Make America great with great broadband

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[Commentary] Building broadband infrastructure, as with any infrastructure, raises three questions: how to finance it, what projects are eligible to receive the funding, and how the funds are distributed. I can think of seven potential approaches, none of which are exclusive and many of which are complementary:

Target anchor institutions—schools, libraries, health facilities, and other community institutions—to assure they have abundant bandwidth.
Target middle-mile facilities—the networks between the internet backbone and the local, final connection– to lower operating costs for multiple providers in low-density areas.
Target final-mile facilities, with a focus on communities that lack access to a network offering a certain speed threshold. One could build on the Federal Communications Commission’s current Connect America Fund structure to accelerate a next-generation buildout in rural areas, something I’ll discuss in more detail in a future post.
Target next-generation 5G mobile networks and the Civic Internet of Things to bring intelligence to the water, sewer, electricity, and transportation grids underlying our communities. Both these new platforms will share a need for, and operate over, a fiber network. The infrastructure fund could accelerate such deployments either through a model cities approach of funding demonstration projects or by funding many projects to create scale and standards.
Target digital enterprise zones. The new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently proposed to use broadband to improve the economics of areas of persistent poverty. Pai deserves praise for both prioritizing government resources to attack poverty and laying out a detailed proposal. While I have my questions on the specific proposals, I support the direction Pai articulated and hope any infrastructure plan adopts his agenda.
Pursue a state block grant strategy. Distributing the funds through state block grants that rely on a formula, such as per capita funding, may prove a productive path, particularly if the states have broad discretion for eligibility.
Pursue a city block grant strategy, but rather than distributing the funds on a per capita basis, as with states, funds would be distributed to target cities that adopt certain best practices of deployment.
(This is the first of three blogs discussing the state of broadband policy as a new administration and Congress begin.)


Make America great with great broadband