$65 billion in infrastructure bill to tackle rural broadband

$65 billion in infrastructure bill to tackle rural broadband
A student at Owyhee Consolidated School studies in the parking lot in order to use the building's Wi-Fi signal. (Lynn Manning John)

By Suzanne Potter
This story was originally published by Public News Service.

OWYHEE — There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for rural Nevadans struggling with slow, spotty internet service as the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill has allocated $65 billion for broadband improvements.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program just started taking applications for grants and loans to companies willing to build out networks to underserved areas.

Lynn Manning John, vice-principal of Owyhee Combined School on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, said her community desperately needs better coverage and more bandwidth.

“In the building, we struggle with the internet going out regularly, because the kids are on Chromebooks,” Manning John explained. “And because of our location, which is a hundred miles from Elko, it sometimes takes us a day or two to get our internet back up.”

She pointed out the area has only a single cell tower, and 90% of families have no internet service at home. Rural areas often lack communication infrastructure, because the customer base is too small to provide a return on a telecom company’s investment.

Manning John said the future of her community, part of the Shoshone Paiute Tribe, depends on better broadband.

“It cannot be left up to the market,” Manning John contended. “These kids have a need. Internet is just as essential as indoor plumbing and electricity. It needs to be provided on the scale that we do any type of public service.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, saying it favors urban over rural and suburban areas and creates red tape.

Jenny Miller, vice president of states and industry relations with the nonprofit advocacy group Connected Nation, said the country needs to make distance learning and telemedicine available to all, and to close the digital divide.

“It’s really a once-in-a-generation amount of money that is coming down the pipe,” Miller emphasized. “There is a ton of political pressure to get this moving quickly. We needed this yesterday.”