Digital Equity Depends on Improvements to Broadband Internet Infrastructure |  Opinion

Digital Equity Depends on Improvements to Broadband Internet Infrastructure | Opinion

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By Steven Panchenko

As a social studies teacher, I rely on high-speed internet daily and understand how important it is in today’s society.

Shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started my current job. As many remember, schools switched to remote learning within weeks. Some students were able to stay home with internet access and receive round-the-clock support from caregivers or parents as they navigated the new world of remote learning.

However, many students did not have this privilege, as their tutors had to continue working and were unable to assist with remote learning; additionally, many students did not have high-speed internet access at home, requiring them to walk to school parking lots and sit outside the building while trying to continue learning during the pandemic.

High-speed Internet for every home, business, and region in this country has been lacking since it has become widely available in the majority of urban centers, despite many of our country’s leaders pushing for broadband expansion. . Through the actions of congressional leaders like the senses. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet who passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, Americans will now have access to $65 billion in federal funding to ensure everyone, regardless of location, has access to the online services they need .

While securing this discovery was a massive accomplishment, the work is still not complete. Steps must be taken to ensure that this funding is used to expand broadband infrastructure quickly and efficiently.

Our nation’s outdated pole access rules are a huge barrier to that. To extend their networks, Internet Service Providers use power poles to connect the necessary technology.

For underserved communities without access to high-speed internet infrastructure, the most effective way to bring these areas online is for internet service providers to connect their technology to existing hubs.

“It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity”: Advocates and officials point to the need for high-speed broadband in rural Pennsylvania.

However, pole owners – which are usually co-ops, small utilities and electric companies – have to grant access to suppliers for this, and therein lies the challenge. Suppliers must obtain permission to access and use poles and pay pole owners accordingly. Unfortunately, far too often it takes far too long for access to be granted due to disagreements over sharing the cost of pole repairs and replacements.

Because there is no established working system governing pole access, these authorization processes are complicated and opaque. Often, providers are willing to pay the costs associated with pole connections, but in many cases disputes arise over the costs associated with access.

Without a system to resolve these disputes or expedite permissions, these disputes often end up dragging on for many months and sometimes even years, which subsequently leaves unserved communities, which are often rural and low-income families. , without internet access.

For rural communities, it is important to understand what internet access means. Distance learning, telehealth, connecting with family and friends, notification of weather events and important news – all of these things depend on these communities having access to high-speed internet. Ultimately, it is the unserved communities that suffer from this broken process.

They are children like those in my classes, who have to do their homework in the library or school car park because they don’t have internet at home, or sick people who have to drive for hours to see a specialist because they don’t have access to home telehealth.

Not only are these delays significantly hurting unserved families who still lack broadband access, but they are also hurting our country’s economy as a whole. A recent study found that “delayed expansion due to existing pole-setting rules and problematic pole-owner practices cost Americans nationwide between $491 million and $1.86 billion in earnings economic losses each month”.

Report: States, incl. Pennsylvania Take Varied Approaches to Broadband Financing | Wednesday morning coffee

As an educator and advocate for rural broadband access, I urge our U.S. Senators and Congressional delegation to help modernize our hub access process to fulfill the project’s digital equity promise. infrastructure law.

We need to establish rules that allow for a better understanding of cost sharing between parties involved in broadband expansion. In cases where a solution for cost sharing is not found, we must create a transparent system that helps resolve these conflicts in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary delays in deployment.

If we are to accomplish the historic task of bridging our nation’s digital divide, our rules of access to the poles must be set.

Educator and lawyer Steve Panchenko wrote this commentary for Colorado Newsline, a sister site to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where it first appeared.

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