The following article is
a collaborative effort between Tilson Technology (www.tilsontech.com) and Camoin Associates (www.camoinassociates.com).
Broadband, or high-speed internet access, has been getting a
lot of media attention lately. Recently President Obama stated that “high speed
internet is a not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Governor Cuomo proposed a $1
billion “New NY Broadband Program.” Tom Wheeler, Chair of the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) and a former cable lobbyist, has advocated striking
down laws that protect incumbent broadband providers’ markets.
Why all the buzz? Better broadband—defined here as faster
speeds, higher adoption rates, lower prices, and more reliability than the
status quo for the roughly 45% of Americans called out by Obama—is a powerful
economic development tool. It is linked to business growth, improved
educational opportunities, better consumer welfare, improved healthcare access,
improved government services, innovation, entrepreneurship, and more!
If you’re reading this article from a broadband connection,
you’ve likely experienced the benefits of broadband that are not available to
many rural Americans. Perhaps you’ve shared a file with a co-worker, taken an
online course, Skyped with a family member, looked at the results of your
recent bloodwork at the doctor’s office, or registered your motor vehicle
online. The possibilities are growing exponentially, and are virtually endless.
For some. The digital divide is splitting the broadband haves and have-nots
along geographic lines that are shaping the course of economic development and—more
importantly—quality of life.
Key findings from the FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report
include a new broadband benchmark of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads,
and 3 Mbps for uploads. Speeds meeting the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark are
available to 92% of urban Americans, but only 47% of rural Americans. Nonetheless,
Americans living in rural and urban areas adopt the new benchmark broadband
speeds, when available, at similar rates (see below).
The FCC, members of Congress, the President, and the
Governor of New York have a common theme to their broadband message: they want
to stimulate competition in broadband, and they are looking for innovative ways
to enable coverage in rural areas that have to date been underserved by the Universal
Service Fund program. In 2014, the FCC announced $100 million of funding for
Rural Broadband Experiments as part of its Connect America initiative. More
recently, the agency is considering a draft decision to intervene against state
Laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limit internet access operated and
sold by cities. In New York, Andrew Cuomo is proposing to use $500 million from
the state’s bank settlements to provide a one-to-one match for providers
improving service in underserved areas on the state. The current method of
expanding broadband service—whereby incumbent providers of regulated phone and
TV provide add-on internet access service—is on the cusp of change.
In Maine, the municipalities of Islesboro, Ellsworth,
Sanford, and Rockport are developing solutions that employ public-private
partnerships to expand broadband in their underserved markets. Their solutions
range from issuing a bond to fund a fiber-to-the-home network to using grant
money to build key infrastructure that will enable future private broadband
Because of the critical role of broadband on the economy as
well as on community and individual well-being, it is imperative that economic
and community developers understand these recent trends and begin taking
action. Now is the time to begin actively working with partners to prepare and
implement strategies that support the continued development of infrastructure,
policies, and practices that will increase broadband access and adoption. Actions
community leaders can take include:
Plan: Develop broadband plans, within or related to economic and community
development plans, that address issues around infrastructure, organization,
supply, demand, and adoption.
Implementation Network: Develop and support learning and implementing
networks, partnerships, or collaboratives for "strategic doing" among
economic and community development, education, business, social services and
healthcare, and cultural communities.
Cultural Change: Focus not only on technical, infrastructure, and funding
issues but also around fostering a digital culture that supports innovation,
entrepreneurship, and improved quality of life.
Our own interdisciplinary collaborative of Camoin
Associates, Tilson Technology, and others will be digging deeper into these
issues in the coming months and reporting on our findings. If this topic is pertinent
to your community, we invite you to join the discussion by checking for updates
on Camoin’s blog, joining
our mailing list specific to this topic (click
here), or reaching out to one of us directly with questions or suggestions
for future articles:
Jim Damicis, Senior
Phone: (207) 831-1061
Aaron Paul, Director
Energy and Broadband Consulting
Phone: (207) 837-2571