Competition won't solve the digital divide—communities will

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The Biden administration’s strategy to tackle the digital divide places too much emphasis on wires and competition and too little on people and communities. By proposing $65 billion in broadband spending, the administration aims to spur marketplace competition, supercharge network speeds, and reduce home internet prices. Yet a lot can go wrong when prioritizing competition, as competition and affordability do not go hand-in-hand; when prices drop, they rarely fall to levels that make service affordable for low-income households who make up most of the disconnected. If we mean to solve the digital divide, we must think local and cultivate community solutions. Broadbad needs to be treated as a part of civic infrastructure, and policymakers need to follow the lead of communities that are filling gaps in rural America and in the nation’s underserved neighborhoods. The Biden administration should pivot and reinforce the experimentation taking place in these civic laboratories. Then we can study, learn and take what’s best, in order to create a high-speed broadband network for the whole nation.

[John B. Horrigan is a senior fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, an expert on the digital divide and former director of research at the Federal Communications Commission for the National Broadband Plan. Jorge Reina Schement is a distinguished professor of Communications Policy, American Studies and Latino Studies at Rutgers University—New Brunswick’s School of Communication & Information.]

Competition won't solve the digital divide — communities will