Internet is not a Right — But it has Become a Necessity
In my previous article, I wrote of setting up fast Internet access at my home to support my and my wife’s work as well as online classes for my kids. It took a bit of doing but in all, not hard and very accessible to me.
I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood with several options for Internet access. I can also afford the costs. This is not the case for many households and situations throughout the U.S.
The WSJ recently published a story “Chicago Hopes Broadband Plan Could Help Other Cities Address Digital Divide” (paywall) describing the challenges of distance learning for many of their students. My teacher friends cited the same issue in my school district: lack of Internet access and computer equipment in the home. Everyone has a cell phone but many lack computers and adequate Internet access. Often times, even with Internet access, it’s expensive or unreliable. Other challenges include multiple students in a household sharing a single computer or competing for bandwidth.
Some districts have Chromebooks or other lightweight computers to distribute to students. With some creativity, my district was able to distribute laptops to many students during the pandemic using a drive-through system at several of the schools.
To address the Internet access challenge, I think a public-private partnership could present a viable option. Wiring in cable or phone lines seems prohibitively expensive, unreliable, and not future-proof. I also wouldn’t advocate for simply granting Internet access funded by taxpayers, either local or federal. We’ve seen past grants abused or misused. Folks need to have a stake in the system to act responsibly.
Leveraging 5G cellular technology, bringing Internet access to an entire community could solve the access problem for students, address the funding challenge, and lead to a fast build-out of 5G infrastructure in the U.S.
Through a parent, school district, municipal government, Verizon/AT&T (providers), and manufacturer (Qualcomm, Skyworks, Xilinx, Ciena, tower installers, etc.) partnership, this group could fund and build 5G networks and access points for families. They could even…