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: 1) Deployment, 2) Competition, 3) Affordability and Adoption, and 4) Community Anchor Institutions

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America’s Broadband Moment: Making Broadband Affordable

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 Referenced In Forbes Article on Addressing the Digital Divide

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.

Jon Sallet Discusses the Digital Divide on Market Day Report

Jon Sallet discusses bridging the rural digital divide on Market Day Report amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Rural American needs high-performance broadband just as much as the rest of America. And that's why Congress why needs to act, hopefully, on a bipartisan basis."

This clip aired on RFDTV's Market Day Report on Wednesday April 29, 2020.

America’s Broadband Moment

Jon Sallet

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, I believe, 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.

This is the time to invest in, plan for, and engineer High-Performance Broadband for every person in America.

As Congress considers how best to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and jumpstart our economy, the multifaceted broadband agenda must address four key areas: deployment, competition, affordability & adoption, and community anchor institutions. 

Jon Featured in Merit Webinar "High-Performance Broadband: Economic Success in the 2020s"

Jon Merit Webinar

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.

Our Networks Are More Vital Than Ever. The FCC Owes Us Updates.

Jon Undark Op Ed

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."

Our Broadband Moment–Acting Now and Looking Forward

A National Broadband Plan for This Decade

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."

Jon Quoted in C|Net Article

C|Net Logo

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."

Jon Featured on Panel "2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Response: Will We Break the Internet?"

Jon at Fiber Broadband Association Webinar

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]

Affordable Broadband Now and Later

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.

Jon Featured on Panel "How to Keep Americans Connected During the Crisis"

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.

Four Steps Towards E-Rate Connectivity and Competition

There’s more we can do to improve the effectiveness of the E-rate program.

  1. Special Construction Offers More Competition and Lower Costs
  2. Buyer Consortia Can Lower Costs and Should Be Encouraged and Expanded
  3. Improved Administration Would Expand the Reach of E-Rate and Lower Costs
  4. State and Local Efforts Magnify the Positive Impact of E-Rate

Community Anchor Institutions as Launching Pads for High-Performance Broadband Deployment

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.

Tell The Story We Know: Broadband Competition is Too Limited

Coalition for Local Internet Choice

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.

From Places to People—Connecting Individuals to Community Anchor Institutions

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.)

Supporting the Increasingly Important Missions of Community Anchor Institutions

Community Anchor Institutions

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. 

Jon Sallet Featured in Broadband Communities Magazine

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."

Next Century Cities' Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy 2020

Jon Speaking at Next Century Cities' Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy 2020

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

Creating an Affordability Agenda

Jon Speaking at the Bipartisan Tech Conference

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:

  1. Spur Competition
  2. Protect and Strengthen the Lifeline Program
  3. Provide Assistance to Broadband Providers’ Low-Income Programs
  4. Require Affordable Tiers of Broadband Service When Supporting Deployment
  5. Educate and Protect Consumers
  6. Support Programs That Make Low-Cost Computing Devices Available
  7. Provide Access Via Community Anchor Institutions

How Do We Ensure That Everyone Has Access To Broadband?

Jon was featured in a Next Century Cities video that asks "How do we ensure that everyone has access to broadband?"

Digital Skills and Broadband Adoption

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. 

From Networks to People

Jon Sallet

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. 

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

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.

Jon Sallet Featured on the Broadband Bunch Podcast

Broadband Bunch

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

Rural Electric Cooperatives Deliver Broadband

Broadband Maps of Georgia Counties

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.

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.