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The infrastructure bill will not be enough to bridge the digital divide – GCN

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The infrastructure bill will not be enough to bridge the digital divide

The digital divide – the gap in broadband access between rich and poor, urban and rural – is one of America’s most enduring problems. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified inequalities by making high-speed internet access even more essential for work, school, healthcare and commerce. About 30 million people live in unserved or underserved areas, estimates the White House.

President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion proposal to renovate the country’s aging infrastructure is an important and long overdue step towards achieving the vital goal of affordable broadband for all. The package, which is still under debate in Congress as of this writing, includes a $ 65 billion investment in broadband Internet infrastructure.

While the plan would go a long way in making the U.S. economy fairer and more sustainable, more is needed. The digital divide is just too big. Thirty-five percent of rural America still lacks broadband access, the president told Congress. According to a study by Tufts University, $ 250 billion is needed to bridge the digital divide, almost four times the current proposal.

But bridging the digital divide isn’t and shouldn’t be about providing basic broadband to consumers and businesses. It should also be about ensuring that academics and other researchers in rural and underserved communities have the same ability to connect as their peers in metropolitan areas. Whether a rural Kansas community college deserves access to the same high-speed backbone as, say, the University of California at Berkeley, is a matter of principle and common sense: who knows where it might come from. the next big innovator? Securing opportunities for all students and researchers around the world should be a national priority.

That’s why representatives from dozens of America’s top universities and tech companies have come together to launch The spirits we need, devoted to what should be a key part of a national broadband improvement plan: ensuring that every university, community college, historically black university and institution serving minorities is connected to the best modern technologies in the world. information and communications.

“Today’s national infrastructure is not uniform and does not reach all states, nor community colleges, which power four-year programs,” one member, Internet pioneer. Deer Wine, states on the organization’s website. “We need to enable institutions in all 50 states to have broadband capacity. The emphasis in any national plan must be on capacity building to the most underserved communities. “

The Minds We need calls for a one-time public investment of $ 5 billion, to be carried out in three phases, to bring more coherent broadband access to the country’s research and education sector, with particular emphasis on institutions that have been chronically underserved.

Prizes should be prioritized for nonprofit research and education networks, tribal institutions, community colleges, institutions serving minorities, colleges, and “academic research affiliates who can then form scholarships. partnerships, where appropriate, with private sector companies to implement the programs, with a goal of engaging our country’s diverse system of 3,900 accredited and degree-granting higher education institutions, ”the group said .

Academia and tech companies have a common interest in seeing the initiative succeed. For their part, academics in rural areas would certainly benefit from better connectivity, not only to engage in the same critical research as their urban and suburban peers, but also to collaborate more easily with those peers.

Likewise for tech companies, fostering greater inclusion in research and education infrastructure is not only altruistic, but it could help address a critical talent shortage. A new investigation by analyst firm Gartner shows that IT managers see a lack of skills as the biggest obstacle to the adoption of nearly two-thirds of emerging technologies. The availability of talent even exceeded implementation costs or security risks in the report as the main obstacle to deploying new technology.

Clearly and simply, the nation can no longer rely exclusively on the typical computer and engineering schools to produce all the people they need and must seek to tap into talent wherever they are. Simply put, we can no longer live inside a bubble and ignore the untapped potential across the country.

A crucial vote on the infrastructure bill is due to take place in the House on October 31. The transition would be a major step in consolidating the reduction of the digital divide. But to really close it, we’ll need a larger collaborative effort involving key stakeholders. We need more initiatives like The Minds We Need.

About the Author

Sampak Garg is government affairs manager at Juniper Networks, a supporter of The Minds We Need.


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