Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
With great drama, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 became law on December 27, 2021. The $2.3 trillion COVID relief and government spending bill extended unemployment benefits and ensured the government can keep running. The $900 billion COVID relief provision includes over $7 billion to help improve connectivity in the U.S.
It is Day 1,421 of the Trump Administration. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, from Day 1, has insisted that closing the digital divide is the Trump FCC's top priority. This week, the FCC announced the winners of over $9 billion worth of rural broadband subsidies -- the "single largest step ever taken to close the digital divide," according to Chairman Pai. But looking at the results may leave millions of rural residents apprehensive -- and disconnected.
Residential and small-business customers have too few options for fixed, robust broadband service, what we refer to as “High-Performance Broadband.” Solving our deployment and competition problems requires the construction of new broadband networks. In other words, we need more competition, and we need more broadband deployment. Our new policy brief concentrates on one solution—the construction of open-access, middle-mile networks.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society welcomed David Dodson to its Board of Directors. Dodson is the former president and a current Senior Fellow at MDC, a North Carolina-based nonprofit “think tank with muddy boots,” focused on helping the South become a place where all people can thrive. "For nearly forty years David has worked to advance economic opportunity and social mobility for people and communities struggling to realize the American Dream," said Benton Executive Director Adrianne B.
COVID-19 has turned the floodlights on digital inequality in rural, tribal, and urban communities across the United States.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).
How can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure? Our answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options.
“Broadband” is short-hand for an “always-on,” high-speed internet connection provided by a company or other entity known as an “internet service provider” (ISP). We say “always-on” to differentiate contemporary internet connections from the dial-up era of the 1990s, when a user had to dial a telephone number through their computer to connect. Today, the internet comes to us uninterrupted and we cannot get “booted off” if someone lifts up a phone receiver. We say “high-speed” connection because not all internet connections are technically broadband (see below for more on this point).
About one-third of the U.S. job market is made up of middle-skill jobs, which do not require four-year college degrees. Data indicate that the number of these jobs exceeds the supply of available workers. The skills needed for these jobs include facility with the internet and computers.
Thirty percent of all Americans live in multi-tenant environments (“MTEs”) like apartment buildings. Their annual income tends to be only about 54% of median homeowner income, so they are at greater risk of not being able to afford broadband. When apartment owners can profit by restricting tenants’ broadband options and reducing competition, it adds to our nation’s broadband affordability challenges.