Better late than never: America is speeding up its broadband strategy

America has a long history of limited internet access for steep prices. 2021 may be the year of real progress.

February 24, 2021

Early in February, a 90-year-old LA man did something we’ve all dreamed about: He spent $10k buying a WSJ ad to call out AT&T’s CEO on the company’s shoddy internet speed.

Unsurprisingly, it went viral.

The story serves as a reminder of America’s broadband challenges at a time when internet speeds are more important than ever.

Even so, slow internet was a pre-pandemic problem

About 14.5m Americans lack access to broadband speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps (download/upload), which is hardly enough to sustain a family with Zoom in one room, Teams in another, and Bridgerton on downstairs.

It’s a divide that mostly falls along urban-rural lines: While 78% of the US has access to speeds of 100/25 Mbps, only 30% has access to affordable plans at those speeds.

Now, the government’s dead serious about solving this

The broadband issue is, for the most part, a super-rare instance of bipartisan agreement in 2021:

  • In Nebraska, 11 bills have been introduced to widen broadband access.
  • Texas state senators are working to build a Broadband Development Program.
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget proposal included $210m for improving broadband access.

December’s federal COVID relief bill wrapped in $7B for broadband programs — and this month, the House Energy & Commerce Committee advanced $7.6B in funding to improve internet access for students and teachers.

New tech could also bring some fresh changes

The FCC plans to update the agency’s long-criticized broadband maps to help better identify regions without proper internet access.

Also in the mix is SpaceX’s internet-beaming satellite project, Starlink. In December, the FCC awarded SpaceX $886m in subsidies to help bring high-speed broadband to rural areas.

One group of people not happy about this: astronomers. The satellites can mess with telescopic observations by making them look like this:

Starlink satellites cross the view of telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. (Source: CTIO)

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