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.
So long as our local, state, and federal governments do not prioritize delivering future-proofed infrastructure to all people, our ability to make full use of the 21st century Internet will be limited. What the Internet becomes in the mid-to-late 21st century will not be an American story, unless we aggressively course-correct our infrastructure policies soon.
In Dec 2019, I spoke to the members of Gov Roy Cooper’s (D-NC) broadband task force and noted how, from the viewpoint of anyone looking objectively at the issue of broadband access, the public-private partnership model advocated by the NC League of Municipalities (NCLM) is a “no-brainer.” Obviously, a lot has happened in the world since then.
The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, is planning a $750,000 project to connect fiber optic cable to town-owned properties so its staff can have broadband internet access at work. The town has such access now but will have to start paying $45,000 a year to Charter Communications to continue using the company’s fiber network infrastructure because of an expiring agreement that has allowed the town to use the fiber at no cost beyond what it pays its internet service providers. The town pays currently approximately $4,500 per year for internet access.
Kamala Harris should be the de facto secretary of rural development, in charge of closing the connectivity gap
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is too smart and energetic to be just the vice president, a position with few official responsibilities.
The Mesa, Arizona community is taking major steps to bridge the digital divide for residents across their community. Although Arizona has begun to see a decline in their COVID-19 cases, the municipal government, school district, and community leaders continue to take decisive action to ensure that every household has access to technology and the internet for as long as stay at home orders remain in place. Mesa’s specific focus on their student population is a method adopted by many communities across the country.
In 2008, Wilson (NC) began building a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network called Greenlight. Access to high-speed, reliable, affordable Internet connections has helped the community cope with the public health crisis while continuing to bring a host of other benefits. Over the last 12 years, the Greenlight network has given the city claim to the best broadband anywhere in North Carolina.