What is the digital divide, and how can we bridge it?

The digital divide has come to the center of attention during the last two years. The pandemic exposed the gaps in internet service with the need to work from home and go to school virtually. As a result, it’s more apparent that the internet has become a must-have for our daily lives. However, many people still don’t have access to high-speed internet, leading to inequality. Because of that, the digital divide is something we are working relentlessly to close. Today, we’ll define the digital divide and how we’re acting to bridge it. 

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide is the gap between those who can use technology and those who cannot. It’s a problem that has been around for years, but it’s come into the spotlight more recently with the pandemic. In addition, the need to suddenly work from home or do virtual school has exposed the gaps in internet service for many people.

The internet has become critical for modern life, but many people still don’t have access to it. An estimated 42 million Americans can’t purchase broadband internet for reasons ranging from financial, geographic, and service limitations. The lack of access to the internet divides society and limits opportunities for those who don’t have the internet. Because of this, we are working relentlessly to close the digital divide, and today we’ll share what it is.

Factors that Impact the Digital Divide

Cost

Internet and computer devices can be expensive, putting them out of reach for many people. As inflation rises, 64% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Extra expenses like high-speed internet can be the difference between food on the table or not. At Race, we offer affordable high-speed internet to help combat the digital divide. 

Race and Ethnicity 

Race can also impact the digital divide. Minorities are more likely to live in poverty, with 25.4% of Native Americans and 20.8% of African Americans living in poverty, nearly doubly the poverty rate of their white neighbors (10.1%). Living in poverty undoubtedly makes it harder to afford internet and computer devices. Additionally, areas of high poverty typically don’t have access to the same quality of education. This lack of quality can often limit a school’s ability to use and teach technology.

Education 

When the pandemic hit and schools went virtual, more than a quarter of K–12 students (29%) lacked reliable internet access in spring 2020, leaving them without a path forward to learn. However, many school districts or parents in higher-income areas were able to provide students with the tools necessary to succeed. Unfortunately, this left a gap in the education in communities that were not well-funded, leading to a less than quality education. We need to ensure everyone has access to quality education and the technology to make it possible. 

Location 

Your location also plays a role in access. Many rural areas of the country still do not have access to high-speed internet. Geographical location played a big part in the problems with accessibility during the pandemic as people who lived in rural areas struggled to work from home or do virtual school. According to the Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, roughly seven-in-ten rural Americans (72%) say they have a broadband internet connection at home. 

How does it affect society?

The digital divide affects society in several ways. In short, it creates unfairness and limits opportunities for those who don’t have the internet. Let’s explore how it does this further. 

Social Isolation

The divide can lead to social isolation. People without the internet are cut off from communication and information easily accessible to others. 

Limits Job Opportunities

The digital divide has a significant effect on the workplace. In today’s job market, increased computer skill levels are a prerequisite. However, the demand for these skills creates unfairness in society and limits opportunities for those who don’t have them. 

For example, many job applications are online, so you’re already at a disadvantage if you don’t have internet access. In addition, having the money to have a computer with a webcam and high-speed internet to work from home on zoom calls presents a barrier to entry. 

Impacts education 

25% of students lack an adequate internet connection. The lack of access became a glaringly obvious problem during the pandemic when kids across the country moved to virtual learning. Unfortunately, many homes were not set up with the equipment or internet services to make a move to online learning. However, that isn’t the only challenge. Many homework assignments now utilize the internet leaving kids behind who don’t have access. 

What is being done to close the digital divide?

At Race, we’re committed to closing the digital divide and ensuring everyone has access to the internet. We’re doing this by working with government, industry, and community partners to:

  • Increase access to affordable broadband
  • Improve digital literacy
  • Connect people in underserved communities

We know that we can’t close the digital divide alone, so we’re working with our partners. Here are some ways we are working together to bridge the divide. 

California Advanced Services Fund (CASF)

The California Public Utilities Commission has helped bridge the digital divide through the use of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) since 2008. CASF helps bring broadband to underserved and unserved communities throughout California, aiming to close the digital divide. The goal is to close the digital divide by bringing broadband to 98% of households in each consortia region by December 31, 2022. 

Internet Act For All 

The Internet Act For All was reintroduced in the house on 3/11/2021. The act will make high-speed broadband internet service accessible and affordable to all Americans. In addition, the bill will provide discounts on broadband for low-income consumers and subsidize the internet for schools and libraries. The Internet Act for All is a significant step forward to bridge the digital divide. 

Computer Literacy Training 

Many cities, libraries, and companies offer free digital literacy training to bridge the divide. These classes work to give everyone foundational skills that will help achieve equity at school and work closing and is a pivotal part of eliminating the digital divide. 

How Race is Working to Bridge the Digital Divide 

Race is dedicated to providing reliable, accessible, high-speed internet by building new fiber networks and infrastructures. We worked to bring our fiber optic networks to underserved or unserved communities so they can have equal access. 

Race Communications works with the California Public Utilities Commission and other advocacy groups to build new networks in these communities. Race has received California grants to cover up to 60 percent of construction costs, including the labor, equipment, and materials required to bring fiber or cable internet to a region; however, it does not include operational costs. 

Final Thoughts

The digital divide is a problem that has been around for years, but it’s come into the spotlight more recently with the pandemic. The need to work from home and participate in virtual school exposed the gaps in internet service for many people. At Race, we’re working hard to close the digital divide and ensure everyone has access to the internet. Closing the digital divide will create more opportunities and a better society. 

What Goes Into Construction Of A Fiber Network? The Basics, Phases, and Beyond!

There is so much that goes into the construction of fiber networks. It’s a complex process that requires work long before that first shovel hits the ground. We touched on the process briefly when we explained the entire process of getting fiber internet to your city. But today, we’re diving deep into fiber construction and how a network is built. We’ll cover the basics, what needs to happen before, and exactly how it connects to your house below. If you’ve ever wondered how your high-speed fiber internet gets to your home, this is the blog for you! 

construction of fiber internet - man on computer

Construction Of A Fiber Network: The Basics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to construct a fiber network, let’s look at the two ways we can install a fiber network when coming to a city. 

Underground Installation 

This is when fiber cables are installed underground. Underground installation is the preferred way to install fiber networks as the cables are more protected from elements. Additionally, residents like it better because you won’t be able to see your newly installed lines.

Aerial Installation 

There are times when it’s simply not possible or cost-effective to install fiber cables underground. In this case, we go above and use aerial installations. The aerial method uses polls to install lines in the air. 

Construction Of A Fiber Network Design Phase

Construction Of A Fiber Network: Research 

Build the Roadmap 

Now that you have the basics let’s talk about research. Before starting fiber construction, we need to develop a building roadmap. Our team of engineers researches the area in depth to determine the best path forward and uncover potential challenges. On average, this process takes two to three months. The first step in the process is to look at the existing telecommunications infrastructure. Depending on how the infrastructure is laid out, it can help or hinder the construction process. For example, an internet service provider can sometimes run cables through existing telecom ducts. This makes installation easier but often more expensive if competitors own the ducts. Typically, they’ll charge expensive fees to access them.

Examine the Landscape 

Additionally, engineers need to study the terrain. Landscapes with soils that are hard to dig like clay make for a more expensive and time-intensive project to make a deep enough trench. It could be determined it makes more sense to go above ground and install an aerial line in an area like this. 

Construction Of A Fiber Network - creating a roadmap

Construction Of A Fiber Network: Design

Once the initial research phase is complete, it’s time to design the infrastructure. Internet service providers take the research learnings and map out the fiber network at this stage. Creating the infrastructure typically takes three months. 

Map out the Network

The network will consist of routing thousands of miles of cable, and all those miles need to avoid existing electrical, sewer, and water pipelines. Plus, if there are railroads in the area, the fiber construction will need to be planned around it. Additionally, natural elements like tree roots need to be avoided. 

Permitting

After making the initial map for fiber construction, providers must go through permitting and approvals with the state and local government. These approvals allow providers access to utility easements within the area of construction. However, they don’t allow access to everything- if fiber construction needs to happen on private property such as an apartment community, we’ll need to gain those rights too. It’s important to note that permitting times vary greatly depending on who processes the permits. Some permits take six weeks, while others take up to six months. 

Construction Of A Fiber Network: Construction

After the design phase is complete and approvals have taken place, the construction begins! Despite previously laying out the roadmap, this is often the part of the process we see the most delays. 

Bad Weather

Weather is the biggest threat to delays in fiber construction. You can’t expose fiber lines to certain elements such as rain or snow. It could cause harm to the network before it is even fully deployed. Additionally, we can’t send our team out in unsafe conditions, so there will be delays like most construction projects if the weather doesn’t cooperate. 

Limited Resources

Resources can also cause delays. Like many other industries, fiber construction is impacted by labor shortages and the supply chain. While this is not a consistent problem, it can occur. Time constraints are another limitation. Cities don’t want construction running 24/7 and disrupting their citizens, so often permits have specific times and days that we can work. 

Unforeseen Circumstances

Lastly, though we do everything in our power to plan and predict roadblocks, once we start the process, there can be unforeseen circumstances that cause delays. For example, 

Testing the Network

Now that construction is wrapping up, it’s time to test the network. To ensure everything is in working order, we’ll test light levels from the optic network terminals and ensure all equipment is operating at our standards. Once we put the network through several tests and checks, we can mark construction as complete. 

Construction Of A Fiber Network connecting internet to homes

Finally, connect it to you! 

The final step is connecting it to all the households! Sometimes you may notice your neighbors get installed ahead of you. This can happen for several reasons. For example, if your neighbor has an aerial connection, but you have an underground connection, it might take a little longer. Additionally, you may experience delays in service if you are a renter and need to provide written authorization from your landlord to get service. 

Key Takeaways: Construction of Fiber Networks

As you can see, there are many steps to creating a fiber network and bringing our high-speed internet into communities. It’s an involved process that takes research and discovery to ensure everything is done safely and efficiently. Below are some key takeaways from how we construct fiber networks. 

  • There are two types of installation: aerial above ground and underground installation. 
  • Before any digging can start, there is a design and research phase. These phases combined take anywhere from 4-6 months to complete. Race ensures the fiber network has a clear road map to make construction a smooth process in this phase. 
  • Construction can experience delays such as inclement weather, permitting, and more. Be patient. We promise you’ll love the end product! 

Ready to get gigified? Learn more and check out our services or contact our specialists at 877-722-3833 to see what we offer in your area! 

How the CASF Is Bridging the Digital Divide

Since 2008 the California Public Utilities Commission has

helped bridged the digital divide through the use of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). This fund has helped bring broadband to underserved and unserved communities throughout the state of California. Since its inception, the program has funded a variety of broadband projects, including several fiber-based, gigabit projects like Gigafy Phelan. These projects aim to close the digital divide, and companies throughout the state continue to apply for further funding. In this article, we’ll explore exactly what the CASF funds are, a brief history of the program, the types of grants available, and how Race uses them to bring high-speed quality internet to communities.

What is the California Advanced Services Fund? 

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) provides funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure to areas of the state that are unserved or underserved. CASF aims to close the digital divide bringing broadband to 98% of households in each consortia region by December 31, 2022. And they are well on the way to achieving that goal. As of December 31, 2018, 97.1 percent of California households are in census blocks with access to broadband services reaching speeds of 6Mbps down and 1Mbs up or greater. 

Unserved areas are eligible for up to a 70% CASF matching grant. These grants are used for areas without high-speed internet access and often prioritize areas with rugged terrain, making infrastructure development costs too high for companies and investors to fund alone. 

Underserved areas are eligible for 60% CASF matching grants. These areas typically have broadband or internet services but at very slow speeds and do not perform well. The funds allow internet providers to increase speeds to at least 6 Megabits per second download and 1.5mbps upload. 

CASF Map

Above is a map of the consortia regions of the State of California. Source: 2020 Annual CASF Report

CASF: A Brief History 

In December of 2007, the Commission authorized the CASF. The CASF provided grants to telecom corporations to bridge the digital divide and bring high-speed ethernet to California’s unserved and underserved communities. Since then, the program has helped fund over 798 projects and awarded funds totaling over 300 million dollars. 

How Are the Grants Funded?

The CASF initially started as a 23 cents tax collected on phone bills. Currently, CSAF grants are funded by a surcharge rate from revenues collected by telecommunications carriers and remitted to the state.

Types of Grants Available 

Infrastructure, Loan, and Line-Extension Grant

Provides broadband access to households that are within the last miles of existing infrastructure. This includes the line extension program.

Rural and Regional Urban Consortia Grant 

The Rural and Regional Urban Consortia Grant funds the cost of broadband deployment activities. However, the grant doesn’t support any capital costs of the facilities which the Commission determines. 

Tribal Assistance Program

Provides technical assistance in developing market studies, feasibility studies, and business plans which support tribal communities to improve communications. 

How Do You Get a CASF Grant? 

Telecommunication companies have to compete for these grants, and often the way to earn them is through finding the most cost-effective solution to bringing services. To maximize the grant, Race utilizes current and existing utilities and utility easements. This reduces the cost and allows us to create a more extensive infrastructure. For example, if the utilities are all above ground near your home, Race will utilize that existing infrastructure instead of trenching underground utilities to your home. On the other hand, if there are no existing utilities, building above-ground infrastructures is often most cost-effective.

Race Communications - CASF

How does Race Communications use CASF? 

Race Communications has received California grants to cover up to 60 percent of construction costs, including the labor, equipment, and materials required to bring fiber or cable internet to a region. The percent of funding is based on the needs of the area. This funding does not include operational costs (the expenses of day-to-day business).

CASF Key Takeaways: 

  • CASF grants were created to bring broadband internet to both unserved and underserved communities with the goal of 98% of households in each consortia region by 2022. 
  • Race Communications has received CASF grants which cover up to 60% of construction costs and utilize existing utilities to lower infrastructure costs. 
  • Grants are funded by a surcharge rate from revenues that are collected by telecommunications carriers and paid by the end-users