Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s

A special report written by Benton Senior Fellow Jonathan Sallet

The broadband revolution is sparking broad social and economic change. We see three overarching benefits that High-Performance Broadband can deliver in the next decade:

  • Growing the American Economy. High-Performance Broadband transforms industries that are basic to everyday life, positively impacting agriculture, education, healthcare, energy, and more.

  • Empowering Workers. High-Performance Broadband advances skills training to boost individual opportunity, helping to overcome income inequality and economic frustration. 

  • Strengthening Communities. High-Performance Broadband spurs economic growth and jobs. It can enable civic participation. It can improve the health, education. and learning of community members.

Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s collects, combines, and contributes to a national broadband agenda for the next decade. Our work is built on the lessons of communities, public-interest advocates, government officials, and industry experts that have labored to expand broadband’s reach to everyone in the United States. They deserve credit for their investments and innovations, and we have attempted to reflect their accomplishments and ideas, while contributing Benton’s own insights -- insights built on a body of work stretching back to the 1980s.

This publication is a part of a discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere.

 

Report Breakdown

Today, too many people in the U.S. face barriers that keep them from maximizing the opportunities from fixed broadband connections that should run to everyone’s home. 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 for a National Broadband Agenda: Deployment, Competition, Affordability and Adoption, and Community Anchor Institutions

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Advancing Broadband Deployment

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist.

Promoting Broadband Competition

Competition increases choices and spurs lower prices and better-quality service to their residents.

Ensuring Affordability and Adoption

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it.

Supporting Community Anchor Institutions

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, increasingly serve their users wherever they are.

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Too Big to be Left Unnoticed: America's Uncompetitive Broadband Market

Jon Sallet

Jon's speech at The Capitol Forum's Annual Tech, Media, & Telecom Competition Conference on December 5, 2019. 

We should pay more attention to the lack of competition in the provision of fixed broadband to homes and small businesses.

  1. Fixed-broadband competition is very, very limited. That’s a problem for consumers and for their communities.
  2. Pro-competition policies can tackle that problem by stimulating competition that delivers competitive benefits to consumers – more savings, more quality, more innovation.
  3. The correct way to think about greater competition is not to ask simply what is most profitable for any one company; it is to ask what best serves consumers.

The benefits from the use of High-Performance Broadband accrue to the broader economic and social benefit of America. Limited broadband competition—without regard to its cause—therefore curbs the economic and social progress that broadband can help deliver.

Rural Electric Cooperatives Deliver Broadband

Home broadband subscription rates continue to lag in rural areas, holding back local economies and access to telemedicine. The deployment of broadband networks to rural areas echoes the challenges earlier generations had ensuring that electrical networks and telephone service reached everyone. The solutions those earlier generations employed provide us lessons for today’s broadband challenges. 

Jon Sallet and Adrianne Furniss on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

Benton Institute Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and Senior Fellow Jon Sallet sat down with Christopher Mitchell of the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

In this episode, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Building Blocks for a National Broadband Agenda

Jon Sallet

Jon's speech at the Broadband Communities Conference on October 30, 2019. 

How does policy help us reach our broadband goal? Policymakers should use these four building blocks to create and further broadband policy.

  • Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;
  • Competition increases choices and spurs lower prices and better-quality service;
  • Affordability and Adoption for those who lack the means or the skills to use broadband; and
  • Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, increasingly serve their users wherever those users are.

Jon Sallet (Benton), Vint Cerf (Google) and Jim Baller (CLIC) Address a New Vision for America’s Broadband Future for the 2020s

Jon Sallet, Jim Baller, Vint Cerf

A packed audience in Alexandria, Virginia, listened intently during CLIC’s afternoon event on October 31, as CLIC’s President, Jim Baller, led a fascinating discussion on a new vision for America’s broadband future for the 2020s. This is a moment worth remembering. Setting the tone was Gail Roper, Director of National Initiatives for the Knight Foundation, who noted how the Knight Foundation emphasizes the importance of access, and equity as new internet applications unfold. Gail then introduced Jim Baller, who guided Jon Sallet and Vint Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google) through a spirited discussion of the key components of Jon’s special report entitled “Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s.”

Bringing High-Performance Broadband to Rural America

A Cabin

Many rural communities understand the importance of broadband to their future and they are taking matters into their own hands. For example, drive about 80 miles from Washington, D.C., and you can find yourself in the northern portion of Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. The research Jon has done for Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s led him to observe Queen Anne’s County's work to connect.

Imperial County: Closing the Homework Gap in a California Desert Community

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. To close the Homework Gap, the Imperial County Office of Education teamed up with local school districts to start the BorderLink project, which relies on LTE technology to bring wireless internet connectivity to students in eleven communities.

Broadband for America’s Future Starts with Anchors

SHLB Logo

An Article by John Windhausen, Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

"Broadband for America's Future" author and Benton Fellow Jonathan Sallet previewed its policy recommendations for community anchor institution (CAI) connectivity at the 9th Annual SHLB Conference. Sallet identified the SHLB Coalition’s “To and Through” philosophy as a fundamental principle for CAI broadband policy. To put it simply, connecting anchors to high-quality broadband enables them to serve as jumping off points to extend connectivity to surrounding residents and businesses in the community. 

Unfortunately, some of the dialogue around closing the digital divide focuses on connecting residents and businesses, while completely ignoring the needs of CAIs. “Broadband for America’s Future” recognizes that connectivity for anchor institutions isn’t simply a goal of broadband deployment, but a necessary step in closing the digital divide. The report clearly shows we will not solve the digital divide unless policymakers and industry acknowledge the valuable role schools, libraries, and healthcare providers play in making broadband available and affordable to their surrounding communities. Learn more about the Benton Institute and read the full text of the report here.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Gives His Support

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on Oct. 31 at the Broadband Communities Conference, in his prepared remarks:

I really wish I could have made it here yesterday as well because I know Jon Sallet at the Benton [Institute] gave a stellar presentation on his new work, ‘Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s.’ The National Broadband Plan was released in 2010 so I’m glad to see we have an advocate in this space who is thinking about creative and forward-thinking policies that will address internet inequality. Jon and I share similar views. We recognize that broadband access is necessary if we truly want to empower our communities in this digital age. So, thank you to Jon and the Benton [Institute] team for all of their hard work on this project. I really look forward to diving into it and engaging with you all more.

Next Century Cities: Report Gives A Comprehensive Overview of a Problem That We Can Solve

Next Century Cities

Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s highlights Next Century Cities’ member stories, documenting their ability to overcome unique challenges with creative solutions. In a blog post, Next Century Cities said the report is, "sure to bring Next Century Cities’ member municipalities and others a step closer to a shared goal of ensuring that every community has access to high-speed connectivity. Sallet offers a masterful account of the policy landscape while conveying a sense of urgency for broadband infrastructure to be a national priority. His report weaves together policy analysis, impact stories, and thoughtful recommendations."

Michigan’s MERIT Network: Connectivity To and Through Community Anchors

Merit Backbone Network

Investment in high-performance broadband infrastructure for community anchor institutions can deliver unforeseen dividends for years to come. Take, for example, the Merit Network, which operates almost 4,000 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in Michigan. To extend critical broadband service to all community anchor institutions in Michigan, including in rural and underserved communities, Merit used two grants from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to create the REACH -3MC (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Health Care—Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative) project. Completed in 2014, the project constructed 2,287 miles of the almost 4,000-mile, open-access, fiber infrastructure network.

Connecting Communities with High-Performance Broadband

Jon Sallet

Jon's speech at AnchorNETS: 9th Annual SHLB Conference on October 17, 2019. 

Based on what we’ve learned, we’ve formulated three basic principles for community anchor institution broadband policy.

  • First, community anchor institutions need access to competitively-priced, High-Performance Broadband, and they deserve the discretion to make informed choices about what best serves their communities.
  • Second, broadband is needed to connect community anchor institutions with their users wherever they may be.
  • Third, community anchor institutions can serve as launching pads for communitywide broadband access and, in places where broadband has already been deployed, more broadband competition.

Voqal: Report 'Outlines Road Map for Addressing the Digital Divide'

Voqal logo

Voqal wrote an article on Broadband for America's Future, calling it a "magnum opus of broadband policy for the forthcoming decade." They note that Sallet's report highlights the Homework Gap and the value of immediate short-term solutions like Mobile Citizen, a Wi-Fi hotspot program Voqal operates.

Libraries and Schools Join Hands to Connect New Mexico Pueblos

Over the last year or so, we've been speaking with people around the country about how communities are addressing their broadband needs. We know that community anchor institutions — schools, libraries, healthcare providers and others — play a key role in bringing service to broadband deserts. Our friends at the American Library Association (ALA) alerted us to how the Middle Rio Grande and Jemez-Zia Pueblo Tribal Consortia are connecting pueblos in New Mexico. As the release of our report nears, we think it is important to share some of the innovative solutions that we've heard.