The Federal Communications Commission's top priority is closing the digital divide. In its latest inquiry into broadband deployment, the FCC asks how successful its efforts have been. Congress requires the FCC to determine each year if broadband is reaching all Americans in a timely fashion. For the past three years, the FCC's Republican majority, relying on its faulty data, has concluded that broadband is being deployed to all Americans on a reasonable and timely basis. Will it do so again?
“Broadband” is short-hand for an “always-on,” high-speed internet connection provided by a company or other entity known as an “internet service provider” (ISP). We say “always-on” to differentiate contemporary internet connections from the dial-up era of the 1990s, when a user had to dial a telephone number through their computer to connect. Today, the internet comes to us uninterrupted and we cannot get “booted off” if someone lifts up a phone receiver. We say “high-speed” connection because not all internet connections are technically broadband (see below for more on this point).
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the General Assembly is considering Gov. Northam’s request to increase funding to bring better broadband to all Virginians. Such support is important, as students stay home and learn, adults stay home and work, and seniors stay home even as they visit their doctor. Funding for broadband would be an important step — and a wake-up call to the federal government. Virginia’s broadband challenges are multifaceted. In rural areas, nearly a third of households have no access to broadband.
As federal COVID-19 relief is set to expire, Senate Republicans finally unveiled their "starting point" for negotiations between the Senate, the House, and the Administration. Two weeks ago, we wondered if extending broadband's reach and connecting more Americans would be part of the mix. Now we have the answer. At a time when working and learning from home are so important to keeping people healthy, Senate Republicans propose doing nothing to get more of us connected online.
Thirty percent of all Americans live in multi-tenant environments (“MTEs”) like apartment buildings. Their annual income tends to be only about 54% of median homeowner income, so they are at greater risk of not being able to afford broadband. When apartment owners can profit by restricting tenants’ broadband options and reducing competition, it adds to our nation’s broadband affordability challenges.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to roll out a $1 trillion COVID-response bill as early as the week of July 20. There's no indication yet about whether broadband will be part of the package.
State of Illinois Announces $300,000 Public Private Investment to Support Community-Driven Broadband Plans
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband announced the first recipients of the Illinois Connected Communities grant program, created to assist some of the most underserved areas of the state with building broadband capacity. Through cross-sector collaboration, this new program directs $150,000 in state-funded small grants for 12 community and local government partners to lead the development of strategic plans to ensure access, adoption, and utilization of high-speed broadband in their communities.
We urge Congress to establish a broadband credit — call it America’s Broadband Credit — to ensure many more people can afford high-speed Internet access. Congress could set a household subsidy of $50 per month, which is roughly the cost of medium-tier broadband plans in urban settings (and it could provide a higher subsidy for tribal lands). That subsidy would allow anyone and any device in the household to be connected to the Internet, simultaneously, which is how so many families today are operating.
Perhaps there’s no better day to contemplate the critical connection between communications and equity than Juneteenth. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were deprived news of their freedom for over two and a half years. In our time when information travels at the speed of the internet, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could be denied information so vital to their well-being for so long.
Broadband competition is more important than ever because – in these crises and beyond – America has fast-forwarded into its broadband future. But broadband competition is limited: At a typical broadband speed of 100/10 Mbps, at least 80% of Americans face either a monopoly (no choice) or a duopoly (only one choice) for fixed service. It’s worse in rural America, where monopoly is even more prevalent. The impact is obvious: higher prices, lower quality and/or slowed innovation limiting the ability of people to participate fully in society and the economy.