How did the birthplace of the internet become a nation where broadband is unavailable to large chunks of the population, keeping students from taking part fully in modern education and their parents from taking advantage of the modern economy? Big investments have been made in the internet in the U.S., but not uniformly or with an eye to expanding connectivity as far as possible. It’s not a task that private industry cares to take on, nor is it one that the public sector can solve on its own—not in a country with such a strident free-market ethos.
From where I stand, changing direction on Connexion now would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The biggest problem with Connexion, the city of Fort Collins' (CO) broadband service, is that the deployment wasn't further along before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Demand for Connexion has risen dramatically since COVID. With demand comes revenue with a short delay while they hook folks up.
We use a county-level panel dataset from 2012 to 2018 to assess the impacts of various state policies on total and rural broadband availability in the US. The primary dependent variable is the percentage of residents with access to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds via a fixed connection, with alternative specifications considering other aspects of availability such as technology type and competition. We control for the main determinants of Internet availability such as income, education, age, and population density.
Fifteen Mississippi rural electric cooperatives have won a combined total of $65 million in rural broadband funding through the CARES Act passed earlier in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The money came indirectly through the state, which carved out $75 million for rural broadband from a larger pool of funding it received through the act. The rural electric cooperatives must spend the funding they were awarded before the end of the year and must invest an additional $65 million of their own in the broadband projects.
The most likely scenario for success is the addition of broadband service to an existing electric or telephone cooperative’s portfolio. In this case, an entity with experience in running a customer-facing operation and network for decades simply expands its service. The cooperatives are already serving mostly rural customers and do not crowd out for-profit cable and telecom providers. The Federal Communications Commission has recognized this and has explicitly included electric cooperatives in the Connect America Fund II initiative.
Hamilton County Schools (HCS) is joining with EPB of Chattanooga (TN) and other community partners to ensure all students can access the internet for online learning as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Made possible by support from local private and public partners and by having a community-wide fiber optic network in place, HCS EdConnect powered by EPB is a new initiative that will provide internet services to about 28,500 economically challenged students in Hamilton County Schools in the greater Chattanooga area—at no charge to the family.
Municipal Broadband has been a major failure as far as costs to taxpayers without increasing the number of homes that have access or increase internet adoption in non-users. Our panel will go over the evidence and then talk about strategies that might actually work to connect the unconnected.
Advocates for municipal broadband are, if anything, persistent.
In comments submitted to the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee as they develop their party platforms for 2020, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) made recommendations on the following:
A description of five viable models for municipally enabled broadband. Eight percent of US markets are “well served” with broadband are “municipally enabled.” The other 92% of well-served municipalities get broadband from private service providers. Moving forward, however, public and hybrid networks may be a viable alternative for bringing broadband to communities that are not well served, researchers said. The researchers estimate that there are 6,500 such communities nationwide. The five models for municipally enabled broadband: