White House Announces Initiative To Expand Broadband Access To 20M More Americans

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We see new studies confirming it every year: while nearly everything is now on the internet, we still haven’t gotten everyone online. Access remains hard for those at the lowest economic levels, or at the most rural addresses. So to combat that, the Obama Administration announced today a comprehensive strategy for bringing millions more online.

The ConnectALL plan isn’t exactly a new policy; it’s more like an umbrella linking existing agencies’ efforts together, plus a few new ones, into a cohesive strategy.

The first tentpole, for example, is the FCCs Lifeline program. The FCC announced yesterday it would soon vote to adopt a major change to that program that will allow the subsidy it provides to be used for broadband services (including mobile broadband). The Obama administration (via the NTIA, a Department of Commerce agency — government is complicated) is filing comments in support of that proposal.

Of course, what good is access with nothing to use it with, and no idea how to use that thing? So devices and education are the other tentpoles of the platform. For devices, the Obama administration basically proposes better recycling: useful, functional equipment that the Feds don’t need anymore will be handed on down, and the GSA will figure out a way to distribute it to schools, libraries, and non-profit organizations to use for teaching digital literacy to underserved populations. A program to do just that already exists (and in 2014 donated “thousands” of devices), but the plan is to rebuild the program so it works better and moves more stuff.

The plan also calls for a swath of public-private partnerships, and contribution from non-profits and “the philanthropic sector” (i.e. institutions that can give big grants to big projects) to help develop resources and deliver services, not just for end-users but also for needs assessment and local broadband deployment planning.

You can read the full issue brief (PDF) and full fact sheet on the White House’s site.

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