Large swaths of western New Mexico, and both east Arizona and Colorado, continue to lack access to broadband internet, a pattern all the more troubling during a time when students may need that access more than ever due to Covid-19 school closings.
According to a study just conducted by the Wall Street Journal, there are currently some 21 million people lacking access to broadband.
Using statistics supplied by the Federal Communications Commission, the study notes that when subscribers with unreliable or slow internet connections are factored into the equation, the number reaches 157 million people.
Those either entirely lacking broadband service or enduring unreliable service are largely confined to the nation’s poorest rural counties, with the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana mostly impacted.
Underserved areas also include Native American tribal lands in New Mexico and Arizona.
In all, according to the non-profit, San Francisco-based Education Super Highway, nearly 10 million students currently lack broadband access.
Because of the presence of Covid-19, many school districts across the country are this fall conducting classes only online, a prospect further burdening students in those underserved districts.
For the present, West Virginia Senator John Manchin is hoping to secure federal support to fund remote learning broadband hotspots across the country.
But in speaking to the Journal, Manchin says that unless the country begins to “treat access to broadband like the need for electricity was treated in the 1930s, our students will fall behind.”
At the same time a group called the Rural Broadband Association has just announced that it is spearheading an effort to foster partnerships between rural broadband providers and school districts that will help make existing broadband service more affordable.
The Manchin legislation, known as the ACCESS the Internet Act, is calling for up to $2 billion in dedicated funds to hasten broadband infrastructure construction.
The measure is currently under review in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
By Garry Boulard
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