Broadband service is as essential today as electricity and water. The lack of high-speed broadband undermines the quality of life for residents and the potential for local businesses to thrive. It also creates an unfair obstacle for children to receive a quality education, for patients to obtain quality healthcare and for constituents to access government services.
There are millions of Americans who do not have access to high-speed broadband service. This is especially true in rural communities, where low density populations are financially less attractive to broadband providers. These companies demand a return on investment that often cannot be met in rural communities. Fortunately, over the last few years, federal funding has become available to local communities to help meet this financial challenge to broadband expansion. This includes, but is not limited to, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). While these and other programs are complicated, they have allowed municipalities to make strides toward bridging the “digital divide.”
The Cohen Law Group works with local governments to expand broadband networks through a carefully planned and effective public process. Depending on a community’s specific needs, the process may include: 1) identifying unserved and underserved areas; 2) deciding on funding sources and, if needed, making application for funding; 3) issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to eligible broadband providers; 4) selecting a qualified provider; and 5) reaching agreement with the provider that sets forth its financial, construction and legal obligations.
In addition, many Americans live in areas where high-speed broadband is available, but they cannot access it because they either cannot afford it or do not have the skills to effectively use it. The Cohen Law Group also assists local governments in addressing this “digital equity” problem. Depending on a community’s specific needs, we guide municipalities in: 1) promoting low-cost broadband service programs; 2) providing devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) for eligible residents; and 3) implementing digital skills training with a team of “digital navigators.”