Our cities, counties and states have an unprecedented opportunity to help close the digital divide and make broadband available for underserved communities to stay connected and students to participate equally in school learning.

Local governments can take advantage of funding from the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, recently signed into law by President Biden. This includes $65 billion for building broadband networks, making internet service more affordable for low-income households, and expanded resources for digital equity and adoption. Add to that the more than $350 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which can also be used for broadband and improving digital equity. Broadband projects can also be funded through the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund.

Public Agencies and Schools Investing in Their Communities

It’s not going to surprise anyone that a communications company is arguing that broadband is a wise investment. But we’re hardly the only voices who acknowledge that high-speed internet is foundational to creating economic opportunity and closing the homework gap.

A great example is Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Located in the southern part of the state on the border with Kentucky, Vanderburgh County’s broadband situation is typical of many around the country. The county seat, Evansville, has broadband available from several companies. But when you go out into the unincorporated parts of the county, only about one in three residents has broadband, according to county officials.

County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave sums it up this way: “High-speed internet is foundational to creating economic and educational success in rural Vanderburgh County.”

Commissioner Musgrave led the efforts to use American Rescue Plan dollars to help fund the building of a fiber network in unincorporated Vanderburgh County. AT&T will be building that network.

“This agreement with AT&T to build an all-fiber network is the keystone to connecting more than 20,000 of our citizens and businesses to future opportunities,” Commissioner Musgrave continued.

Bridging communities and reimagining the future of schools is a primary goal for educators, government leaders, policymakers and AT&T.

The Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD) is the largest geographic district in the state of Michigan and serves 3 counties, 19 school districts for 6,500 students across 4,000 square miles, including 3 schools on islands.

Addressing inadequate internet access and widespread geographic coverage can be a daunting task. “It’s 110 miles from one end of our district to the other and 65 miles north to south,” said Jason Kronemeyer, EUPISD Director of Technology. “That’s about 1.6 students per square mile.”

Kronemeyer believes that connectivity can build a brighter future for students and communities. “By building relationships with industry, education, and policy makers at the very local level, we will realize long-term solutions to connect students in their homes, classrooms, buses, and everywhere,” he said.  Working together, we will close the divide with infrastructure to carry us into the future.

For at-risk older adults who stayed home to save lives during the pandemic, technology was critical to stay healthy and thrive. Understanding the needs of their constituents, the California Department of Aging (CDA) developed a series of resources to bridge the digital divide including a pilot program with AT&T.

Utilizing federal stimulus funding, CDA worked with AT&T to provide connected tablets, training and technical support to thousands of low-income older adults who lived alone and did not own a device. CDA is also working with the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to measure the isolation reduction of this program.

“Through technology, older adults can check in with family and friends, stay in touch with health care providers, find healthy foods, perform meaningful work, and learn new skills,” said Mark Beckley, chief deputy director California Department of Aging. “By working together, we can ensure everyone has access to affordable high-speed internet, devices and skills to navigate online safely.”

Advocates & Experts Say High-Speed Broadband is Critical for our Future

Leading government and education associations and advocates also agree that now is the time for us to invest in high-speed internet to build a better future.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) plays a crucial role in pursuing sustainable solutions to broadband access, affordability, and reliability. Eliminating the digital divide is critical for the nation’s counties, many of which still lack broadband in both urban and rural settings.

“High-speed broadband is an accelerator of opportunity in today's connected world,” said Matthew Chase, NACo Executive Director. “Partnerships between the private and public sectors to outline the best approaches for local and regional communities, including counties and school districts, can help address permanent solutions to reliable, fast, and affordable connectivity.”

Across the country, libraries promote lifelong learning, provide access to information and ideas, while improving the well-being of their communities.  Libraries also play a crucial role in providing digital access and encouraging adoption of internet use, which supports the health and vitality of communities.

“Libraries serve the youngest to the most senior patrons in our society and can provide tech infrastructure and digital equity programs to meet the needs of diverse learners,” said Paula Brehm-Heeger, the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Director of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. “These programs can help bridge the connection between industry, schools and local organizations to expand community access.”

Internet access has also become an increasingly important element of a modern education system and disproportionately affects certain student populations including Native American, Black and Hispanic students. The Education Commission of the States is the national education policy organization that serves as a partner to state policymakers by providing comprehensive information on issues across the full education spectrum from early childhood to workforce development.

“Providing high-quality learning opportunities to all students is the priority of policymakers,” said Jeremy Anderson, president Education Commission of the States. “Availability, affordability and access can help bridge the gaps in opportunities to learn for those students without internet or connected devices.”

We’re Connecting America Today to Deliver a Better Tomorrow

Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to reimagine learning, remove barriers and address economic & education equity. Working with Congress, the Administration, the FCC, and local, state and Tribal governments, we can ensure that the new federal dollars can make this vision a reality.

And it’s clear that public-private partnerships will continue to play a vital role in building a better and more connected future.

That’s why we are committed to providing affordable options for educational institutions, libraries and government entities to connect students, teachers, library patrons and underserved constituents. By delivering comprehensive and agile solutions, we can help bridge communities today to deliver a better tomorrow.

AT&T is invested in America’s future. We believe it’s our responsibility to create connections people need now and in the future. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make history and leave a legacy that we can all be proud of.

Visit AT&T Digital Divide to learn more.