By Rachael Grinnell
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us work, but these changes haven’t reached everyone. Across much of the country, Zoom meetings from the living room have replaced morning meetings in the office and emails are now more common than conversations by the water cooler.
Due to the limitations of our nation’s internet infrastructure, however, millions of rural Americans like myself are unable to experience the benefits of telework.
President Joe Biden has set out to eliminate this divide in internet access through his Internet for All initiative, which has dedicated over $65 billion to provide every American household with access to affordable, reliable internet by the end of the decade. After years of going without home WiFi in this work-from-home era, this will be an absolute game changer for communities like mine.
I live with my husband in rural Worth Township Pennsylvania.
We don’t live on a dirt road, but we’re not far removed from them. While we do have a few options for home internet service out here, the only providers are either prohibitively expensive, unreliable, or at maximum capacity for our service area. As a result, my husband and I have gone several years without any WiFi service. Our best option is to pay for spotty 5g service for our cell phones and an unreliable hotspot for our laptops.
Our home internet situation was a particular struggle in the early days of the pandemic. Like millions of Americans, I temporarily found myself out of work after COVID-19 lockdowns began.
To make ends meet, I needed to apply for unemployment benefits, but it was a nightmare without reliable WiFi. In normal times, it might have seemed like common sense to go to a nearby library or coffee shop to access Wi-Fi, but the spread of COVID restricted access to some of these public spaces and raised questions about whether that trip would be worth the risk of contracting the virus.
Eventually, I was able to go back to work – work which could be done largely from home if I had access to home internet. But because I don’t, I have no choice but to drive 30 miles to and from work each day and spend about $50 a week on gas.
The Biden administration’s funding for broadband internet infrastructure is primarily dedicated to achieving two goals: bringing broadband internet to communities that don’t currently have access, and reducing costs for all internet users.
Both of these goals, once achieved, will significantly improve my quality of life and the quality of life for many of my neighbors here in western Pennsylvania. It will make telework a feasible option for households like mine.
It’s refreshing to finally see our leaders treat this issue as a priority. Just as President Roosevelt’s administration helped bring electricity to rural areas, the Biden administration is now expanding internet service to rural Americans.
The economic impacts for rural communities will be significant; broadband access is linked to increases in community business formation and property values, as well as decreases in the local unemployment rate.
Yet, having dealt with local internet service providers extensively, I’ll admit that I am skeptical about their commitment to anything but their bottom line, which is why it’s critical that we hold these companies accountable to being transparent and to spending federal funding as directed – particularly during the expansion of broadband to areas that service providers have previously written off as not worthy of investments.
The scope of the Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative has the power to positively transform our country and make the internet more accessible and equitable for all Americans. Over 16 million American households are already saving money as a result of the administration’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
Now, as funding for broadband expansion is distributed, we need to make sure that service providers use it to reach rural Americans.
Because once rural areas have equal access to broadband, it will create a sense of economic hope in rural communities like mine and empower rural workers to access the jobs that will help our local economies thrive in the coming decades.
Rachael Grinnell lives with her husband in Worth Township, Pennsylvania.
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