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.
Broadband billing struggles are a symptom of a larger issue. Policy experts point to a lack of competition among broadband providers, which has led to higher prices, lower quality and unequal access. President Biden issued an executive order that calls for new protections for broadband subscribers.
Fibre to the countryside: A comparison of public and community initiatives tackling the rural digital divide in the UK
Although digitisation offers numerous opportunities for rural areas, they still lag behind cities in terms of access and adoption of Internet-based services. This divide is the result of multiple market failures in both the demand and supply of broadband access, which have been addressed through public, private and community-led initiatives. Based on interviews and ethnographic analysis, this paper explores how community networks and public-private partnerships have contributed to promoting the delivery and adoption of superfast broadband across the rural UK.
Federal action is making significant new resources available to states and localities for broadband programs. The magnitude of this funding enables cities of all sizes to consider bold investments in broadband infrastructure. Where private internet service providers (ISPs) failed to provide adequate service, cities often turn to municipal fiber to the premises (FTTP) models. With the government becoming both infrastructure owner and service provider, these approaches enable municipalities to design networks that serve their residents and achieve policy objectives.
Internet connectivity in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is downright medieval by modern telecommunication standards. With the exception of a handful of homes in more densely populated communities, the only choice for most folks living in the rural environs of the Northeast Kingdom is between DSL and satellite. That’s all changing now thanks to one of the state’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD), enabled by a 2015 Vermont law that allows two or more towns to join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure.