Benton Partners With SHLB to Nourish Communities With Broadband

The Benton Foundation is publishing the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition’s Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan because our top priority for 2016 and beyond is affordable broadband access and adoption for all Americans.

As the Federal Communications Commission has determined, broadband Internet access service is, unquestionably, essential to education, public health, and public safety. And broadband has an important economic impact. It creates efficiencies, improves productivity, and accelerates innovation.

In a global, competitive economy, we need every American contributing to our prosperity, to educating today and tomorrow’s workers and entrepreneurs, to improving our civic dialogue, and to enriching our culture.

But if we want every American to be able to make these contributions and take full advantage of the vast opportunities that broadband can deliver, we need to focus on bridging the critical gaps in our digital infrastructure and close the nagging, persistent divides in broadband deployment and adoption. I call the places these divides exist ‘digital desserts.’

Every anchor institution needs to have open, affordable, high-capacity broadband that is scalable and adaptable to the growing information needs of the 21st century.

There are a number of places where we could bring broadband that could have great public benefit. Think community anchor institutions such as schools, healthcare providers, libraries, public media outlets, public housing, community centers, community colleges and other institutions of higher education. Connecting every anchor institution to a high-capacity broadband network is a cost-effective way to ensure that every community and every individual has high-speed access to the Internet.

To realize universal broadband adoption, I can think of no better partner than the SHLB Coalition and its diverse members. Community anchor institutions, as is so well-articulated in the report released today, are on the front lines ensuring that the benefits of the Internet are widely available to everyone, promoting equity for all.

Our investment in bringing high-capacity broadband to anchors -- and through anchors to the rest of the community -- will determine whether the country will be divided between digital “haves” and “have-nots,” or whether we capture the benefits of the Internet for all people. High-capacity broadband allows community anchor institutions to expand their crucial missions so every student and citizen can reach their potential and be a full participant in our increasingly digital world.

Community anchor institutions are the oases in our country’s digital deserts – the places where everyone can go for affordable access and to gain and improve the skills they need to succeed in the Digital Age.

To go from desert to oasis, you need water. To go from digital desert to oasis of opportunity, we need broadband -- open, affordable, high-capacity broadband. Market forces, acting almost like rain, have been sufficient for the populations that face no significant broadband barriers. But for too many communities, we are seeing the limits to the power of free markets to drive universal broadband deployment and adoption. That means policymakers are obligated to step in to help create policies that drive investment and encourage adoption.

What we need is a little irrigation so we can start to grow digital opportunity where the rain has yet to fall. SHLB’s Broadband Action Plan is the irrigation plan for communities and policymakers who understand what’s at stake. SHLB is offering policymakers at all levels of government – as well as those directly involved in broadband deployment and adoption – both the vision of fully-connected communities and a roadmap for improving the broadband connectivity of anchor institutions.

This plan does not contain all the answers, but offers a menu of ideas and seeks to stimulate greater discussion, research, and most importantly, action.

By Adrianne B. Furniss.