The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included some $42.45 billion to ensure “access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband” throughout the United States. However, $42 billion is unlikely to be sufficient to serve all households. To maximize the number of households receiving service, awards need to ensure sufficient quality at the lowest cost.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is beginning an epic effort to implement the broadband provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Congress allocated $42.45 billion to build rural broadband through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) Program, and these resources have the potential to provide internet access to most if not all households that do not currently have access. NTIA states in its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) that its focus is to provide service to unserved and underserved areas.
The Technology Policy Institute recommends that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA):
In the middle of the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission used a reverse auction process to save taxpayers about $7 billion on projected expenses of $16 billion for broadband service to unserved areas — nearly a 50 percent savings!
The next administration should launch a concerted broadband data-collection and analysis effort to support smart, timely, and informed decision-making by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other agencies that work on broadband, such as the Rural Utilities Service. Specifically, the FCC should collect (or work with others to collect) comprehensive data on the following eight indicators:
The key missing component of nearly every proposal to solve the connectivity problem is evidence — evidence suggesting the ideas are likely to work and ways to use evidence in the future to evaluate whether they did work. Otherwise, we are likely throwing money away. Understanding what works and what doesn’t requires data collection and research now and in the future. It doesn’t have to be this way. The pandemic did not only lay bare the implications of the digital divide, it also created a laboratory for studying how best to bridge the divide.
We evaluate a program by a private Internet Service Provider intended to encourage low-income households to subscribe to broadband internet service.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill with real potential to mitigate the digital divide. Most proposals simply call for more money for existing programs or for new programs without evidence they will help. Real-world experience, however, has demonstrated how little we truly understand about why many low-income people do not subscribe. The Markey bill tackles this underlying issue.
A long-standing public policy goal has been ensuring that almost all citizens are connected to some minimum level of communications services. This paper evaluates Comcast’s “voluntary commitment” to introduce a low-income broadband program that Comcast has branded “Internet Essentials (IE).” We use data from the US Census Current Population Survey (CPS) and the National Broadband Map and a differences-in-differences approach to evaluate the program’s effects on subscription rates for eligible households.
Over the past 25 years, the internet has grown and changed in ways, both good and bad, that no one predicted. But at least one thing is constant: concern about how the Internet is regulated. The Federal Communications Commission’s decision in Dec to change the regulatory framework governing internet service providers (ISPs) isn’t going to change that concern.