Why Can’t Millions of Americans Access Reliable Internet Services?

Christel Deskins

Many people living in rural communities don’t have reliable Internet service. Rolling out infrastructure in these areas is costly and not as lucrative as investing in urban areas, which can be a deterrent for some Internet providers, says Christopher Mitchell, community broadband networks director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. […]

Many people living in rural communities don’t have reliable Internet service. Rolling out infrastructure in these areas is costly and not as lucrative as investing in urban areas, which can be a deterrent for some Internet providers, says Christopher Mitchell, community broadband networks director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
1. Millions of people in rural America struggle to connect to the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates 21 million people lack a high speed internet connection, but other estimates are double that figure. Approximately half of the U.S. population—157 million people—have a slow or unreliable internet connection, according to Microsoft.

2. One of the largest rural internet providers recently filed for bankruptcy.

Frontier Communications,

which was awarded about $1 billion by the FCC five years ago to help expand networks in rural areas, filed for bankruptcy at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bankruptcy documents showed that the company underinvested in faster broadband infrastructure. It also did not meet its coverage targets. A company spokesperson said it strives “to deliver the highest speeds, but the available speed depends on multiple variables, including, especially in rural areas, the distance that the customer’s location is from our Internet equipment.”

3. Internet companies have largely decided where they provide coverage.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the federal government doesn’t treat broadband like a public utility and has relied on Internet companies to regulate themselves and provide service in select areas. Ajit Pai, the FCC’s current chairman, says he has made it his top priority to make sure every American has access to “digital opportunity”. The FCC is dedicating billions of dollars in funding to the issue. But the U.S. government doesn’t currently have enough data about where broadband is being provided within counties, something the FCC says it is working to fix.

Watch the full video by Jake Nicol, Mark E. Trent and Dom Amatore here.

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