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.
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: 1) Deployment, 2) Competition, 3) Affordability and Adoption, and 4) Community Anchor Institutions.
The latest conversations on Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s.
The Roanoke Times published an op-ed by Jonathan Sallet on August 26. Jon urges the federal government to support state and local governments to address their broadband challenges: "The magnitude of the challenge requires that all the players — federal, state and local — take the field. The sooner we start to build a comprehensive broadband agenda, informed by state and local leadership and innovation, the sooner we will reap the benefits that will come when every person can use a robust internet connection at home."
In a July 22 op-ed Eboni Winford, director of research for Cherokee Health Systems, and Terri Sabella, chief executive officer of Tennessee Primary Care Association, argued that voice and broadband service is critical during the pandemic for struggling individuals to access lifesaving health services. "The Senate should act to offer low-income households a $50 monthly benefit to obtain faster speed broadband and unlimited talk and text for the duration of the coronavirus crisis."
This policy proposal mirrors Jon Sallet's April 1 piece Affordable Broadband Now and Later, where he wrote, "In pursuit of achieving truly universal broadband service at a time when we know everyone desperately needs to stay connected at home, the Federal Communications Commission should immediately provide $50 per month to low-income households to subsidize fast broadband service during these crises of health and economic dislocation."
As the pandemic continues, so too does the critical need for affordable broadband.
In a July 18, 2020 article Doing Schoolwork in the Parking Lot Is Not a Solution, the New York Times' editorial staff cited Jon's research: "One study found that poorer Americans can afford only $10 a month for internet service. But such service is typically at far slower speeds than what is available in more affluent neighborhoods, or for free at Starbucks." The study links to Our Broadband Moment–Acting Now and Looking Forward.
On July 15, New America published The Cost of Connectivity 2020, a pivotal report on internet affordability worldwide, with a particular emphasis on connectivity in the United States.
Authors Becky Chao and Claire Park cite Jon Sallet's recommendation of $10 per month being an affordable benchmark for low-income households. The authors write, "Only six plans in our U.S. dataset meet this $10 benchmark at any speed tier (only four meet Sallet's 50/50 Mbps recommendation)," and all six are offered in Ammon, Idaho. Ammon's municipal broadband network was featured in Jon's Broadband for America's Future report. "Even with promotional pricing, no private provider offers a plan that meets Sallet’s $10 benchmark for low-income households," said Chao and Park.
The digital divide has left over 40 million Americans without access to reliable internet. The pandemic has kickstarted initiatives to change that. Jon Sallet said, "These are problems that existed for a long time but what this crisis has done is fast-forward us into a broadband future."
Jon Sallet and former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn wrote a piece, "Make Broadband Far More Affordable", that was published in the Boston Globe's Ideas section. Sallet and Clyburn write that the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that broadband is an essential pathway to full participation in our society and our economy, and urge Congress to ensure affordable broadband for all. "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."
On June 17, 2020, Rev. Al Sharpton, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, and other civil rights leaders published the article Broadband Access Is A Civil Right We Can’t Afford To Lose—But Many Can’t Afford To Have in Essence. "There is a broadband emergency in America," the article begins. "The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the digital divide in an unprecedented way. As civil rights leaders and a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, we are calling on our nation’s leadership to enact a robust connectivity plan to address the immediate and future needs of marginalized communities."
They wrote, "A recent study indicates that more than 18 million households lack broadband simply because it is too expensive. An affordable broadband option will help ease the burdens on people who struggle to make ends meet. Research shows that low-income families can only afford to pay around $10 a month for broadband, which is roughly the price point of many Internet offerings targeted toward low-income consumers. We must expand these offerings and remove barriers to participation," which links to Jon's Creating an Affordability Agenda.
Broadband competition is more important than ever because – in these crises and beyond – America has fast-forwarded into its broadband future. But broadband competition is limited: At a typical broadband speed of 100/10 Mbps, at least 80% of Americans face either a monopoly (no choice) or a duopoly (only one choice) for fixed service. It’s worse in rural America, where monopoly is even more prevalent. The impact is obvious: higher prices, lower quality and/or slowed innovation limiting the ability of people to participate fully in society and the economy.
Here are five significant ways governments can encourage competition.
On the June 1, 2020 episode of "Innovation Files," a podcast from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, hosts Rob Atkinson and Jackie Whisman spoke with Larry Downes and Blair Levin about their recent article for Aspen Institute entitled "The Internet After COVID-19: Will We Mind the Gaps?"
Atkinson incorrectly claimed Sallet suggested that "we should have subsidized two networks in every area" and asked Downes and Levin for their thoughts. To listen to the episode or to view the transcript, see: What the COVID Crisis Teaches Us About Broadband Policy, With Special Guests Larry Downes and Blair Levin.
Jon Sallet Featured on Next Century Cities Webinar on How Local Leaders Can Influence State And Federal Policy
On May 27, 2020, Next Century Cities hosted a webinar to discuss the many ways for local officials to engage in state and federal policymaking. Jon Sallet and Kathryn de Wit, who manages the Broadband Research Initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts, spoke on the importance of elevating local connectivity challenges while finding ways to work in partnership with state and federal governments.
On May 27, 2020, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler published 5 steps to get the internet to all Americans: COVID-19 and the importance of universal broadband. He wrote:
"We hear often about the 'digital divide' in America. The challenge is greater than that, however. It is what Jon Sallet calls the 'digital chasm'—a cluster of digital divides that are larger, longer lasting, multi-faceted, and harder to close. Once and for all, it is time to attack the digital chasm. Any such effort begins with fixing America’s connectivity problem, both in terms of access and affordability."
He also cited Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s for the study that found low-income Americans can only afford to pay about $10 per month for broadband. He went on to write:
"In the 21st century, a low-income subsidy for internet access is as important as telephone access was in the 20th century. Americans availing themselves of the program should be able to use it to obtain service from any qualified broadband provider, not just a telephone company. And the provision of such a low-income program should be a requirement if a company receives federal support to expand broadband."
In the May 7 Forbes article Three Policies To Address The Digital Divide, Robert Seamans discussed expanding and reforming the Lifeline program in an effort to address the digital divide. Seamans, an associate professor at New York University's Stern School of Busines and former senior economist on President Obama's Council fo Economic Advisers, specifically cited Jon Sallet's suggestion that the Lifeline offering be increased to $50 a month and recipients be allowed more choice in how they can spend the offering.
The time has come for Congress to establish a broadband credit—call it America’s Broadband Credit (ABC)—to ensure that people who can’t afford broadband can use broadband. The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over.
Jon Sallet discusses bridging the rural digital divide amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Rural American needs High-Performance Broadband just as much as the rest of America. And that's why Congress needs to act, hopefully, on a bipartisan basis."
This clip aired on RFDTV's Market Day Report on Wednesday April 29, 2020.
On April 26, 2020, the Boston Globe editorial board published A New Chance to Close the Digital Divide. The article stresses the need for policy solutions that focus on the digital divide in urban areas, advocating for solutions that focus on cost. The editorial board suggests expanding the Lifeline program, which provides subsidies of $9.25 per month for either fixed-line broadband at home or a wireless phone plan. They wrote:
To be eligible for Lifeline, a household must earn no more than 135 percent of the federal poverty level, or $29,000 for a family of three. But Jon Sallet, a senior fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, says that 135 percent cutoff should be higher — as it is for other federal anti-poverty programs — given the increasing importance of broadband for economic development and public health.
The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. More than twice as many people are now using residential broadband during business hours as before the COVID-19 crisis. Over 55 million students have been impacted by school closures. The use of telehealth has skyrocketed.
This is our broadband moment: a hinge of history that will determine whether today’s residential broadband is fit for the changed world in which we inhabit or whether its limits work to disadvantage those that are not equipped to use it.
On April 9, Jon led a webinar for Merit Networks where he discussed the long-term prospect for ensuring that everyone in American has access to high-performance broadband, on the continuing importance of state and local leadership in broadband, and on short-term federal action.
On March 30, Jon wrote an op-ed in Undark, arguing the FCC should issue a weekly broadband status report during the COVID-19 crisis.
"America’s network infrastructure is a patchwork quilt of technologies reaching across a vast geographic area with widely varying usage patterns even in normal times. But we are not in normal times, and the need for an entity that can provide school administrators, emergency planners, and the general public with a bird’s eye view of the health of our variegated communications systems and technologies has never been greater. It’s not enough to receive (if we do) individual network reports. The FCC, with its view across networks, should step up."
To mark the National Broadband Plan's 10 year anniversary, Jon joined others in discussing what should be on the agenda for a plan for the next decade.
"The National Broadband Plan showed the way and it has stood the test of time. But we are being tested anew and we must, as a nation, respond with a broadband plan robust enough to withstand the challenges and seize the opportunities of this new, and already frighteningly novel, decade."
Can U.S. broadband companies handle the increased network traffic from the coronavirus crisis?
"To be honest, I think we just don't know the answer," he said. "But that's something the FCC should be asking the nation's broadband providers and telling the American people the answer."
On April 8, the Fiber Broadband Association hosted a panel to examine the effect of COVID-19 on our Internet networks.
[Account required to view recording]
In pursuit of achieving truly universal broadband service at a time when we know everyone desperately needs to stay connected at home, the Federal Communications Commission should immediately provide $50 per month to low-income households to subsidize fast broadband service during these crises of health and economic dislocation.
But we must also look past this present emergency and think about long-term solutions for our long-standing problems.
Public Knowledge hosted a webinar to discuss the specific regulatory and legislative solutions the FCC and Congress should consider to help America overcome the challenges from the coronavirus.
There’s more we can do to improve the effectiveness of the E-rate program.
- Special Construction Offers More Competition and Lower Costs
- Buyer Consortia Can Lower Costs and Should Be Encouraged and Expanded
- Improved Administration Would Expand the Reach of E-Rate and Lower Costs
- State and Local Efforts Magnify the Positive Impact of E-Rate
Community anchor institutions can serve as a launching pad for community-based broadband access and, in places where broadband has already been deployed, more broadband competition. As Joanne Hovis explains:
By their nature, most government networks to anchor institutions will reach deep into neighborhoods that house schools, libraries, public health offices, and government facilities such as water towers and fire stations. Many localities then lease excess capacity to private sector providers to enable service provision and last-mile build-out in the neighborhoods. This trend is fast accelerating as hundreds of localities make available spare fiber-optic capacity to private carriers at rates designed to catalyze new private sector investment and opportunity.
The competition story needs to be told: We can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices, and people with only two choices to pay the higher prices typically charged by duopolies. People with three or more choices typically pay less. Clearly, people who can barely afford to pay a competitive price, say, low-income Americans, are particularly vulnerable to artificially high prices.
Policymakers should help enable community anchor institutions to connect to their users wherever they are.
Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should expand E-Rate to provide wireless access to students of lower-income families who do not have broadband at home. At current prices, $100 million would support the full cost of LTE service to between and two million and three million K-12 students. (Such efforts should be affordable given that the E-Rate program is currently running about $1.3 billion below its $3.9 billion budget cap.)
Community anchor institutions should be at the center of any comprehensive national strategy to promote the availability and use of High-Performance Broadband. In the next decade of the 21st century, ubiquitous broadband and the special role of community anchor institutions will continue to evolve as ubiquitous broadband increasingly empowers such institutions where they are, and where their users are.
An excerpt of Broadband for America's Future was featured in Broadband Communities Magazine January/February 2020 edition.
"Today, too many people in the United States face barriers that keep them from maximizing the opportunities from fixed broadband connections that should run to everyone’s home. To overcome these barriers, leaders – notably at the state and local levels – are executing policies to boost deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist; competition, which will increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to residents; and affordability and adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it. They also are working to support and enhance community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve users wherever they are."
On January 23, Jon spoke on the panel "Broadband Access Versus Broadband Subscriptions — the Difference and Why It Matters" at Next Century Cities' Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy 2020.
You can watch video of the panel here: https://livestream.com/internetsociety/bipartisntech2020/videos/201203851
Moderator: Alejandro Roark, Executive Director, Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership
Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion, City of Detroit
Jonathan Sallet, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance
Tom Struble, Technology & Innovation Manager, R Street Institute
To meet the challenge of providing fixed broadband at roughly $10 per month requires implementation of a variety of strategies. Here are seven ways governments can tackle the affordability challenge:
- Spur Competition
- Protect and Strengthen the Lifeline Program
- Provide Assistance to Broadband Providers’ Low-Income Programs
- Require Affordable Tiers of Broadband Service When Supporting Deployment
- Educate and Protect Consumers
- Support Programs That Make Low-Cost Computing Devices Available
- Provide Access Via Community Anchor Institutions
Jon was featured in a Next Century Cities video that asks "How do we ensure that everyone has access to broadband?"
A key element to adoption is the development of skills so people are able to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet. This digital literacy is a language, a language with which we become better speakers, learners, creators, employees, entrepreneurs, and citizens. The need for digital skills to get and succeed in new jobs is ubiquitous, across rural, suburban and urban areas, across demographics, across age groups. And the impact of success is equally broad — building economic success that strengthens a community, state and nation.
Broadband’s fundamental value doesn’t come from connecting computers to networks; its value comes from connecting people to opportunity, and society to new solutions. When a broadband network is available but a person who wants to use it can’t do so, then the network is less valuable to everyone else who does use it.
Drawing from Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, over the next few weeks we'll be looking at the challenges the U.S. faces as we try to achieve more equitable and effective broadband use. We will also focus in on adoption efforts in the first Google Fiber location -- Kansas City.
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.
- Fixed-broadband competition is very, very limited. That’s a problem for consumers and for their communities.
- Pro-competition policies can tackle that problem by stimulating competition that delivers competitive benefits to consumers – more savings, more quality, more innovation.
- 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.
The Broadband Bunch podcast interviews Jon Sallet at the Broadband Communities Summit in October 2019. Live, from Washington, D.C.!
Listen Here (00:00 - 19:30)
"Nobody is saying broadband by itself solves every problem. But what we do think is that the big problems in America can't be solved without including broadband. Agriculture, climate change, education for people of all ages, the economy, health care, all of these kinds of solutions will end up riding on broadband networks." — Jon Sallet
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.
See Also: Georgia Authorizes Electric Cooperatives to Deliver Rural Broadband. Bill Verner, Senior Vice President with Georgia Electric Membership Corp., discusses how Georgia is using electric cooperatives to reduce the digital divide.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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."
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.
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 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.
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.