Anne Schwieger, Boston’s broadband and digital equity advocate, explains: “Broadband is best understood as an ecology that allows places and people to adapt, evolve, and create.” But for too many people, the digital skills needed to use broadband effectively are too elusive. Governments—with nonprofits, private broadband providers, and community support—are working to ensure that broadband is not just deployed but used. That’s a multifaceted effort that depends on trust and resources.
Broadband’s fundamental value doesn’t come from connecting computers to networks; its value comes from connecting people to opportunity, and society to new solutions. When a broadband network is available but a person who wants to use it can’t do so, then the network is less valuable to everyone else who does use it. That's because the he benefits of broadband adoption do not flow only to the people who are new broadband users. Expanding broadband usage can grow the U.S. economy broadly. Expanding broadband usage, furthering civic engagement, can build stronger democratic institutions.
My theme today – what is going unnoticed. Simply put, we should pay more attention to the lack of competition in the provision of fixed broadband to homes and small businesses. As a general matter, we can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices, and people with only two to pay the higher prices typically charged by duopolies. People with three or more choices typically pay less. Clearly, people who can barely afford to pay a competitive price, say, low-income Americans, are particularly vulnerable to artificially high prices.
In communities where too many people have no access to broadband infrastructure, investing in connections to community anchor institutions is an intermediate step that can pay huge public dividends. Imperial County, located in the sparsely populated desert region of southeastern California, is an exciting example. When relying on a single telecommunications provider and its outdated technology, Imperial County school districts, higher-education institutions, and government agencies had limited access to broadband infrastructure.
Broadband networks do not reach millions of people in the United States. And this lack of access has a significant impact.
A nonprofit, member-owned organization governed by Michigan’s public universities, Merit is America’s longest running regional research and education network – founded in 1966. Merit’s management and network expertise goes back all the way to the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNet), which spawned the modern internet. After more than fifty years of innovation, Merit continues to serve higher education, K-12, library, government, health-care and public-sector members. Its work goes beyond connectivity to include security and community services.
In the next decade, everyone in America should be able to use High-Performance Broadband.
The purpose of Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s is to collect, combine, and contribute to a national broadband agenda for the next decade, enlisting the voices of broadband leaders in an ongoing discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere. Leaders at all levels of government should ensure that everyone is able to use High-Performance Broadband in the next decade by embracing the following building blocks of policy:
On October 30, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society will be releasing Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The release is a major step in a multi-year effort to update America’s approach to broadband access for the coming decade. Over the last year or so, we've been speaking with people around the country about how communities are addressing their broadband needs.
Again, and again, I’ve heard that when people live in areas unserved and underserved by broadband networks, businesses are hard-pressed to start, grow, or stay there. Without the economic development and individual prospects enabled by competitive, advanced, and affordable broadband, people will find it harder to secure good-paying jobs, get training for future positions, or seek higher wages.