These investments would support American workers, including those making fiber optics, the key component of broadband, while also closing the country’s huge digital divide. The pandemic, which forced many workers to perform their jobs remotely and students to study online, proved that a reliable Internet service is not just a convenience but a necessity.
However, all too often, the quality of service depends on where the person lives. TO interactive map recently published by the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that people in the more affluent areas enjoy high-speed internet, while those in rural, poor and tribal communities they struggle with poor quality service, if they get service at all.
“We’d love to have a better internet, something affordable,” said Hardin, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 14482, which represents workers at the LafargeHolcim cement plant in Florence, Colorado.
“It’s pretty unfortunate,” he said of the current access a phone company provides to his home and the cattle ranch about 30 miles from the cement plant. “You can’t take photos. You cannot download or send them. FaceTime is non-existent. We lost internet service for three or four days in a row. “
The Internet has the power to unite the nation, revitalize the economy, and open the doors of education, employment, health, and civic engagement for all. But right now, the digital divide isolates large swaths of the country, perpetuates inequality, and undermines the future of the nation. Uneven access not only personally disadvantages certain citizens, like Hardin’s stepdaughter, but prevents them from contributing their talents, skills and ideas.
“Her teacher said, ‘Too bad, so sad, I guess I should have gone somewhere else to do homework,'” recalls Hardin, who lives in a sparsely populated county where many homes lack broadband.
Rural areas like yours often lack high-speed internet because providers refuse to invest in broadband. Biden is collaborating with a bipartisan group of senators to move a forward infrastructure package. However, there is no time to waste. Both houses of Congress must act quickly to pass laws implementing the American Employment Plan.
“Educating people about this infrastructure program is very important,” explained David Beard, a member of the executive board of USW Local 752L, the union of approximately 1,500 workers at the Cooper Tire plant in Texarkana, Arkansas.
Beard travels to rural Arkansas to speak with other union members about the importance of the American Jobs Plan and the USW’s “We Supply America” campaign, which aims to ensure that American workers provide the raw materials and supplies. manufactured products for publicly funded infrastructure projects.
While Beard understood for a long time that rebuild roads and bridges, repair dilapidated dams in the state, and modernize aging schools would help boost the economy, the pandemic brought home the need to extend quality internet to counties where very few households have broadband.
“It has become a security problem and it has become an education problem. And just look at the financials, ”Beard said, noting that the spouses of a couple of her co-workers rely on the Internet to run their makeup and jewelry business.
Donneta Williams knows there is no excuse for a digital divide when America already has the skills and resources to close it. Williams, president of USW Local 1025, represents hundreds of workers who manufacture fiber optics:broadband brains“At the Corning plant in Wilmington, North Carolina.” They turn glass into a technological marvel, a fiber as thin and flexible as thread, but stronger inch by inch than steel and capable of carry voice, data and video at high speeds over tremendous distances.
“We know that what we do is vital.” Williams said. “When you hear about ‘bandwidth’, that’s fiber optics.”
“It is a craft,” he said. “It is not something that a computer can teach you. We make sure to launch a quality product so that the signal doesn’t drop. ” Their product kept the United States going through the pandemic. Now, Williams hopes for a national broadband expansion that will allow its members to bring life-changing technology to more homes, paving the way to digital equality and a stronger nation.
“Our fiber makes it possible,” Williams said, noting that the broadband push would create jobs for those who make not only fiber, but also other components of Internet systems.
For Hardin, who lives miles from a library and other public buildings that could allow him access to the Internet when it fails, fast, reliable service can’t come fast enough.
“Are you going to remove something from my bill?” he once asked a representative from the phone company after losing his internet for days. “Of course,” Hardin recounted, “he said no.”
Tom conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.