Broadband in the Build Back Better Act and why it is important for Appalachia
By Molly Updegrove, Stephen Herzenberg, Dana Kuhnline, and Mark Shanahan
The Build Back Better Act has passed through the House and is on its way to the Senate. This current legislation includes over a $1 billion dollar investment in making high-speed internet affordable for every American, regardless of who they are or where they live. The chart below spells out the details of the $1 billion investment. These funds are a vital supplement to the $65 billion for broadband in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan. While BIF funds can make quality internet universally available, the $1 billion in the BBB Act can enable more rural and urban communities and families to afford new high-speed options.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us first-hand that high-speed internet is a necessity for work, school, business, and the delivery of healthcare services. Current broadband in Appalachia is woefully inadequate, especially in rural areas,as spelled out in the ReImagine Appalachia broadband white paper, A 2019 Pennsylvania study found, based on 11 million speed tests, that in not a single county in Pennsylvania did at least 50% of people have access to the FCC’s inadequate definition of broadband connectivity (a 25/3 megabits per second download/upload standard). And Pennsylvania’s broadband speeds are the highest in the four-state region). West Virginia ranks in the bottom eight of all 50 states on download and upload speeds, with Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky all ranking 30th or lower, as well (see chart below).
Not only would this investment provide broadband access, it would also create local jobs, which are needed in our communities of Appalachia. These jobs must be good-paying, union jobs, with priority given to historically underserved populations. To read more about the necessary community and labor standards that should be linked to federal climate infrastructure, including broadband investments in Appalachia, please visit our report that addresses these concerns.
Universal and affordable broadband coverage is critically important to the Appalachian region, where too many Americans have lived without proper service. Mimi Pickering, Director of Community Media Initiative at Appalshop speaks to her experience and the importance of this issue for Appalachia: “I live in Whitesburg, KY. It is a small town in the coal fields and we do have a couple options on broadband, but it is not fast and it is not cheap. All you have to do is go a mile or two into the county and there is either no service at all or only satellite service…If people were not aware of the deep digital divide in Appalachia and how critical adequate broadband service is to our very survival…certainly COVID-19 has brought that to the fore”.
It is time to #PassTheDangBill and #ReImagineAppalachia!
To learn more about the current state of broadband in Appalachia and ReImagine Appalachia’s recommendations for the allocation of all the federal broadband funds, please refer to our Broadband Report.