With so much of our activity and interaction being digital, the Internet is now a utility nearly as critical to daily functioning as heat or water. Inequitable access to broadband Internet access became quickly apparent during the pandemic lock down when kids lacked access to virtual school and adults were unable to complete work from their homes. Increasing broadband access is a key part of the bipartisan infrastructure law and is also supported by the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. This funding is a huge step in rolling out broadband access nationwide, but there are many questions that need to be addressed to truly close the digital divide.
Where: Defining the Need
To effectively provide broadband, the government has to know where exactly it is needed. The Federal Communications Commission's broadband fabric map shows where fixed broadband access could be installed and has recently added more than one million new locations as well as removed over 1 million that were found to be mapped to structures such as garages and sheds. Being able to differentiate if an address is a residential or commercial building, a large property housing multiple families, or simply a storage shed is critical to ensuring that new broadband access is provided where it is actually needed. Agencies are working to combine this type of contextual data with the address mapping data to better plan broadband roll outs.
Who: Skilled Technical Professionals Needed
The Government Accountability Office issued a report highlighting the concern that companies will have trouble meeting the demand for thousands of additional telecommunications workers needed to install and manage new broadband networks. Rural areas that need the most support from broadband workers may be the most challenged in finding qualified candidates.
To close the talent gap, companies and agencies can begin working with high schools, colleges, technical schools, and industry partners to recruit and train new broadband engineers and technicians. In Louisiana, the state broadband office has worked with community and technical colleges to ensure each school has some type of broadband network infrastructure class and curriculum in place.
How: Access Does Not Equal Use
Actually, running broadband cable is only a first step. To close the equity gap, the government needs to ensure the access they are building will actually be used. While the bulk of investment is spent on physical infrastructure, communities now see that funding also has to go towards encouraging adoption by building digital skills and offering subsidies on monthly bills for those who cannot afford available access. For example, lower income households may not qualify for government programs but cannot afford the tools to take advantage of broadband. The Affordable Connectivity Program looks to address that gap, offering up to a $30 a month subsidy for eligible households to spend on internet service.
What: Once Installed, How is it Managed
There are several models for deploying and managing broadband service. Open access networks lease fiber to internet service providers who then have to compete for customers providing more affordable access fees. This model with built-in competition among providers has succeeded in driving down costs and increasing speeds for users in several cities. Another deployment option is using anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries to supply broadband to the surrounding communities. This model has proven not to be as costly as originally thought with low design, building and maintenance expenses.
- INTERFACE Phoenix 2023 (June 15, 2023; Scottsdale, AZ) - Developed in collaboration with IT associations and regional advisory councils comprised of CIOs, CISOs, VPs, and Directors involved in IT, this event provides IT professionals with the latest insights and thought leadership in the many fields of today's trending technologies. Other cities and dates found here.
- Mountain Connect (August 7-9, 2023; Denver, CO) - To successfully realize the goals of BEAD, we must find a way to collaborate. This event primarily serves Tier 3 and below communities, counties, school districts, healthcare, Telcos, WISPs, Utilities, and Cable Operators organizations.
- Fiber Connect 2023 (August 20-23, 2023; Orlando, FL) - The event will feature executives from a broad scope of industry sectors -- commercial network operators, mobile network operators, electric cooperatives, municipalities, digital infrastructure asset owners and developers, investors, technology suppliers, enterprises, and more.
- Federal Broadband Data Sources: Frequently Asked Questions (white paper) - This report provides an overview of select federal broadband data sources and answers frequently asked congressional questions concerning these sources. The answers to frequently asked questions include links to available funding sources, service maps, provider speeds and technologies, and guidance resources.
- FCC's National Broadband Map: Implications for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program (white paper) - This paper provides a quick overview of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) broadband mapping activities. It discusses the FCC's recently released National Broadband Map and its implications for the BEAD program, established to provide broadband service to unserved areas.