America’s Broadband Policy Update: The Good, The Bad, And The Optimistic (Best of 2020)

WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY. In 2011, those of us fighting for rural broadband were stunned when North Carolina blocked municipalities from deploying their own networks. It seemed that the “municipal broadband movement” was going to suffer a devastating loss to large broadband companies and their lobbyists.

Fast forward to February 2015, when the FCC preempted some states, allowing municipally-sponsored broadband projects to move forward.

While the FCC ruling was aimed at systems in Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC, the bell could not be unrung. Many communities across the U.S. now believe that municipalities are better positioned to deliver broadband to their citizens on their own terms.

Along those lines, a recent report by the Broadband Opportunity Council, primarily headed by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, made a number of recommendations regarding the billions of dollars that are being pumped into rural broadband.

According to Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, the report leaned on four key points of action:

  1. Modernize Federal programs to expand support for broadband investments. A good example can be found in the USDA Communities Facilities program, which at this writing did not allow for broadband investment as one of its identified program targets.

  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use. Most decisions for broadband deployment by communities is made at the local level, by local governments and many times via public/private partnerships. This point of action comes with specific recommendations to help federal agencies and Native American leaders address regulatory alignment issues between federal and tribal land. One of the most critical aspects of this point of action is titled “Develop Best Practices and Provide Technical Assistance.” Siloed government agencies don’t always coordinate well, and so cannot streamline resource deployments. The report suggests a “one-stop portal to access information about Federal broadband programs,” which would include best practices, technical assistance briefs, and Agency and program points-of-contact.

  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets. “Agencies will streamline processes and promote interagency coordination to lower barriers to investment … and Agencies will create an accessible open inventory of Federal assets that can support broadband and expanding access to those assets.”

  4. Improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband. The report calls for a national research agenda, which should improve the efficiency of program dollars over the present condition, wherein states have little guidance for how federal dollars are spent beyond mapping broadband data.

Importantly, the report also calls for the compilation and creation of national data on broadband in schools. Many states attempt to collect this data, yet based on this author’s observation, baseline data are not meaningful enough to determine how well our schools are delivering 21st century tools to students from state to state, or even within states, from district to district.

All in all, the report seems very comprehensive. Its tone seems to indicate that the importance of affording communities and citizens more flexibility in determining their own broadband outcomes is understood, and delivers much-needed support to create successful outcomes. The Broadband Opportunity Council report (PDF). |||||


Liz Zucco is the founder and President of MarketSys USA, Inc., which specializes in funding strategies for capital-intensive rural enterprises, from schools and libraries to broadband buildouts. Liz Zucco is a member of the Transmit Network. Contact Ms. Zucco.