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Billions of dollars may still fall short of connecting everyone to high-speed Internet

On the southeastern edge of Oklahoma, where vast cattle farms and vacant storefronts dot the landscape, the lack of high-speed Internet service has become a daily frustration for residents.

Wanda Finley, a fourth-grade teacher in Sawyer, Okla., said the satellite service at her home was often very slow to use, and sometimes it was down for days. She can’t schedule medical appointments, request prescription refills or pay her bills online until she gets to work. Almost every weekend, she drives about 40 minutes to school to prepare her weekly lesson plan because a web page at home can take a few minutes to load.

,“I hope that changes,” Ms. Finley, 60, said while sitting in her home on a recent afternoon.

If President Biden gets his way, Ms. Finley and her neighbors will benefit $42.5 billion program Expanding fast internet access across the country. Funding, which was included in 2021 infrastructure lawPart of an initiative that has lofty ambitions: to provide “affordable, reliable high-speed Internet” access to every home and business by 2030.

Given its vital role in economic opportunity, education, health care, and other areas, the effort aims to close the “digital divide” by ensuring that all Americans can connect to fast internet. The Biden administration has also invested more than this $22 billion Among other programs to build broadband networks and reduce the cost of Internet bills.

There is a lack of broadband infrastructure Particularly problematic in rural areas, where Internet service is often unavailable or limited. According to the new program, about 24 percent of Americans in rural areas lack high-speed internet service, compared to 1.7 percent in urban areas. Internet connectivity can boost economic growth, research shows in rural areasHelping create jobs, attract workers, and increase home values.

Efforts to bring broadband to everyone are nothing new: The federal government has already spent billions of dollars in these efforts mixed results, Biden administration officials have said the new program, combined with other federal and state funding, will eventually be enough to reach everyone who does not have high-speed internet access.

But some state officials and industry analysts remain cautious and have raised concerns about whether the money will achieve all of the administration’s goals.

In part, this is due to the prohibitive cost of deploying broadband infrastructure in rural and sparsely populated areas. When homes are spread far apart and terrain challenges make digging in the ground difficult, laying fiber-optic cables can be costly. Labor shortage may increase further increase construction costs and delay in projects.

According to Federal Communications Commission data, there are 8.5 million “unserved” and 3.6 million “unserved” locations nationwide. Each state received a minimum of $100 million from the $42.5 billion bucket, with additional funding based on its number of unserved locations. States must first address areas where there is no or inadequate internet service, and then can use the funds to build in disadvantaged areas. The remaining funds can be used on community institutions affordability issues,

Success of this initiative is expected varies across states, Some, such as Louisiana and Virginia, has already said that they anticipate covering every unserved and underserved location. Others have expressed more doubts About access to funding.

Adin Rolls, Oklahoma’s director of broadband strategy, said it is unlikely the state, with its large rural population, will have enough funding to reach every unserved location, and covering all unserved areas could be a challenge.

State officials said recent editions of fcc map Internet service available across the country has improved, but it may still overstate coverage, Local governments and providers will be able to challenge existing data, but state allocations are already set, meaning the funding would have to increase further if officials identify more places lacking high-speed service.

Ms. Rolls said there is a “real possibility” that such a scenario could develop, adding that officials have heard from residents who say “there is definitely an overreach of the service.” And even though he said fiber would be a better long-term investment, a mix of technologies would have to be deployed to reach every untapped location.

Even with grants, companies will not find it profitable to build everywhere. Robert Osborne, Director of California Communications DivisionSaid that some places in the state, which are geographically diverse large areas that are difficult to reach, no provider is likely to receive interest. To attract bidders, Mr Osborne said the state could in some cases ease the requirement for providers to cover at least 25 per cent of a project’s price tag, but that risked draining money from other projects. .

“It’s not as simple as giving money to a major Internet service provider and saying, ‘Go build out there,'” Mr. Osborne said.

Ivan Feinman, Director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration $42.5 billion programSaid officials were confident that federal and state funding would be enough to cover every unserved and underserved location, meaning every American would need at least 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 megabits per second for uploads. Will get access to internet speed.

Still, he said some projects could take up to five years to complete and estimated construction would not begin until late 2024. Although he said most locations will receive fiber connections, he expects other locations to be covered by fixed wireless or satellite technology.

is a satellite not considered reliable Under the program’s rules, but Mr. Feynman said some services were better than others, and states could use the money for satellite equipment and service for a handful of remote locations. Starlink, a satellite technology Created by Elon Musk’s SpaceXConsidered more reliable, but the hardware costs hundreds of dollars and can take months to get off the waiting list.

Access to funding will make a difference for Americans who have long lacked high-speed internet. Ms. Finley said she wanted to assign homework that involved more online research because it would accelerate the learning of her fourth grade students. But many people could not complete it. Only three of the 20 students in her homeroom have adequate internet access at home. The rest don’t have service or can only use their parents’ cellphones.

A few miles away in Fort Towson, Okla., where there are about 600 residents, Mayor Tammy Barnes said people complained consistently about Internet speeds, which she called a “huge drain” on the local economy. On a recent afternoon, the busiest part of town was the parking lot of a convenience store and gas station. The other two main businesses are a steakhouse and a Dollar General store.

Although Internet bills are a financial burden for many families, Ms. Barnes said if more residents had high-speed access they would likely attend medical appointments online, as many people often travel up to three hours to see particular doctors. Let’s travel to.

Other states with lower population density, such as Montana, may also face greater challenges. In Broadwater County, Mont., where many homes are separated by vast expanses of grassy land and some are nestled in hilly terrain, residents said the lack of fast service has made it difficult to work from home.

Denise Thompson, 58, who runs a cattle farm with her husband in Townsend, Mont., said she wanted to start a website to ship more beef products, but she was unsure how she could operate it at home. Because she was dependent on her phone’s power. The location and its connection to Internet access was slow. She hasn’t tried to stream a movie in almost a year because it usually gets stuck buffering for minutes.

Her home is located in a gap between two high hills and her nearest neighbor is about three miles away, so her only other option is satellite service. Even with the new federal money, Ms. Thompson said she doubted they would find more reliable options.

“I really don’t expect that to happen,” he said.

County Commissioner Lindsey Richtmeyer said that many locations would be classified as underserved, but actually receive slower service than shown in the FCC’s map. County officials are encouraging residents to take the state speed test in hopes of identifying most of the area as unserved.

Estimates showed that Montana would More than $1.2 billion is needed There is more than $500 million shortfall to deploy fiber to all unserved and underserved locations. Misty Ann Giles, director of Montana’s Department of Administration, said reaching everyone will require a mix of technologies, as deploying fiber could cost the state as much as $300,000 in some locations.

“Obviously more money would have been appreciated,” she said. “But we’ll figure it out and make it work.”

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