With the Biden infrastructure debate in full swing, the cost to connect the rest of the unserved with broadband has taken center stage. The last version of the Accessible Affordable Internet for All Act proposes $80 billion in subsidies through reverse auctions to close the digital divide once and for all.
The US handily leads the European Union in both broadband infrastructure deployment and broadband adoption—at all speeds—and this lead grows when comparing higher speed offerings.
California’s 2018 net neutrality law, SB-822, recently went into effect and concerns have been already raised about the legality of “zero-rating,” the practice by which commercial arrangements and unilateral decisions by network operators are exempted from consumer pricing. Under California’s net neutrality law, zero-rating and sponsored data programs violate the new law because certain content cannot be excluded from consumer data caps, or usage-based pricing. Turner Lee offers the following recommendations to state and federal leaders:
On March 31, the National Urban League released the Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion, a collaborative work aimed at addressing the digital divide. If you have the time, follow the link above and give the full report a read. If not, here's the executive summary.
Recommendations for how the U.S. can leverage digital infrastructure to further its economic competitiveness:
The recently-approved American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated $7.171 billion to a new Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), an historic expansion of the E-rate program to connect students, teachers, and library patrons who lack home broadband access.
Immediately following the onset of the pandemic and the shift to virtual learning, many Governors initiated or supported short-term solutions to access to broadband and computers. However, states must prioritize investment in the expansion of sustainable and affordable broadband infrastructure in order to permanently close the digital divide. Governors are at the forefront of this effort and have started this year by proposing record levels of investment in broadband infrastructure, with 36 Governors calling attention to the need for increased access in their State of the State addresses.
On March 31, President Joe Biden traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to unveil his American Jobs Plan, and what he touts as a once-in-a-generation investment to rebuild the country's infrastructure. The plan calls for investing $100 billion to ensure everyone in America has access to high-speed broadband infrastructure.
Internet service providers (ISPs) and their defenders are repeatedly claiming that the US did better than other network neutrality countries (specifically, the EU27) when it came to handling the crush of Covid-19 induced traffic. Unsurprisingly, they credit the lack of regulation for this amazing response. Once again, this claim does not hold up to real scrutiny. As with the investment nonsense, this is a highly complicated area and therefore subject to a lot of spin and heated arguments over what the data actually show and how to explain it.
How the FCC wasted $45 billion on rural “broadband” and what the current FCC/Congress/Administration should have learned.
Before spending an additional $100 billion of public money on rural broadband, avoiding the mistakes of the past decade would be a good place to start.
Lesson #1: The digital divide was not a consequence of rural economics; it has been the policy of the federal government. Broadband is not simply a speed at a point in time. Rather than focus on a short-term goal of attaining any particular speed, public funding is better spent on long-term infrastructure, best defined as assets with a life of at least thirty years.