The COVID-19 pandemic has re-energized the push to make sure all Americans have internet access, and that includes in rural areas across the country– including here in North Dakota.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge across the country, as well as in North Dakota, more and more of us are working from home and learning from home– which means many of us need fast, reliable internet.
Those in Washington, D.C. seem to realize this concern as the House recently passed what they call the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which is part of a much larger infrastructure package.
Broadband access is considered infrastructure, even back in 2017, Gov. Doug Burgum stressed it’s importance following a meeting at the White House in 2017.
“We need to take the politics out of infrastructure because great infrastructure is great for everybody in America,” said Burgum.
And he’s right.
And we’re lucky here in North Dakota as internet speeds are nearly three times the national average and three-quarters of rural North Dakotans have access to fiber broadband.
The FCC says high speed internet is anything over 25 megabytes a second.
But things can still be better.
“The Broadband Association of North Dakota serves 96 percent of the geographic territory of the state. However still in the Red River Valley and out west, there are a hand full of places that do not have it,” said Executive Director David Crothers.
If passed into the law the bill would allocate $80 billion for broadband infrastructure, while also providing $5 billion to support remote learning for students without internet access, and an additional billion in grants to state governments encouraging people to sign up for broadband should it become available.
And that’s well-needed money, as getting broadband access to some rural customers can cost upwards of $40,000 per mile.
“You go into rural North Dakota where we have a density that ranges from point-five individuals per square mile up out in the western part of the state closer to two or three per square mile it gets to be a very expensive proposition,” said Crothers.
The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives supports improving broadband access to rural parts of the state and says everyone should have access in these trying times.
“It’s extremely important that we have everyone connected especially when we are in these emergency times where the option is to work or learn virtually, we need to find those ways to connect people affordably so everyone has access,” said REC Rural Development Director Lori Capouch.
We reached out to North Dakota’s Republican Senators about the plan.
While he didn’t comment on this specific bill, Sen. Kevin Cramer has backed bi-partisan support for broadband assistance during the pandemic.
Sen. John Hoeven tells us he’s concerned about the cost of the Democrats plan but looks forward to having bipartisan discussions with his colleagues on infrastructure.