The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law in 2021, and funds will be allocated on June 30, 2023. Sixty-five billion dollars will be spent to expand broadband services in unserved and underserved communities. Within that funding, $42.45 billion is reserved for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
The federal funds will be distributed to states based on need. Then, each state will disperse to their communities who need it most. Current FCC estimates will dictate how the US government doles out the funds. However, there’s speculation that these estimates/zones may be incorrect, especially regarding historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Twenty-five percent of students in the US lack adequate internet access, while 82% of HBCUs are in “broadband deserts,” or areas without much access to broadband service.
Executive director of the Student Freedom Initiative, Dr. Mark Brown, says, “If we as a nation are serious about following through on the pledges made to fight for racial justice, now is the time to prove it. We have a real chance to build equity into our digital infrastructure — we must not miss this opportunity.”
The effects of this expansion would reduce the wealth gap between Black and white Americans. It would also bolster the economy as a whole. Even a growth of 10% could have a significant impact.
COVID-19 exacerbated the digital divide across the country and the state of Texas. However, it brought to light that connectivity for all is necessary. Almost a quarter of Texas doesn’t have adequate broadband due to a lack of affordability, infrastructure, and/or digital literacy.
Digital Divide Affecting Healthcare
Internet access has become an essential component of daily life and healthcare. The digital divide has contributed to the time and distance gap between doctors and patients, also known as “the broadband health gap.” It influences both one’s overall health and healthcare access.
Plus, high-speed internet connectivity is lower in “households where the main renter or owner was 65 years or older, had a disability, or was a Hispanic, African American, American Indian, or Alaska Native individual”.
Furthermore, telehealth has become a major component of mental health, and without clear access to telehealth advice from a certified professional, many mental health issues are exacerbated or untreated.
All of these issues become compounded due to disparities in the digital world.
A Sustainable Solution
According to Texas 2036.org, which strives to make the state the best it can be by 2036, its bicentennial year, there are three pillars to a sustainable digital solution:
- Broadband Plan
- Dedicated Staff
- Address Market Conditions
- Be Part of The Solution
Texas needs a broadband plan endorsed by Governor Abbott. A plan with a clear vision of deployment that capitalizes on every bit of capital funding the state receives.
A dedicated staff is needed to implement the plan and deployment model. Understanding market conditions and finding ways to incentivize private investors to pay attention and invest in Texas’s unserved and underserved communities.
To help be part of the solution, Texas residents can contact local, state, and federal officials and demand that this allocation targets communities that need it most.