We urge Congress to establish a broadband credit — call it America’s Broadband Credit — to ensure many more people can afford high-speed Internet access. Congress could set a household subsidy of $50 per month, which is roughly the cost of medium-tier broadband plans in urban settings (and it could provide a higher subsidy for tribal lands). That subsidy would allow anyone and any device in the household to be connected to the Internet, simultaneously, which is how so many families today are operating.
The 10th Anniversary of the National Broadband Plan offers a chance to reflect on the progress made in the past 10 years and lessons for the future. My focus will be on the progress in addressing the digital divide – increasing the number of Americans with broadband at home. The National Broadband Plan’s guiding principles for broadband adoption still resonate:
We are now in the third generation talking about getting broadband out to all our citizens. We are nowhere near getting the job done. It’s a market failure. It’s a government failure. And it’s a national embarrassment. Big telcos and their allies at the Federal Communications Commission and Congress tell us all is well and we’re on track. Pretty long track! Make that claim in many of our inner cities like Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Newark and you will get laughed out of town.
In October 1944, my grandfather William B. Benton delivered a clarion call in the pages of Fortune magazine. On behalf of the Committee for Economic Development (CED), a national coalition of business leaders, he offered a forward-looking agenda to deliver a more peaceful and prosperous future for all Americans—not just a few. At the time, that future was difficult to imagine. Fifteen years prior, the Great Depression had roiled the American economy, driving unemployment rates to almost 25% in 1933.
Among smart city enthusiasts, digital inclusion — the idea that nobody in the city should be deprived of digital technologies — is an oft-repeated social objective. Despite lofty commitments, the smart city is still a work-in-progress and its record in fostering social inclusion and diversity has been dismal so far. If technological interventions are as apt to deepen divides as redress them, why do proponents insist on the smart city’s promise of lessening urban inequalities?
What happens when a prime time TV show becomes a potential healthcare policy direction, plus a side helping of broadband adoption strategy? An episode of the NBC TV medical melodrama New Amsterdam inspired a five-city telehealth pilot project involving barbershops and hair salons. The show’s medical director had a brilliant idea to enlist barbershops in African-American neighborhoods to screen customers for hypertension (high blood pressure), which leads to an overwhelming majority of the 140,000 stroke-related deaths a year.
Libraries Without Borders sought to replicate its digital inclusion strategy in underserved rural and suburban manufactured-housing communities. The project began in Minnesota, with a town hall-style meeting where residents of the Park Plaza Cooperative Community in Fridley shared their vision for a future partnership between the local library and the community. The need for such a partnership is high.
We don’t need to rank in importance the issues of special interest money, ludicrous redistricting, and big media. They are each part of a linked democratic challenge. There can be no real democracy without curbing big money. There can be no real democracy without making Congressional districts representative of the areas they encompass. There can be no real democracy without an electorate informed by media that digs for the facts citizens need to help chart the future of our country. Bring these three abuses under control and democracy can flourish again. Only We the People can make
When I was a young scientist working on the fledgling creation that came to be known as the internet, the ethos that defined the culture we were building was characterized by words such as ethical, open, trusted, free, shared. None of us knew where our research would lead, but these words and principles were our beacon. We did not anticipate that the dark side of the internet would emerge with such ferocity. Or that we would feel an urgent need to fix it. How did we get from there to here?
Building new broadband infrastructure is a big investment for any municipality. While the cost of that investment shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s equally important to consider the significant cost savings that can be reaped with publicly owned infrastructure. Many cities have slashed the cost of connecting their schools to broadband by opting to build their own infrastructure, instead of continuing to pay a private provider for connections. Portland (OR), for example, had been paying an incumbent provider $1,310 per month for 10 Mbps connections to schools.