MI Educator: Focus on rural communities in broadband buildout
Rural educators say the funding for broadband in the bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law last month is critical for their communities.
While many say the problem has existed for decades, the increased need for high-speed internet for virtual work and learning during the pandemic put an added spotlight on the issue.
Tom McKee, superintendent and principal of Whitefish Township Community Schools in the Upper Peninsula, said their school had to supply Wi-Fi for many of their teachers and students. But he added some families in his district live far enough off the main road, even with hotspots and satellite internet were not reliable.
"So until we start thinking of broadband access as not just another utility but as something that should be as common as your garbage getting picked up, I think we're going to continue to see this in rural areas," McKee asserted.
The infrastructure bill included $65 billion for improving broadband nationwide, much specifically targeted at rural and tribal areas.
According to the FCC, 68% of people living in rural areas do not have access to broadband. McKee added rural broadband can be expensive, and many families living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford it.
In addition to work and school, a lack of broadband can mean lack of access to health specialists via telemedicine.
"The passing of this bill is very important for our kids in Michigan, all of our kids, not just the ones that live in the urban or suburban areas," McKee noted. "We don't want our 20% that live in rural areas to be left behind."
The U.S. ranks 27th in the world for access to high-speed internet, according to the consulting firm Kepios, and ranks 14th in the world for the speed of its mobile and broadband internet connections, according to speedtest.net.