As the name portends, the National Broadband Plan is a massive undertaking by the Federal Communications Commission, born out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and unveiled in March 2010.
The idea to bring the internet to 330 million Americans has seen support ebb and flow since its inception, but recently it gained steam once again in President Joe Biden administration's American Jobs Plan, otherwise known as "the infrastructure bill."
"Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed internet and to quality housing," the plan states. "The past year has led to job losses and threatened economic security, eroding more than 30 years of progress in women's labor force participation. It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness.
"And it will bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American, including the more than 35 percent of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds."
The plan has taken on different forms, downsized to include the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico.
"My hope is that this will become part of the American Jobs Plan and will break down barriers that have historically reduced access to broadband funding for Tribal communities," Fernandez said in a release from the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this year. "I am honored ... to discuss how we can work together to bring high-speed internet to unserved and underserved parts of the Navajo Nation."
The infrastructure package now up for discussion in Congress includes $65 billion for broadband.
While there is a critical need to get broadband access to underserved communities, the challenges are many, according to Daniel Corey, deputy national Intelligent Transportation Systems practice leader with AECOM, a Los Angeles-based infrastructure consulting firm. Corey, based in Philadelphia, is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
"What we are seeing is the need to connect people in rural communities," Corey told Rubber & Plastics News. "We need to address how we can use existing infrastructure and the Department of Transportation to build out the necessary infrastructure to connect fiber to the homes. We need to see what is there and what is needed — filling in those gaps is key."
With broadband access critical to so many parts of everyday living — education, emergency alerts, impact to the environment, jobs, social networking, homeland security and energy efficiency, to name a few — acceptably fast internet access is as fundamental to human life as shelter or food.
"We will hopefully see some movement in a couple weeks," Corey said. "Broadband is so important to so many crucial areas of our lives."