DEAN/Rural broadband is essential
Whether it is the rural electrification projects or copper wire telephone expansion, the federal government has an established history of policies that support rural citizens gaining access to these vital services. It is just as vital today as it was 100 years ago to ensure citizens can access high speed internet to do everything from participate in e-Commerce to download their homework to get vits telehealth services. Our day to day reliance on the internet has become as necessary as having access to electricity or a telephone to participate in the 21st century economy and the inability to connect only serves to widen the disparities with remote citizens such as we have in Mississippi far too often further disadvantaged by this digital divide. That’s why it is critical important that the U.S. Congress find a solution to preserve a program called the Affordable Connectivity Program.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is a federally funded Federal Communications Commission project that provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase certain hardware devices. This essential program is estimated to run out of funding by early 2024 if there is no intervening action. This will have a significant impact for our state as there are currently over 218,000 households that utilize this program to pout the cost of their internet subscription within reach.
As someone who has worked in Mississippi education policy for the past 20 year and a father of three, I can tell you firsthand that the most pressing reasons to support the extension of the ACP is the fact it connects our students to the broader world in a way that is frankly just not achievable without it. Access to the internet has become central to learning and ultimately workforce development that supports shared economic opportunities in Mississippi. As we continue to make major improvements in education, we must at the same time strive to ensure we are not further disadvantaging students because their mothers and fathers can’t afford to pay the internet bill. By extending the funding for the ACP, we ensure that both affordability and accessibility are not obstacles to be overcome. This approach, just like our country did 100 years ago to provide electricity to places that were unserved, will allow students to access online resources, participate in a virtual reality and augmented reality education experience while unlocking their full future potential.
Just as valuable as the ACP’s enhancement of educational and economic growth is its relationship to rural broadband deployment. Mississippi is fortunate to have a high ranking U.S. Senator that recognizes this in Senator Roger Wicker, who along with other Republican Senators authored a letter sent to the White House calling for the President’s support in extending the ACP. Specifically, it points out that by lowering the subsidy needed to encourage internet service providers to invest in broadband infrastructure in rural areas, the ACP ensures taxpayers money will be allocated to its maximum economic potential.
By facilitating access to education, driving economic growth, and maximizing the efficiency of rural broadband deployment efforts, the ACP serves as a much-needed tool in our efforts to get all Americans the connectivity that they require. My hope as I think it will be for most Mississippians is that Congress will follow the lead set by Senator Wicker and work toward a common sense solution that ensures this critical program will continue to provide affordable access to the future.
Jason Dean is Senior Vice President of Path Company, a former trustee for the Madison County School District, and former Chairman of the State Board of Education.