The Federal Communications Commission will be able to continue its plan to subsidize high-speed Internet service in rural areas, according to a recent article in The New York Times.
The FCC’s plan, Connect America, is part of a larger FCC program that provides telecommunications services to schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities. In 2011, the FCC announced plans to focus on providing broadband Internet access to rural areas. Several phone companies challenged the plan in court out of fear that they would lose subsidies they were receiving if the program’s focus shifted to Internet access. On Friday, a federal appeals court approved the FCC’s plan.
As of 2011, more than 75 percent of the nation’s households had a computer, and about 72 percent had Internet access, according to a U.S. Census survey. However, a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that broadband access is lacking in rural areas. Only 62 percent of rural adults have broadband at home, compared to 73 percent of suburban adults and 70 percent of urban adults.
In recent years, Internet access has become more pertinent as states have adopted the common-core standards and new online tests. Many rural districts have struggled to upgrade technology, Internet, and bandwidth requirements. In the midst of budget cuts, many rural schools are increasingly relying on distance learning to offer classes and expand educational opportunities, which require high-speed Internet access. Rural students without Internet access may be at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing information about college, applying to college, and learning about scholarship opportunities.
Over the next five years, the FCC’s program is estimated to provide broadband access to 5 million residents of rural areas.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.