This is the third in a series of articles looking at which providers are opting to offer services supported by the Affordable Connectivity Program. Here, Benton looks at the offerings of the largest wireless companies in the United States. According to wireless trade association CTIA, all three national providers and numerous regional providers support the Affordable Connectivity program—representing approximately 95% of existing wireless subscriptions and covering more than 99% of all Americans.
This is a historic time for broadband investment. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the high costs of being offline. In response, Congress, over the past year, passed two laws—the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan—with an unprecedented amount of funding devoted to promoting digital equity. Communities should be engaged now to help craft long-term connectivity goals and ensure that diverse voices are part of the discussion—and that’s our job.
One might think this is the moment for community broadband networks. The truth is, locally-directed networks have been serving their communities for a long, long time. In discussing his administration’s plans for broadband, President Joe Biden noted that municipal and cooperative networks should be favored because these providers face less pressure to turn profits and are more committed to serving entire communities.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, lobbyists have long claimed that U.S. broadband is extremely competitive and incredibly affordable.
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).
The purpose of Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s is to collect, combine, and contribute to a national broadband agenda for the next decade, enlisting the voices of broadband leaders in an ongoing discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere. 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 of policy:
Building new broadband infrastructure is a big investment for any municipality. While the cost of that investment shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s equally important to consider the significant cost savings that can be reaped with publicly owned infrastructure. Many cities have slashed the cost of connecting their schools to broadband by opting to build their own infrastructure, instead of continuing to pay a private provider for connections. Portland (OR), for example, had been paying an incumbent provider $1,310 per month for 10 Mbps connections to schools.
It's easy to say all Americans should be able to use the Internet in the 21st century, which is probably why several leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have done just that. It’s much harder to say how to get there. Almost everyone, even on both sides of the aisle in Congress, seems able to agree on the need to fix the maps first. That’s because the Federal Communications Commission relies on coverage reports from industry, and carriers have incentive to exaggerate their reach.
Southport (ME) voters have estimates on how much it will cost to build their own broadband network or connect underserved residents. They do not know exactly how much has been spent to rally opposition against it. It is an example of how big-campaign tactics are coming to smaller communities that are looking to develop their own broadband systems. The archipelago town of just 600 people off Boothbay Harbor (ME) has seen mailers and digital ads linked to the incumbent internet provider and allies. Spending on the issue does not have to be disclosed because of a campaign finance loophole.
Several new items of legislation to create Summit Connects, a high-speed broadband public safety network, were introduced at the June 13 Summit County (OH) Council meeting. According to county officials, the network will initially consist of a 125-mile fiber optic cable ring connecting Summit County and its 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit-speed internet service and a data center to be operated by the City of Fairlawn.