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Recently, the United States Department of Commerce announced that all 50 states and every eligible territory had signed on to the “Internet for All'' initiative. Internet for All is the US government’s $65 billion initiative to close the Digital Divide once and for all through new broadband deployment and digital equity programs. Cloudflare is on a mission to help build a better Internet, and we support initiatives like this because we want more people using the Internet on high-throughput, low-latency, resilient and affordable Internet connections. It’s been written often since the start of the pandemic because it’s true: it isn’t acceptable that students need to go to a Taco Bell parking lot to do their homework, and a good Internet connection is increasingly important for doing adult jobs as well.
The Internet for All initiative is the result of $65 billion in broadband-related funding appropriated by the US Congress as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). It’s been called a “once in a generation” funding opportunity, and compared with the Rural Electrification Act which brought power lines to rural America in the 1930s. The components of the broadband portion of the Infrastructure bill are:
- \$42.5 billion for broadband deployment – new wires and wireless radios in places that don’t have them – called the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD).
- \$14.2 billion to make permanent a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families to purchase a home Internet subscription.
- \$2.75 billion to establish a grant program that will improve digital equity, which means teaching Americans how to make the most of the Internet and their home connection.
- \$2 billion for new connectivity on tribal lands.
- \$1 billion to establish new “middle-mile” capacity, which will connect rural communities to the Internet “backbone”.
The US should be applauded for making this kind of investment in broadband infrastructure. By appropriating federal funds, the government is able to ensure the money is used as it’s intended. For example, federal rules will require that areas with no infrastructure and disadvantaged urban areas will receive priority funding. Individual states will have the option of adding their own rules.
There’s significant work to do. According to the latest numbers from the Federal Communications Commission, 12% of Americans lack access to home broadband with throughput of at least 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.
There’s another way to think about access to broadband. A wire running near your house doesn’t do any good if the residents can’t afford it, or don’t know how to use the Internet. According to Pew Research, 23% of Americans say they don’t have an Internet connection at home. Those aren’t just rural areas without broadband infrastructure, it’s also urban areas where the connection is too expensive.
Cloudflare isn’t a disinterested observer. When Internet users don't have access to good broadband, their experience with our services – the websites, APIs and security products we offer – won’t work as well as they should. In the map below, we use the Resource Timing API to measure the latency between Internet users and the major Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), including Cloudflare. We see rural and southern states have worse performance than the northeastern United States, with Hawaii and Alaska being off the charts in terms of their poor speed.
50th percentile TCP Connect Time (ms) to Major Content Delivery Networks
Access technology, which is how Internet users connect to the Internet (cable, fiber, DSL, wireless, satellite), is one important part of the overall quality of their connection, but there are other, less talked about factors. Another factor is how close geographically the user is to the content and services they are accessing. Midwestern states where requests for data need to travel to Internet hubs in Chicago or Dallas are going to be slower than requests for data from Washington, DC, served by the giant Internet hub around Ashburn, Virginia. To be as close as possible to users geographically, Cloudflare has servers in 51 locations across 28 states in the US, and is still growing.
Programs that provide funding for deployment are one piece of the puzzle, but there are important non-financial initiatives as well. For example, the IIJA directed the Federal Communications Commission to come up with “broadband nutrition labels” that will be shown to consumers at the point of purchase for any Internet service. Just a few weeks ago, the FCC announced their implementation. Cloudflare filed comments with the FCC with our suggestions for how to make these labels informative, future-proof, and easy for consumers to understand. We also wrote about it here.
We’d be remiss to not also mention our own contribution to digital divide initiatives – Project Pangea. For community and non-profit networks that have invested in last-mile infrastructure but need a connection to the Internet – “transit” in industry terms – the network can connect to Cloudflare, and we’ll provide that Internet transit at no charge to the network. It’s one piece of the puzzle, and we’re always looking for additional ways to help.
One thing everyone can do is help the FCC build the most accurate broadband map possible by going to the map, entering your address, and verifying the data. The map will show your individual location and all ISPs that claim to serve your address. If there’s a problem – and there can be, it’s a new map and new process – you can file a challenge right from the FCC’s mapping site.
It’s laudable that the US government is stepping up with billions of dollars in funding for broadband networks and digital equity programs. In the shared project of helping build a better Internet, this is an important and big step.