Ensuring Broadband for All

Ensuring broadband access for all citizens has been a key government focus, particularly since the pandemic accelerated the move to digital-first services. No longer a nice-to-have service, high-speed internet access is critical for education, healthcare, and access to government services. Ensuring this access means building out the infrastructure from urban centers to the most rural spots of the country and making access to broadband service affordable.

Broadband as a Utility

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working to restore net neutrality policies that were canceled in 2017. These policies prohibit internet service providers (ISP) from throttling speeds to accelerate or degrade the delivery of online content. This practice can impact how underserved communities receive broadband access, allowing, for example, ISPs to prioritize certain traffic in exchange for user or content provider payments. With net neutrality, internet access is treated as a utility, similar to water or electricity, with equal access.

The FCC has also redefined what qualifies as broadband, moving from the prior threshold of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for download speeds and three megabits per second for upload speeds to 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads.

To ensure broadband becomes as ubiquitous as electricity or water, there are several programs that aid in expansion and access.

Expanding Broadband Infrastructure

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program provides funding to expand high-speed internet access. The $42 billion in funds can be used for planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.

This federal-grant program funds partnerships among states or territories, communities, and stakeholders to build infrastructure where it is needed and to increase adoption of high-speed internet. Funding can be used for:

  • Planning for the deployment of high-speed Internet, including conducting research, collecting data, outreach, and training
  • Deploying or upgrading Internet in unserved or underserved areas or improving service to community anchor organizations
  • Installing Internet and Wi-Fi in multi-unit residential buildings
  • Adoption and digital equity programs
  • Workforce development programs and vocational training

Making Broadband Affordable

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was funded by the 2021 infrastructure law to offer eligible households a discount on their monthly internet bill. The program has supported 23 million people, providing up to $30 a month to use toward internet service fees. However, the program is set to conclude at the end of May 2024. With a funding bill working its way through Congress to continue the program through the end of the year, government officials are looking for ways to make this program a permanent option for low-income and underserved communities.

Nearly 60 million Americans qualify for the ACP. Half of the ACP recipients are military families, and around 1-in 5 are senior citizens, with 25% of ACP participants living in rural areas.

A bill has been introduced to incorporate ACP into the distribution of the Universal Service Fund (USF), a federal subsidy pool supported by monthly contributions from telecommunications companies that are passed on to consumers. USF is designed to encourage widespread, quality access at reasonable rates. Previously, it helped fund phone service, but now it is primarily focused on building out internet service.

Cities Taking Ownership

Beyond these federal programs, states and localities are also working to ensure equitable broadband access. In the last two years, at least 42 local governments have started their own internet service, offering a low-cost option for residents.

For example, Waterloo, Iowa, built a broadband service that can provide one gigabit per second service for $69.95 a month, which is about $30 cheaper than the lowest price in the area. It will also offer slower, 100 megabits per second service for $29.96.

Waterloo funded the project with $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act and Economic Development Administration funding. Revenue bonds will pay the additional $60 million for the project.

To learn more about how broadband is being made affordable and accessible, check out these resources:

  • Protecting Critical Infrastructure Requires Robust Partnerships (June 6, 2024; webcast) - This event will outline the role of partnerships between government and private industry to improve cybersecurity and resilience across our nation's networks.
  • Kentucky Digital Government Summit 2024 (June 11, 2024; Lexington, KY) - This event brings together technology-focused public-sector professionals with leading industry partners to connect on innovative approaches.
  • State of Technology - Texas Industry Forum 2024 (September 5, 2024; Austin, TX) - Hear from Center for Digital Government market analysts and key government leaders as they unveil their forecasts on future initiatives impacting IT across the state.
  • Sustain Affordable Connectivity by Ending Obsolete Broadband Programs (white paper) - Broadband is now a necessity for participation in the economy and society and a means of doing everything, from accessing health care to chatting with distant loved ones. With so much at stake, it is more important than ever to ensure that broadband funding helps those who need it and that the right programs are sustainable.
  • Federal Funding for Broadband Deployment: Agencies and Considerations for Congress (white paper) - The United States has not yet reached 100% broadband connectivity in all serviceable locations. Achieving 100% broadband connectivity across the United States has been a major congressional goal to close the digital divide, the gap between those Americans who have access to telecommunications and information technologies and those who do not.
  • Enabling Equity: Why Universal Broadband Access Rates Matter (white paper) - High rates of broadband adoption benefit all of society, yet those who stand to benefit the most are also least likely to be online. Pushing hard for near-universal connectivity is crucial if we want technology to help bridge, rather than widen, existing divides.

More insight into broadband development can be found on GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.

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