Kamala Harris Broadband Internet Program
Broadband Internet has been out of range for many Americans. But thanks to the Infrastructure Investment Act, also commonly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states will now have access to a $65 billion pool of federal funds to improve access to high-speed broadband Internet.
In recent weeks, Vice President Kamala Harris has visited several states discussing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s broadband-related benefits. On a recent stop in Louisiana, she shared the U.S. Department of Commerce’s recent announcement that the administration was awarding $277 million of this funding in the form of grants to 13 communities across several states. This funding will help states deploy fiber-optic broadband cable in multiple rural counties and connect more than 133,000 households who struggle to access consistent high-speed Internet.
These grants are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Including the initial $277 million, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will award a total of $42.45 billion grant funding over time to states with NTIA-approved plans to use the funds to deploy broadband infrastructure.
This funding is notable because it may help satisfy overwhelming demand. In December of 2020, Congress established a $288 million grant-based Broadband Infrastructure Program, also administered by the NTIA. By the time the application period closed, more than 230 communities across the U.S. had requested more than $2.5 billion in funding – more than eight times the available funding at the time.
But the Biden-Harris administration’s plans for this funding do not stop there. Another significant component is the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program, the nation’s largest broadband affordability program ever. This program provides low-income households with vouchers to help offset Internet access costs and has enrolled over 10 million families so far.
The remaining broadband funding will be spent on several broadband-related initiatives, including:
- $2.75 billion for a Digital Equity Program
- $2 billion for RUS ReConnect
- $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Program
- $1 billion for an NTIA-run middle-mile program
- $600 billion for Private Activity Bonds for broadband deployments
Strategic deployment of these funds can help ensure that, over time, everyone has equal access to the Internet in the twenty-first century. Given how inextricably intertwined Internet access is to all facets of American life, from business to education to employment to government, reliable high-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury. It is essential to navigate today’s world successfully.
Reactions to the Biden-Harris Administration’s Recent Broadband Announcements
Despite the often-contentious atmosphere inside the Beltway, politicians from both sides of the aisle have offered praise for impending broadband funding deployments. Even those who voted against the Law on final passage have touted its benefits, especially regarding broadband funding. Many of the Law’s funding priorities, including broadband, will take years to operationalize. Fortunately, opinion polls on the bill are also overwhelmingly in support of the Law as a whole, which bodes well for its future under successive, and possibly, different Presidential administrations.
The tech sector has also offered praise, with many of the nation’s largest tech corporations having lobbied for broadband funding’s inclusion in the package. And as per an informal survey of leading providers, many in the MSP community appreciate the broadband initiative. “[The Law] will be an amazing achievement for all United States citizens,” one respondent remarked. “It’s hard to believe that in 2022 there are still many areas of the USA that have no internet access coverage.”
Another noted how vital that broadband infrastructure is to our everyday lives. “Having access to the Internet has become a day-to-day necessity for the American household. This was pushed to the forefront of the American mind over the past two years as we have seen many avenues of life become an online reality. We see this reality in online schooling, work from home, and doctors’ visits becoming virtual visits. There is no doubt that access to the Internet has become a vital part of our daily lives.
However, this respondent also noted that building additional broadband access in rural areas is inherently expensive. “Being able to provide high-speed Internet to cities and their suburbs has not been a difficult task for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Rather [covering] the costs of providing this type of service to rural residents creates a roadblock.”
Others agreed. One respondent, drawing on their cultural roots, noted, “This is necessary – Coming from a rural farm community in Michigan, the simplest things are difficult. We currently use wireless repeaters off from corn silos to get the Internet in our communities because the telephone lines don’t support the Internet, and the cable companies will not build out coax or fiber. Not only is streaming difficult on this wireless, but simple things like MFA take several minutes for emails and text messages to come through. This makes people want to skip critical online safety.”
Another signaled the historic importance of the act and how its potential effects transcended reliable Internet provision. “To me, this is very similar to the Federal-Aid Highway Act that was signed into Law in 1956. At the time, having highways across the entire U.S. gave equal footing to many people that hadn’t had full access before. This allowed many more businesses to be created and gave many people mobility they lacked before. The administration wants to do the same thing with Broadband Internet. As important as highways were in the 1950s, having access to high-speed Internet is much more important to the ability to function as a citizen in the USA. This helps lay the foundation for everyone to have access. This is a much-needed step.
Still, the Law’s provisions open questions about how effectively it will be operationalized. The NTIA will rely on the states to develop broadband infrastructure plans and partner with ISPs to perform the actual work. Without proper planning, coordination, and oversight, states and communities may be left with a patchwork of broadband infrastructure of varying quality that may not live up to the promise of the Law.
One respondent raised whether such funding could be used to diminish competition in the ISP space further. “It would be ideal for the government to back a newer ISP that does not already have a monopoly on an area. This would allow competition to gain in a space that has little to no other options.” However, the grant-based nature of the program allows states to select providers according to NTIA guidelines, leaving such antitrust issues unanswerable for now.
Or, as another respondent noted, “Who will the government partner up with in order to do the work that is necessary, which the cable providers have ignored for all these years, we just don’t know.”
However, despite these questions, the broadband provisions of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are indeed positive developments. In addition to ensuring every citizen has a fair chance of succeeding in America, the bill’s Internet expansion can be a boon to businesses that can now expand their foothold into underserved communities.
Contact us at LAN Infotech if you’re hoping to ensure that your business has the infrastructure necessary to support the rural communities that will soon be coming online in your state. We are a leading managed service provider in Fort Lauderdale, and we have the experience and resources to help your company shore up its online operations and cybersecurity. And we can help you prepare for the days when underserved Florida communities like Wacissa, Suwanee, Indian Lake Estate come online.
LAN Infotech is a Microsoft Cloud Services Provider, IT Managed Support company and a leader in helping law firms, nonprofits and medical organizations deploy cloud solutions, manage computer networks, keep data protected and top technology management company. Businesses like yours need technology support to run highly-effective organizations.