
How will that impact Texans? According to the FCC benchmarks for broadband connectivity, 14% of Texas households do not have an internet subscription, and 4% of Texans live in areas with no broadband infrastructure. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Texas would receive a minimum $100 million to improve broadband coverage across the state. In addition to this, 29% of Texans would become eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford an internet connection.
The proposed infrastructure bill offers short and long-term solutions to the country’s broadband issues. If approved, low-income families will immediately feel the impact because they can apply for aid to help pay for internet services. However, the process for improving current and building new broadband connections takes time. It will be 5 to 10 years before an overall improvement to the nation’s broadband infrastructure will be measurable.
Fiber Broadband Services by LDC
LDC adapts and designs the infrastructure that we depend on every day, including broadband. Our team aids companies and municipalities in building better broadband through design and project coordination services.
LDC Fiber and Copper Design Solutions:
- Fiber and Copper to Premise
- Fiber and Copper Relocation
- Wireless Network Design & Locating
- Small Cell Network Design & Locating
- Long-Haul Fiber and Copper
- Community Broadband Design
- Pole Loading Analysis
- Manhole Structure Design
- Internal Pathway Design
Learn more about all our telecommunication services.