These Young Entrepreneurs Have A Plan To Bring The Internet To Detroit, The Least Connected City In America
So what if we treated the Internet like a public utility, as essential and ubiquitous as electricity or water, and piloted this in Detroit? A team of Forbes Under 30 alumni hacked at this problem; their idea: Connectivity For All, a three-step pilot program that would be a public-private partnership to create a quick-to-implement, self-sustaining system to bridge the digital divide. The team quickly realized that parts of their solution had already been figured out by local organizations — the biggest issue was funding. With that in mind, the team dreamed up of tech hubs — physical communi
Despite private-sector broadband investment exceeding $70 billion per year since 2013, the digital divide remains. Over 20 million households have access to, but are not connected via, a fixed broadband connection. This is a classic market failure. Without some government intervention, there will be an under-consumption of broadband. But what kind of intervention is called for?
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many of the inequalities in America, including the differences in access to broadband Internet. Three policies that can help: (1) allow cities to provide their own broadband; (2) expand and reform Lifeline; and (3) provide tax incentives to firms that subsidize their employees’ broadband. The first of these policies stimulates the “supply” of broadband, while the second two stimulate “demand.” Together, these policies should help reduce the digital divide.
The Federal Communication Commission released its annual Broadband Deployment report for 2020. It notes the narrowest digital divide to date as more than 85 percent of Americans have a fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47% increase since 2017 with many of the biggest gains in rural areas. However, the two Democrat Commissioners rejected the report, saying the data was fundamentally flawed, that as many as 162 million people lack broadband (half the population of the USA!). What’s going on? Here are six sleights of hand used in the debate:
If ever there was a wake-up call to an immediate infrastructure threat, Corona is it. So let’s make the case for a public digital infrastructure (PDI). Is it even reasonable to ask the federal government to fund and govern a world-class broadband network utility – for everyone? The argument here is yes. The government should provide directed, comprehensive funding to broadband deployment across all parts of the country versus off-loading much of the cost to the states (who then enable ISPs to set prices). The cost? Around $100B to provide 100MB service everywhere.
In our “new normal” world, one could argue that broadband is no longer a luxury, subject to the cartel-like whims of a single local provider. Instead, higher education should reframe the discussion of whether high speed internet should be treated as a utility. Could we find anyone today who wouldn’t agree the internet is essential to our daily lives?