Like most other aspects of life, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the federal government’s plans to disburse grants, loans, and subsidies for the construction of rural broadband networks. The pandemic has already led to changes at the USDA, which has extended the ReConnect application deadline and is set to receive additional funds from Congress. Meanwhile, the FCC has yet to alter the upcoming RDOF subsidy auction, but it could speed up the process to address the current crisis, which threatens to linger through the summer.
North Carolinians are fed up with slow, expensive, and unreliable Internet access. Communities across the state are seeking solutions, but are running into barriers, especially in rural areas. The town of Mount Olive, home to about forty-six hundred people, is one such example. Only recently, after working with local Internet service provider Open Broadband, are they getting decent Internet access for residents and local businesses.
Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.” As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.
John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU) in Clarksville, Arkansas, knows a thing or two about the value of a municipal broadband network.“ Just keeping the dollars in Clarksville is gonna have a big impact," he said when I called him earlier this month to learn more about the city’s planned foray into residential broadband services. Residential broadband is only the most recent evolution for Clarksville’s municipal fiber network, which already connects utility infrastructure as well as area businesses and community anchor institutions in the city. Home installations are due to start soon.