Opinion: Aggressive Broadband Work Must Be Federal Priority
In an ideal world that is being powered by an ideal economy, extension of and improvements to America's infrastructure would be driven by developers. But the ideal is sometimes outside our grasp.
Sometimes, government must be the catalyst. Case in point: the expansion of broadband internet. Within a short drive of Pittsburgh, there are swaths of Western Pennsylvania where the lack of access to technology is profound. Residents are cut off from the kind of connectivity that most consider customary. The result: a land of digital haves and have-nots.
President Joe Biden has proposed in his American Jobs Plan an infusion of money that would bridge the divide.
While there is bipartisan consensus that something must be done to bring all citizens and businesses into the 21st century, the battle lines are being drawn over the particulars — chief among them, how to fund the initiative. The president wants a boost in the corporate tax rate.
De rigueur political wrangling must be set aside in the interests of America's future. Broadband accessibility must be seen for what it is: an essential. The White House has rightly likened expansion of this system to the federal government's 1936 Rural Electrification undertaking, which extended the nation's power grid to rural and poor regions. "Broadband internet is the new electricity," a White House overview stated. "It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected." No truer assessment could have been made.
There are 30 million Americans without reliable internet access. The president's $100 billion proposal to reach into the country's rural areas with this necessary enhancement of affordable connectivity must be supported by our lawmakers. Without this program, inequality persists and prevails; inequality in access to information and the power born of that information translates to inequality in health and education and economic opportunity.
There is no question that broadband must reach every corner of the country. There are, however, other legitimate questions, beginning with a realistic grasp of high-speed internet reach. There is no reliable map of existing broadband coverage. Priority must be given to developing this map. Then, with accurate information in hand, funding should flow. The recipients should be those with shovel-ready projects. This is not the time to engage in lengthy debate over funding preferences for nonprofit/government versus for-profit enterprises.
Laying the necessary fiber to connect homes and businesses to high-speed internet is labor- and cost-intensive. It simply cannot be accomplished without the catalytic impact of government funding, coordination and oversight. The bureaucratic red tape that typically gums up progress must be avoided.
Universal broadband service can no longer be a goal for the future. It must be a front-burner plan for today. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D- Forest Hills, has been a leader on this front. He must muster his political capital to bring naysayers to the table, particularly those who are whistling the same hackneyed tunes about dimming entrepreneurial innovation and empowering big government. Infrastructure improvements — universal service projects — benefit the nation as a whole. They are the reason behind the "united" in the United States of America.
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