US coalition aims to eliminate digital divide
January 2, 2018
By Colin Mann
Rallying around a plan to eliminate the digital divide by 2022, a diverse group of community leaders, rural advocates and top innovators have launched of Connect Americans Now. The new alliance will work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other policymakers to ensure that there is sufficient unlicensed low band spectrum in every market in the country to enable broadband connectivity.
“All Americans – regardless of where they live – deserve access to high-speed Internet,” said Richard T. Cullen, Executive Director of Connect Americans Now (CAN). “Without a broadband connection, millions of students struggle to keep up with their assignments, Americans in rural areas are unable to fully utilise telemedicine, farmers are denied the promise of precision agriculture and businesses are unable to tap into the world of online commerce. Congress and the FCC must stand with rural America by allowing Internet service providers to deliver broadband via white spaces spectrum.”
CAN’s founding partners include Microsoft, the National Rural Education Association, the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition, the Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Alaska Communications, Axiom, the Mid-Atlantic Broadcasting Communities Corporation, the American Pain Relief Institute, HTS Ag, and others. As a part of the initial launch, CAN has developed local coalitions in Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Wisconsin to begin educating rural stakeholders about the opportunities available via long-range, wireless broadband over TV white spaces. They also are spearheading an advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C., where FCC regulators have the authority to make sufficient unlicensed spectrum available in each market for high-speed Internet.
“There are amazing educational resources online, but students without broadband can easily fall behind their peers,” said National Rural Education Association Executive Director Allen Pratt. “In rural communities, that digital divide is standing between millions of kids and the ability to research an author, watch a documentary, or just turn in assignments. We want all students to learn the computer skills that will help them succeed in the 21st century. We urge regulators to open a dialogue with our team at Connect Americans Now and unlock the incredible possibilities offered by this low band white spaces spectrum.”
“A reliable and cost-effective broadband connection will change the lives of millions of Americans who live each day without this basic necessity,” said Tad Deriso, President & CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. “Through our pilot project with Microsoft, we have witnessed the transformative effect that providing broadband via TV white spaces brings to rural families who otherwise could not obtain Internet service, and hope that the FCC will embrace the potential of Connect Americans Now’s plan to close the digital divide.”
“Times have changed, and reliable broadband access is no longer just a luxury,” said Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Executive Director John Windhausen. “Libraries, clinics and other anchor institutions lie at the heart of rural communities across the heartland, but they can’t provide the services people need without modern connectivity. SHLB is very pleased to join with Connect Americans Now to press for solutions that can work quickly to help close the digital divide and ensure that quality of life isn’t determined by zip code.”
The plan endorsed by CAN will rapidly accelerate the deployment – and reduce the cost – of high-speed Internet service for 23.4 million rural Americans who live each day without broadband access. It does so by taking advantage of unused but powerful bandwidth below the 700 MHz frequency range, also known as TV white spaces, made available on an unlicensed basis. Wireless signals in this range can travel over hills and through buildings and trees and therefore are great for last mile broadband access in rural areas.
From education to telemedicine and precision agriculture to business development, closing the digital divide could transform the lives and livelihoods of rural Americans from all walks of life, says the CAN.
Implications of the Digital Divide
- 5 million students lack access to high speed Internet, but 70 per cent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. This means that millions of students – most often in rural areas – struggle to keep up with their assignments and fail to learn the computer skills they need to succeed and enter college or the workforce.
- Telemedicine could collectively save lives and millions of dollars annually for underserved patients and rural hospitals that pay up to three times more for broadband than their urban counterparts. Broadband allows patients, regardless of where they live, to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services that would normally require hours of travel for patients or their providers.
- Broadband access brings the promise of precision agriculture, including remote monitoring equipment that helps farmers save money by optimising irrigation, conserving resources and increasing yields. It also allows farmers to search for new customers, find buyers willing to pay higher prices and identify the most affordable sources of seeds, fertilisers and farm equipment.
- Broadband access will drive economic growth and job opportunities by enabling rural small businesses to expand their customer base from local to global and attract new industries to rural communities.
- High-speed Internet supports workforce development by allowing rural job seekers to access services online, develop new skills through cloud-based training and secure additional employment opportunities such as remote teleworking. It will also allow rural communities to keep and attract new workers who require a broadband connection to carry out their daily responsibilities.