Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Biden’s global broadband plan

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she was committed to meeting the administration’s goal of global broadband by 2030, but warned that dispensing money from the new infrastructure law to meet that deadline could may take many years.

“I know the president will be able to deal with this,” Raimondo said in an interview with CNBC. “We’ve been working on it since I got here. We didn’t wait until the bill was passed.”

The trillion-dollar infrastructure package that President Biden signed into law last month includes $65 billion to improve broadband access and affordability. Most of that is delivered through Commerce, and Raimondo says some dollars – such as money for tribal governments – are starting to flow out.

But most funding will take longer. The department plans to establish a process for states to apply for the money in May. It is also waiting for the FCC to update its controversial broadband access map, which is expected around the middle of next year. Disbursement may not take place until 2023.

However, Raimondo said she is confident that every household will be connected by the end of the decade – if not sooner.

“People will start to feel relief immediately,” she said. “But it will take us years to harness all of the effects to achieve our vision of ensuring every American has affordable, high-speed broadband.”

The department has been in talks with state and local leaders as well as industry executives, whom Raimondo calls “critical” to the passage of the infrastructure bill. On Wednesday, she will host a virtual roundtable with Etsy Josh Silverman CEO, eBay Jamie Iannone CEO, Airbnb co-founders Nathan Blecharczyk and Unit (formerly Square) Chief Financial Officer Amrita Ahuja to discuss the importance of broadband access to their bottom line and the country’s economic growth.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, about 14.5 million people do not have access to high-speed internet. But outside experts warn the number could be much higher.

Broadband Project Currently, 42 million people lack access to high-speed Internet. Microsoft has said that up to half of Americans do not use broadband, even when they have access to it.

Connectivity also varies from state to state. A poll from Pew Research found that just 72% of households in rural communities reported having broadband access at home, compared with 79% in urban areas.

“There is a political divide that is contributing to this,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, head of global business at the Fletcher School of Tufts University and founder of the Digital Planet research initiative. budget division, contributing to the digital divide.

Closing the gap could actually cost up to $240 billion, he said, more than double what the administration has pledged to spend. Strengthening public-private partnerships could be one way to make a difference.

“The private sector benefits from having an internet-connected community,” said Chakravorti.

Broadband access is a priority not only for the big tech companies but also for the small businesses that rely on their platforms. Raimondo said female entrepreneurs in particular could benefit.

“Women are not returning to the workforce like we were before the pandemic,” she said. “One way for women to earn money flexibly and still be there for their families is to sell on Etsy, become hosts on Airbnb. But you can’t do that without bandwidth. wide.”

Katherine Eggers and her husband moved to a nine-acre ranch in rural Colorado amid the pandemic. Cellular service is the standout amongst the lavender and sage fields. And for the first month in her new home, there was no high-speed internet – a big deal for a virtual yoga instructor.

“I thought I was going to have to quit my online job because I didn’t have a good internet,” Eggers recalls. “It was definitely on the table.”

However, she was soon connected through a nonprofit that specializes in wireless broadband, allowing the Eggers to make a living entirely from their dream home.

Now, her yoga classes are going strong. She installed high-speed internet in her guesthouse and started renting on Airbnb for $85 a night. In fact, her internet connection is working so well now that Eggers decided to enroll in a master’s program in counseling – online.

“When we bought this house, we said this is where we’re going to die,” Eggers said. “So we plan to be here for a very long time.” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Biden’s global broadband plan

Emma James

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