It’s been said that high-speed internet is the electricity of the 21st century—with it, amazing things are possible, but without it, families and communities can miss out on crucial economic opportunities, experience worse educational outcomes, receive worse health care outcomes, and become increasingly isolated from the connected world.
And yet, today, in 2023, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and tens of millions of Americans lack access to high-speed internet.
On Monday, the Biden administration took significant steps to connect many of those individuals, announcing more than $42 billion in funding to expand internet access across the United States with the goal of connecting 8.5 million families and small businesses to high-speed internet.
The funds come from President Biden’s Infrastructure Law, which passed in bipartisan fashion in 2021. Pennsylvania is set to receive $1.2 billion through this investment.
The funding effort is part of the White House’s larger goal of ensuring that fast and reliable broadband internet will be accessible to all corners of the country by 2030.
Speaking at the White House on Monday, Biden himself compared this latest investment to the federal government’s work to electrify America’s heartland in the 1930s, when nearly 90% of farms had no electric power due to high costs and “prohibitive terrain.”
Biden said that rural communities now suffer from a similar disparity: “the digital divide.” This is the gap between those that have high-speed internet access and those that do not. Nationwide, new federal estimates indicate that roughly 7% of the United States does not have broadband access that meets the government’s minimum standards.
The true rate may be even higher, however, as it is notoriously difficult to identify communities, individuals, and businesses that lack access to broadband.
The federal government has spent tens of billions of dollars over the years to expand broadband, but the effort gained new steam during the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed us just how vital the internet is for Americans’ daily lives–to boost small business, to get virtual medical care, to contact coworkers and family members, and to have groceries delivered, among other things.
“It’s the biggest investment in high-speed internet ever, because for today’s economy to work for everyone, internet access is just as important as electricity or water or other basic services,” Biden said.
States will be tasked with devising blueprints for how exactly to connect the citizens in their respective areas. The White House states that if any funds are left over, they are to be used for improving internet connectivity for those with slower access. The amount of money allocated to each state was determined by the total number of unserved homes, businesses, and other locations within each state.
“Nowadays, reliable, broadband internet access is almost as fundamental as electricity or running water. We can’t let our rural and other underserved communities get left behind due to lack of broadband access,” Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman said of the funding in a statement. “This funding is a big deal and will help deliver more broadband for all people, in rural and urban areas, so that everyone has equitable access to stable high-speed internet at home.”
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