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Smart Buildings

Bridging the Digital Divide: The Positive Impacts of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act

Steve Carroll
On Nov. 6, 2021, the highly anticipated Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed by Congress. It’s being called a once-in-a-generation investment in our future.

 

Among the many facets of the deal, it includes expanding access to clean drinking water, reducing climate impact, making improvements to ports and airports, and rebuilding roads, bridges and railways. It also includes a plan to make sure every American has access to reliable high-speed internet: $65 billion dedicated to bridging the digital divide.

 

Across the United States, some demographics and regions have easy access to modern IT and communications technology while others don’t. This could be due to location, glitchy connections or lack of funds for internet service.

 

During the pandemic, stories were reported about schools passing out laptops and tablets to students who couldn’t use them because they didn’t have access to reliable internet service at home. More than 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure with minimally acceptable speeds.

 

In an interview with Johannes Bauer, the director of Michigan State University’s James H. and Mary B. Quello Center for Media and Information Policy, The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that broadband access indirectly affects educational achievements. Research reveals that students with no home internet access, slow home access or cell-only access had GPAs that were nearly half a letter grade lower than students with fast home internet access.

 

In some cases, to combat this problem, students drove to parking lots and other outdoor areas where they could access stable Wi-Fi from nearby buildings and participate in virtual learning or finish homework.

 

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act originally included funds for wired (not wireless) broadband—which translates to trenching fiber into the ground. However, installing fiber in some rural or isolated areas can be difficult and expensive, depending on the region and environmental conditions.

 

As the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) learned more about these plans, WIA President Jonathan Adelstein, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, lobbied to Congress to open up its description of broadband to include mobile and fixed wireless. (Mobile wireless connects users to the internet via cell network providers; fixed wireless connects users to the internet using equipment on nearby cell towers, rooftops, water towers, etc.)

 

Adelstein described to Congress the challenges of installing fiber in some of these rural locations and how wireless may be a less expensive way to provide the same level of connectivity—with appropriate download and upload speeds—to areas where wired broadband is difficult or too expensive to roll out.

 

He was successful and, because of WIA’s actions, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now includes wired and wireless broadband in its definition. This is good news not only for people around the country who don’t have access to reliable internet, but also for everyone in the wireless industry—from cellular companies to integrators and tower companies.

 

Each state will work in conjunction with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Department of Commerce, to allocate funding for their specific projects. Of the $65 billion dedicated to wired and wireless broadband, $42.45 billion will fund projects independently approved by each state. When projects use state funding, they must provide download speeds of 100 Mb/s and upload speeds of 20 Mb/s. Projects that can be completed quickly will receive priority consideration so that strong impacts can be made right away.

 

The remaining amount will be used to support a variety of funds, projects and private activity bonds for broadband connectivity.

 

Also included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an amendment to form an interagency working group that provides recommendations to Congress on how to address workforce needs in the telecommunications industry for 5G deployment.

 

As a proud member of WIA, Belden supports the excellent work it represents on behalf of the wireless infrastructure ecosystem. WIA’s successful lobbying effort is a perfect example of why Belden became a member. Belden was also a Silver sponsor at WIA’s recent Connect(X) conference in Orlando. We’re grateful for all the work they do to support education and innovation.

 

By partnering with key policymakers, WIA ensured that the industry’s priorities were included in the legislation—and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is proof of its impact.

 

We’ll keep you updated on this deal as it relates to reliable internet connectivity across the country. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out!