digging ditches for broadband

Two associations representing rural broadband providers would like to see some changes to broadband funding proposals made in the American Jobs Plan currently under consideration by policymakers. In an op-ed piece, the CEOs of NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) expressed concerns about the plan’s proposal to prioritize broadband funding to municipally operated, cooperatively organized or nonprofit providers.

Both associations previously expressed support for provisions of the American Jobs Plan that would make as much as $100 billion available for broadband, much of which would likely go toward infrastructure in unserved rural areas. But in today’s op-ed, published by Morning Consult, NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield and WISPA CEO Claude Aiken argued that “corporate structure does not dictate the strength of commitment to closing the digital divide.” (Morning Consult’s focus is on “data-driven insights on the most pressing issues in business, economics and politics,” according to its website.)

American Jobs Plan Broadband

Bloomfield and Aiken noted that both associations have members that would be eligible for priority under the American Jobs Plan, also known as the Biden infrastructure bill. But the CEOs added that “we also count among our memberships family-owned companies, sole proprietorships, tribal internet service providers and other community-based commercial businesses who are today delivering essential services across rural and small-town America.

“As local providers who serve areas that they also call home, these providers’ commitment to their communities is second to none,” Bloomfield and Aiken continued.

The op-ed piece notes, for example, that some of these providers “jumped through hoops” to make sure people in their community could get on the internet amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which became a critical capability.

“We believe any community-based provider with a proven track record of performance should be eligible for funding regardless of corporate form,” the op-ed about the American Jobs Plan broadband proposal said. “Corporate structure should not matter if your heart and soul [have] been devoted to bringing essential connectivity to the hardest to reach and serve in America. Leveraging these small businesses will further ensure that our country’s investment in broadband will rapidly result in broadband for all.”

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