Huge majority of voters want Congress to expand broadband

A survey sponsored by the Internet Innovation Alliance found overwhelming support for Congress subsidizing expansion of broadband in areas where it is needed. The absence of broadband hurt learning for millions of students last spring after in-person classes were canceled due to the coronavirus. (Getty Images)

A recent survey found that 90% of American voters want Congress to use federal funds to expand broadband for people living in areas not currently served, and 62% demand Congress act immediately to do so.

The survey of 1,938 registered voters was conducted by Morning Consult between Sept. 1 to 2 on behalf of the Internet Innovation Alliance.

With COVID-19 showing how precious internet access can be for Work From Home and for students who can’t be present in actual classrooms, the IIA seized on the poll results.  “Reaching universal broadband—high-speed Internet access for every American—will bring enormous benefits to the U.S. economy and our society as a whole,” said Bruce Mehlman, founding co-chair of the IIA in a statement.

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The poll found that 95% said broadband access for students and teachers is a problem, while 91% believe access in rural areas is a problem and 63% see it as a “major problem.”

Also, the poll found 69% are using home internet more frequently since the start of the pandemic.  A huge number – 92%-- said they were satisfied with their home internet and 51% were “very satisfied.”

Also, 88% said they support Congress subsidizing broadband access for low-income families with 49% saying they “strongly” support such subsidies.

A modest majority of more than 52% also said they would either be willing to “help” or “subsidize” internet access for those who cannot otherwise afford it.

IIA said that when 55 million K-12 students switched to distance learning in March, about 20% did not have to broadband.  “The U.S. had no drill for this,” said Kim Keenan, IIA co-chair.  “Almost overnight, the Homework Gap turned into an education void.”  Some school districts, even in urban areas, have had to resort to setting up Wi-Fi hotspots in school buses so that families could drive up and use the access with young students going online in their cars.

Honorary IIA Chairman and former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, urged Congress to include funding for broadband in the next COVID stimulus bill. He specifically endorsed the Broadband DATA Act. Also, he favors modernizing the Lifeline Program to directly provide a monthly subsidy to broadband users.

Boucher said in an email to Fierce Electronics that broadband investment for private companies in rural settings is not economical due to rough terrain and widely dispersed residents.  “Carriers and the private sector are making broadband investments everywhere that a positive return on investment can be projected,” he said.  “Government should fill the gap with targeted funding to unserved areas.”

He suggested using a reverse auction process to ensure the most broadband deployment for dollars spent.  In a government reverse auction, the winner is an entity willing to take the least amount of money to undertake a project.

 In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission began to weigh a $20 .4 billion rural broadband initiative using a reverse auction. The FCC voted 3-2 in February to establish the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to be used over 10 years to finance broadband networks in unserved rural areas affecting about 6 million homes.

A Phase 1 reverse auction for $16 billion of the fund is planned to start Oct. 29.

RELATED:  Cisco takes aim at rural broadband with network soluitions for service providers

 

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