Educators call for broadband funding for rural schools
Lawmakers consider lessons learned from the pandemic and the potential solutions for broadband connectivity.
During a House Communications and Technology Committee hearing, Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Topeka, Kansas Schools, gave a first-hand account of how the pandemic has deepened the digital divide for rural students and called for more support.
“I ask and give you a plea not from Topeka but from all of our educators, our teachers, and our students to really put the kind of resources that allow for expanded connectivity; that also allows for us to support students that are marginalized such as our Native American students, our students in poverty, our rural American students, because all students deserve the access,” Dr. Anderson states.
She told lawmakers dispute what critics say, expanding access now will not keep kids from returning to the classroom.
“I believe it would further open schools more quickly if we had the flexibility to address the current pressing needs from the pandemic, but we also have the flexibility to continue to address the needs that were already existing prior to the pandemic occurring,” she explains.
Jonathan Adelstein, President of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, laid out his recommendations for congressional funding.
According to Adelstein, “The infrastructure package should make the best use of colocation which efficiently leverages existing infrastructure and capital for new infrastructure as well, while reducing disruption in local communities. Congress should ensure that funds can be used for operational expenses, such as leases and capital expenses, and hold recipients accountable for outcomes and it should be technology neutral. Building infrastructure is the most effective means to get the most bandwidth to the most consumers.”
He says investing in workforce development could support economic recovery after the pandemic: “We have an opportunity to put Americans hurt by the pandemic back to work in high wage jobs that provide opportunities for advancement, and as the wireless industry continues to grow these workers will speed the economic recovery and help grow along with us.”
The Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee said he expects to see rural broadband included in a major infrastructure package, which is expected to come in April.