- Policy Resources
- News & Analysis
- Your State
Fabiola Carrion on July 23, 2010 - 1:49pm
Broadband – high-speed Internet – has redefined the way we work, communicate, and unite; it has also become a galvanizing political tool, with the proven potential to unite progressives across the nation. Combined with investments in local technology and in digital inclusion programs that are needed to prepare today’s workers, states can incorporate technological advancement as a key part of a progressive economic growth agenda.
High-speed Internet has been one of the most transformative communication technologies in human history; it is just as important as other traditional public goods or infrastructure investments. Broadband applications are essential for our economic, cultural, and social survival. With universal and affordable high-speed Internet, states can leverage technology as an economic development tool and a means of providing better healthcare services, smarter environmental policies, and greater educational opportunities. As this packet will demonstrate, promoting increased access to and adoption of high-speed Internet accompanied by a digital inclusion strategy, will not only provide many societal benefits, but can unite economic development experts, healthcare advocates, environmentalists, labor unions, and educators.
With the U.S. now ranked 17th in global use of broadband and information technology, 100 million of adults in this country are not subscribed to broadband services at home. In fact, according to a Census Bureau Survey cited by the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA), this number represents more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. A closer look at the numbers reveals that access and use of the Internet is heavily weighted toward the upper echelons of society. Certain demographics have effectively been left out of the digital renaissance and these disparities have persisted over time. Several studies, including one recently published by the NTIA, conclude that geography, income, ethnicity, education, and age impact high-speed Internet adoption.
- Geographic Divide: Americans in rural areas tend to have lower broadband adoption rates than urban and sub-urban residents. Only 37.6 percent of rural households report having high-speed Internet at home.
- Economic Divide: Only 40 percent of homes with less than $20,000 in annual income have high-speed Internet, while 70 percent of households earning more than $50,000 per year are connected. See Figure 2 of NTIA Report
- Racial / Ethnical Divide: High-speed Internet adoption varies depending on race. Sixty-six percent of non-Latino whites have high-speed Internet access at home, in contrast to the 39.7 percent of Latinos, 42.6 percent of American Indians, and 45.9 percent of African Americans who use broadband at home. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies observes that while adoption rates among minority populations have increased, these groups are overrepresented as new Internet users and underrepresented as experienced Internet users. See Figure 4 of NTIA Report
States need to create policies to promote access to and utilization of high-speed Internet and related applications. Technology is our greatest partner and asset as we work to conquer the challenges that threaten our future. Universal affordable high-speed Internet:
- Can help rejuvenate a lagging economy: Spurs economic development, increases economic equality, and increases job opportunities.
- Enhances educational opportunities: Digital literacy skills are primordial to prepare the workforce of the 21st century.
- Provides more accessible healthcare: Supports the merging of technology and basic services to provide increased accessibility and for certain residents, better quality in areas such as healthcare, e-government, and education.
- Can be leveraged to reduce our carbon footprint and energy use: Permits more efficient energy management and can be an essential component of many environmentally friendly policies.
- Maximizes participation in a democratic system: High-speed Internet allows for a more participatory and efficient democratic system. Individuals with broadband find it easier to research candidates and can review local and state hearings and agency meetings.
The key to advancing the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet in the states is to promote universal, affordable high-speed Internet, fund digital inclusion programs, educate leaders as and the public on how to utilize high-speed Internet for economic and social benefits, as well as support local investment in technology based growth.
- Universal Access to Broadband: Increasing the infrastructure of broadband networks stimulates investment and economic growth throughout the country. State legislation should encourage the development of last-mile and middle-mile networks for un-served and under-served populations wherever possible. The first step states need to take to provide affordable high-speed Internet for all is to determine, through mapping efforts, where high-speed Internet access is lacking.
- Affordable High-Speed Internet Policies: To compete in a global market and to ensure equity of services to all Americans, states should promote universal affordable high-speed Internet. Without universal and affordable Broadband, a state’s ability to leverage technology as an economic development tool and a means of providing better healthcare services, smarter environmental policies and greater educational opportunities, is severely limited.
- Increasing Technology Fluency Equalizes Opportunities: In every state, a divide exists between those who have access to high-speed Internet and those who do not. The digital divide, however, is not only a function of limited access, but also lacking the necessary technology literacy skills to function in our 21st century digital world. Increasingly, jobs in both the service and manufacturing sectors, in particular higher paying jobs, require digital skills. Combating the digital divide is a key component to shrinking the growing economic inequality in this country. Hence, states must complement high-speed Internet deployment by supporting digital education programs, funding community technology centers, and establishing computer disbursement programs. Such programs help to ensure that residents of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages understand how to be producers for as well as consumers of this 21st century economy.
- High-Speed Internet Revitalizes the Economy and Promotes Better Healthcare, Environmental Policies, and Educational Opportunities: High-speed Internet infrastructure is essential to the rejuvenation and sustainability of states. Universal and affordable high-speed Internet enables states to utilize technology to provide better access to healthcare, promote energy efficient and environmentally friendly policies, and provide increased educational opportunities to all. For example, the utilization of telehealth technology has the potential to deliver huge cost savings to America's health care system---over $300 billion annually. And this is just one sliver of the savings pie. It is estimated that widespread adoption of high-speed Internet will add $134 billion to the U.S. economy annually and create 1.2 million new jobs per year.
- Local Investments for Technology-Based Growth: State governments manage trillions of dollars in financial assets. This money can be a key tool to promote technology innovation and economic equity. Linking state-controlled financial capital with university innovation and local entrepreneurial energy initiatives can not only jumpstart job creation that will accompany high-speed Internet deployment, but also be used to revitalize economically abandoned communities most in need of jobs.
The benefits of high-speed Internet, laid out in this packet, are clear and overwhelming. Yet, to achieve wide-spread adoption of high-speed Internet, resources must be provided from public funds or public/private partnerships. As telecommunication providers are not fully delivering these benefits, state leaders need to leverage funding as a means to bring build-out to under-served and un-served areas, provide affordable access for low-income families, and to establish regulatory oversight to protect consumer rights. Further, state leaders need to make sure that all of their residents are provided with both the digital skills and capital investments needed to take full advantage of this new communication technology.
Federal Communications Commission – The National Broadband Plan
U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Association – Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Toward Universal Broadband Internet Access
US Telecom – Connected Health
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies – National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance, and Use
Public Policy Institute of California - Does Broadband Boost Local Economic Development?
The Brookings Institution - The Effects of Broadband Deployment on Output and Employment: A Cross-sectional Analysis of U.S. Data
Federal Support and State Action
The federal government dedicated $7.2 billion of the 2009 stimulus bill to broadband infrastructure and adoption proposals. States immediately jumped at the opportunity to provide broadband to un-served and under-served communities through initiatives in mapping, deployment, digital inclusion, and by setting a general regulatory framework that will facilitate a speedy and efficient implementation of ARRA-funded broadband projects. Another critical step was taken by the Federal Communications Commission, who, through its National Broadband Plan, set out its vision to provide affordable broadband services to 100 million American households.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The federal government has finally taken bold action to address the need for universal broadband access by apportioning $7.2 billion to broadband initiatives through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is charged with distributing almost $5 billion in grants to deploy broadband infrastructure through its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Funding worth $250 million has also been aside to encourage sustainable broadband adoption and an additional $200 million in grants are directed towards the expansion of public computer centers. Also, $350 million has been apportioned to support the Broadband Data Improvement Act‘s initiatives on broadband inventory mapping and community centers.
The Department of Agriculture, through its Rural Utilities Services' (RUS) Broadband Initiative Program, will also distribute a total of $2.5 billion. NTIA funds are distributed through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to increase broadband access. RUS loans and grants are mostly directed to the deployment of broadband networks in rural areas have insufficient access to high-speed broadband to facilitate rural economic development.
As part of the recent funding round, the NTIA has approved several mapping initiatives. For example, the state of Iowa received a $2.2 million grant for Internet mapping and planning. Other states and territories that have benefited from the NTIA's broadband mapping and data collection grants include Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and Tennessee. For its part, RUS approved projects to deploy broadband in rural communities; for instance, Alabama received a $3.8 million grant to provide high speed DSL broadband service to its rural territory.
State legislators are setting the regulatory framework that will facilitate a speedy and efficient implementation of ARRA-funded broadband projects.
- Oregon enacted two bills to accelerate funding for broadband networks and for digital inclusion and adoption policies. HB 2168 established a state goal to support the rapid deployment of broadband telecommunications services in areas where the services do not exist. A subsequent law, HB 3158, created the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council (OBAC) and the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council Fund to implement these goals and designate representatives from the education, health care, public safety, telecommunications, and government sectors to report on the affordability and accessibility of broadband and the extent of broadband technology use in energy management, education, government, and the telehealth industries.
- With support of federal funds, Massachusetts' HB 4158 authorizes the Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation to develop, lease, or otherwise acquire conduit, fiber, towers, and other personal property related to broadband infrastructure.
- Tennessee's SB 2355 expands rural broadband connectivity in the state with rural assistance grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
- Washington's HB 1701 authorized the Department of Information Services to use federal grants to target and deploy broadband services.
The National Broadband Plan
Pursuant to a 2008 Congressional mandate, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled its National Broadband Plan, setting forth recommendations for itself, the U.S. Congress, and state leaders in order to achieve broadband access, adoption, and utilization.
On the basic issue of expanded access to broadband, the FCC suggested:
- Congress should make clear that tribal, state, regional, and local government can build broadband networks (Recommendation 8.19): As private investors do not always have the economic incentives to deploy broadband in rural and underserved communities, local leaders should be allowed to step in to provide affordable broadband services that will meet their constituencies’ needs.
- Federal and state policies should facilitate demand aggregation and use of state, regional, and local networks when that is the most cost-efficient solution for anchor institutions to meet their connectivity needs (Recommendation 8.20): Pooling demand among institutions can provide more access to a wider constituency at lower prices.
- State legislators are essential partners in developing the framework that will help anchor institutions to obtain broadband connectivity, training, applications, and services (Recommendation 8.22): States should complement broadband deployment with digital educational programs and fund community technology centers to ensure that residents of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages understand how to be producers to, and consumers of, this new media economy.
- When feasible, Congress should consider allowing state and local governments to get lower service prices by participating in federal contracts for advanced communications services (Recommendation 14.2): The Plan provides additional recommendations for the inclusion of tribal leaders in broadband programs, construction of new networks in areas that are currently un-served, and the establishment of the Connect America Fund to address the broadband availability gap in un-served areas.
The National Broadband Plan’s recommendations also focused on helping states make broadband more affordable and increasing the training needed to encourage adoption, including:
- An expansion of the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America programs: Where states have these discounts already in place, such as Vermont, the FCC recommends letting them determine their own eligibility requirements.
- The creation of a National Digital Literacy Program to increase the skills needed to participate in the digital economy.
- The creation of more comprehensive and reliable information on broadband pricing, performance, and competition in specific market segments to better inform policymakers on affordability problems in specific communities.
A full chapter of the National Broadband Plan was dedicated towards discussing the ways broadband and smart grid technologies will develop a green economy by restructuring our energy use. Specifically, the FCC recommended that:
- States should support smart grid applications (Recommendation 12.2) and require electric utilities to provide consumers access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical consumption, price, and bill data over the Internet (Recommendation 12.7): Consumers should be given access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart technologies and historical consumption, price and bill data over the Internet.
In concurrence with the findings and recommendations of the National Broadband Plan, states play a critical role in the promotion of universal and affordable high-speed Internet, funding of digital inclusion programs so that the public can utilize broadband for economic and social benefits and to support local investment in technology-based growth that is environmentally conscious.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration
The Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Services
Federal Communications Commission – The National Broadband Plan
Vermont Department of Public Service – Link Up & Lifeline
Promoting Universal High-Speed Internet
It is undeniable that our country’s economic well-being is largely dependent on our access to information through telecommunications. The rise of more advanced Internet technologies has increased the demand for infrastructure far beyond what we previously needed. The challenge that we face is how to get universal affordable high-speed Internet deployed, especially to under-served and un-served areas.
In order to achieve universal and affordable high-speed Internet, states must implement intertwining policies that increase access to, and adoption of high-speed Internet. States need to identify where access to high-speed Internet currently exists, develop deployment strategies to increase affordable high-speed Internet access and adoption in under-served and un-served areas, and develop policies that ensure community and consumer protections in infrastructure build-out.
Core Universal and Affordable High-Speed Internet Policies:
The Creation of Broadband Councils or Task Forces
In order to assess the needs of each state, broadband councils or task forces should be created to identify access problems, formulate policy solutions, mobilize support, and build private-public partnerships to spur deployment and adoption. More than 21 states have created task forces or councils that have led the way in broadband initiatives. As policy makers introduce broadband legislation, they should have access to reliable data on access, speed, quality, as well as information on their broadband providers and the areas that these cover.
State legislators should consider creating a broadband strategy council that is focused on increasing access and adoption of affordable broadband, especially to un-served and under-served populations. This entity should be charged with developing a strategy to leverage broadband technology across various sectors - like government, healthcare, energy management, workforce development, and education - in order to create efficiencies, save money, increase transparency, and provide better services and increased opportunities to its citizens.
Broadband Councils should be charged with the following obligations:
- Develop a statewide strategic approach to broadband deployment: Work with various state leaders - such as the heads of the transportation, commerce, work-force development, health care and energy agencies - to ensure that broadband deployment is done efficiently and coordinated with other long-term state goals.
- Include a diverse membership representing various stakeholders, broadband policy experts, government and agency leaders who are able to develop a "big picture" build-out and adoption strategy that provides increased access to affordable broadband and protects the public interest, especially to un-served and under-served areas and populations.
- Establish clear deployment and adoption goals and accountability metrics: Determine the type of infrastructure available to residents, set minimum connectivity speeds fast enough to support advanced applications and address barriers to adoption.
- Provide a forum for public/private collaboration: Allow state agencies to work with privately owned providers to expand services in under-served and un-served areas.
- Meet federal requirements for matching grant and other funding opportunities: State broadband deployment councils should have the power to apply for federal grants that will assist in broadband build-out.
- The Maryland Task Force for the Deployment of Broadband in Rural Maryland was created to identify best state practices to expand broadband communications to rural communities. The Task Force considered resources, infrastructure, and cost structures available in Maryland's rural regions to develop or access broadband communications. To establish and enhance broadband communications in the state's rural areas, the task force developed proposals and made recommendations to meet predetermined goals for deployment of effective broadband communications. The task force recommended legislation, budget provisions or amendments, and changes in the state’s procurement policy.
- In Oregon, HB 3158 established the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council (OBAC) and the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council Fund to encourage and support the deployment of broadband telecommunications services and reduce barriers to broadband adoption, especially within un-served and under-served populations. The Advisory Council is composed of representatives from the education, health care, public safety, telecommunications, and government sectors to report on the affordability and accessibility of broadband and the extent of broadband technology use in energy management, education, government, and telehealth industries.
- In Rhode Island, H.B. 5396 created a broadband strategy council to study and recommend the adoption of high-speed Internet services and technology. This law emphasizes that digital inclusion initiatives should be established as long term components of a community's offerings to its citizens and an ever-present vehicle to help Rhode Island meet a variety of economic, health care, environmental, and educational goals.
- Virginia, through SB 1456, HB 2201, and SB 236, created the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority (IEIA) to monitor trends in the availability and deployment of, and access to, broadband communications services with its Chief Information Officer developing a comprehensive strategic plan to identify the unmet needs for access to technology.
National Conference of State Legislatures - State Broadband Task Forces, Commissions or Authorities and Other Broadband Resources
Map High-Speed Internet Infrastructure
A major digital divide exists between those who have access to high-speed Internet and those who lack access and/or the capability to use high-speed Internet. Too many Americans, especially those in rural areas or low-income households do not have any Internet access, let alone high-speed Internet access. Mapping high-speed Internet availability and adoption, and making that information accessible to the public is an important tool for legislators and local planning groups who wish to evaluate the current status of their states’ high-speed Internet infrastructure and utilization. Such information is key when determining where to dedicate future resources when developing deployment strategies.
The following information should be collected when mapping broadband infrastructure:
- Map high-speed Internet availability: Distinguish between different speed tier offerings, pricing information, and different service providers.
- Collect data that can be utilized to address adoption and digital divide issues: Data is more helpful if collected at the census block because it becomes easier to overlay high-speed Internet access with other census demographic information. Additionally, it is important to collect information about not only who has access to high-speed Internet, but which demographics choose to purchase such services. This will make it easier to determine which households are currently priced out of the high-speed Internet market versus which residents are not educated on the benefits and necessity of high-speed Internet and therefore choose not to subscribe. Lastly, the data collected should be designed to facilitate local community planning groups.
- Data should not be proprietary: Data should be made available to the public, or at least a neutral third party, in order to alleviate private providers’ concerns about revealing trade secrets that could damage their businesses in front of their competitors.
- Distinguish between residential and commercial properties.
- Create an authentication system: Accurate data is critical to the development and execution of good policies. Legislators should require high-speed Internet service providers to file their underlying data with either a public utilities commission or a third party organization for authentication.
- Provide cultural training to data collectors: It is critical that data collectors are trusted by the community they seek to research.
In 2009, the Washington Legislature enacted HB 1701 to collect and map date on broadband access and adoption. The bill directs Washington’s Department of Information Services (DIS) to develop a map that demonstrates where broadband services are and are not currently available in Washington State and to work with other agencies to identify the communities most in need of new or additional broadband Internet services. The legislation permits DIS to:
- Develop an interactive web site to allow residents to self-report whether high-speed Internet is available at their residence and at what speed.
- Conduct a detailed survey of all high-speed Internet infrastructure owned or leased by state agencies and subsequently procure, through a competitive bidding process, a geographic information system map detailing high-speed Internet infrastructure, service availability, and adoption.
- Contract for and purchase a completed map from a third party or work directly with the Federal Communications Commission.
- Prepare regular reports that identify the geographic areas of greatest priority for the deployment of advanced telecommunications infrastructure and a detailed explanation of how federal funding for broadband mapping, deployment, or adoption will be or has been used.
The Washington mapping program paves the way for community leaders and lawmakers to develop more efficient high-speed Internet deployment strategies that focus on both increased availability and adoption.
Authenticating Data: State-based as well as national advocacy organizations have argued that companies should not be allowed to keep data collected from the public, as most states allow under the rubric of protecting “proprietary information.” Such as approach lacks transparency, leaves the public unable to verify the collected information, and public policy researchers unable to assess the maps’ accuracy.
California is the only state where underlying mapping data was authenticated and analyzed by a third party entity. By collecting data through a third-party agency, the California task force alleviated service providers’ concerns that any public release of their underlying high-speed Internet infrastructure data would be given as trade secrets to competitors negatively affecting their business.
State efforts should focus on mapping the data that complements or fills in the gaps of the map that will be created by the Federal Communications Commission. State-based maps should appear in websites that allow the public to access the data collected, use the federally collected data to develop deployment strategies, and work with service providers to establish a data authentication process.
Final Report of the California Broadband Task Force - State of Connectivity: Building Innovation Through Broadband
Public Knowledge - Maryland, My Maryland-- A New Broadband Approach
Promote Deployment of Broadband Networks
Once un-served areas are identified, affordable high-speed Internet needs to be deployed to those communities. Many states have created incentives to help encourage private sector investment in high-speed Internet infrastructure. These states typically employ matching grants to improve the financial feasibility for service providers to expand operations. Other states have issued direct funding for projects or research, including the creation of public sector entities that use federal and state funds to construct and lease high-speed Internet infrastructure.
As states consider deployment projects, the following steps should be considered to achieve universal access to broadband infrastructure:
- Establish state-level programs to subsidize broadband connections like broadband development funds that issue grants or loans.
- Support and reform the Universal Service Fund: The Universal Service Fund was created to provide telephone services to residents of rural and urban areas who could not normally afford these services. Thanks to the collection of minimal fees on phone lines, millions of American households can easily access a landline connection. The program was implemented by the federal government and states followed suit by creating similar efforts. Telecommunications services should be included in the federal and state funds to support high-speed competitive and technology neutral Internet connections, or to help subsidize households who cannot afford a high-speed Internet subscription.
- Texas enacted SB 640 to create a program that awards grants to a municipality, county, or agency of these to improve technology infrastructure. The grant is matched on a dollar-to-dollar basis with the grant recipient, who may secure funding from any source, including private donations.
- In 2010, Hawaii’s HB 2698 set out a goal to develop a more streamlined permit approval process that reduces the time and cost of infrastructure deployment.
- Maine’s HP 585: “The [Public Utilities] Commission may adopt rules to require a communications service provider that is providing broadband services within at least 50 percent of a municipality’s geographic area to expand its broadband services to all of the geographic area within that municipality.”
- Maine also created the ConnectME Authority to stimulate investment in broadband infrastructure in un-served and under-served areas. The legislation allows the authority to collect a tax of 0.25 percent of the revenue authority to, among other things, expand the availability of broadband to residential and small business customers in un-served and under-served areas. It can do so through partnerships, grants, direct investment, loans, demonstration projects, and other appropriate means, in a competitively neutral fashion that does not give preference to one technology.
Protect Local High-Speed Internet Networks
Local entities offer services when corporate providers have no economic incentives to deploy broadband networks. Consequently, communities have taken power in their own hands by building their own wired and/or wireless “Community Internet” systems using fiber optic cables or unlicensed space on the public airways to provide dependable high-speed Internet connections to homes all across America. Currently, there are 57 fiber-to-the premises municipal deployments in 85 towns and cities in the United States. Given the success of these efforts and the urgent need for broadband deployment in un-served areas, communities should have the ability to meet their unique communications needs.
Local geographic communities seeking to provide affordable high-speed Internet to their residents have had to deal with special interest legislation at the state level designed to shut down municipal networks. In an effort to stifle competition and protect their profits, service providers are pushing bills in state legislatures that would prohibit communities from setting up high-speed Internet networks, prevent competition and undercut local control--even in rural and low-income areas not currently served by large providers.
One such effort has repeatedly taken place in North Carolina where in 2010 a bill was introduced to impose significant barriers to municipal broadband initiatives in the state. The bill was fortunately defeated, but its introduction in a third consecutive year demonstrates that a threat to municipal network is all but more frequent. In fact, eighteen states now have laws on the books restricting cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks.
New technology is making it possible for cities and towns to improve access to information, provide education and employment opportunities, provide rapid response to emergencies, enhance public safety, foster technological innovation, and bolster local economic development. State laws should protect, not block, the development of municipal systems, public private partnerships, and other alternatives that promise to bring the benefits of high-speed Internet to more people.
- Public agencies and community-based non-government agencies need to have equal opportunity to participate through meaningful investments in communications infrastructure: State legislators should support locally-owned and locally-operated networks, including those owned by local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives, as well as public-private partnerships.
- Vermont’s Legislative Act 79 of 2008 grants towns and cities the right to deploy their own high-speed Internet infrastructure. The legislation supports such measures both by a blanket approval of cities and towns to deploy broadband infrastructure and by granting access to the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank to help with these projects. Twenty-three towns have already banded together to build the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network that will connect under-served homes and businesses. A year later, and in recognition that many of Vermont’s towns have succeeded in developing communications services, Vermont’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allows that financial resources be available to assisting un-served municipalities. Further, the Act declares that the development, promotion, construction, and operation of public communications plans in un-served areas is in the best interest of the state.
Free Press - Community Internet Background
Institute for Local Self-Reliance – Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need
Common Cause - Community Broadband
Making High-Speed Internet Affordable
We cannot achieve universal access and adoption without instituting policies that ensure reasonably pricing. Only when affordability measures are in place will American workers be truly competitive in a global economy.
All studies on broadband adoption conclude that cost is a primary reason why non-adopters are not subscribed to broadband at home or are only subscribed to dial-up service. Further, affordability is not only a question when subscribing to broadband services; it is a problem that involves computer and other hardware costs, the financial commitment of a long-term service contract or installation fees, hidden fees, billing transparency, etc.
A study by the Social Science Research Council points to the serious and unrecognized problem of un-adoption, the loss of home broadband service after subscription. In their sample of broadband non-adopters, 22% were un-adopters. The authors assert that while income fluctuation played the most significant role in respondents’ accounts of un-adoption, unpredictable service costs and opaque billing practices were also important motives.
Making broadband affordable to all communities requires that we take a comprehensive approach to adopting broadband, including measures to make hardware affordable and that all billing practices are transparent and easy to understand.
- As a condition for public housing funding, require that contractors provide robust broadband access to all residents and tenants.
- Require broadband operators and service providers to provide common, clear information about the products and services they offer, including actual and advertised speeds, fees, reliability, latency, contract terms, service limits, privacy policies, and traffic management policies.
- Require telecommunications carriers to permit Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America customers to apply these discounts in a package that includes basic voice service: By including telecommunication among the services provided by Lifeline Assistance and Link Up, states can help low-income communities benefit from the bundled service offerings that wealthier households enjoy.
- Recent legislation in California encourages affordable housing lenders who administer competitive multifamily housing programs to provide competitive points for developments that offer high-speed in-home Internet service free of charge for at least 10 years.
Social Science Research Council – Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities
Digital Inclusion: Technological Literacy and Anchor Institutions
Beyond investing in broadband infrastructure and finding ways to make broadband services more affordable, states need to invest in education and community media infrastructure to overcome the digital divide. The term “digital divide” is commonly used to refer to the gap in high-speed Internet access between the general population and certain demographics, particularly low-income households and racial minorities. The term, however, also refers to imbalances in the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as an individual living in the current digital world. People are digitally excluded if they cannot effectively and efficiently find information or use applications through broadband.
Low-income households, people of color, the elderly and the disabled, as well as residents of rural areas often have fewer opportunities to gain essential digital skills. Those without necessary digital skills are already losing out on education and economic opportunities. According to Department of Labor, more than 80 percent of new jobs will require computer skills. A report by the One Economy Corporation, cited by the Federal Communications Commission, indicates that 80 percent of all Fortune 500 companies only accept job applications online.
Along with high-speed Internet adoption, states need to address the utilization of broadband applications, including the need to provide essential online training and education, fund community technology centers where residents can gain digital skills, and improve broadband access in anchor institutions. Technology literacy programs should focus on providing the necessary skills to bridge not only the digital divide, but the social and economic divide in states by utilizing broadband to enhance employment skills, financial literacy, economic self-empowerment and access to civic information.
|Core Policies to Increase Technology Literacy & Inclusion|
Fund Community-Based Technology Centers
Community technology centers, tutoring, and other educational initiatives are a vital part of a digital inclusion initiative. Strengthening the national network of community technology centers will create real-world technology training for the next generation. Community Technology (CT) is the purposeful use of computers, Internet, and digital communication systems by non-profit and community-based organizations in order to help people develop technology literacy skills through beneficial, hands-on interaction with technology. The goal is to equip the targeted population with the digital skills needed to either enhance employment opportunities or, as in the case of the disabled or the elderly, to positively impact their daily lives with relevant access skills. Any digital inclusion program must have an integrated set of strategies to bring hardware, software, and high-speed Internet access services to underserved communities.
Digital inclusion initiatives should be seen as long-term components of a community’s offerings to its citizens and an ever-present vehicle to help states meet a variety of economic, health care, environmental, and educational goals. Long-term sustainability is a critical factor to ensure prolonged access to economic opportunity in our digital economy. For state government, it is the opportunity and the challenge that will influence economics, policy, and politics.
In order to ensure that residents obtain the necessary training to be successful in the 21st century, states should:
- Promote a healthy non-profit community able to train and support low-income residents to participate in a digitally inclusive society: Promote community technology centers (CTCs) that provide training that ranges from basic computing skills to digital media production as well as applied skills (e.g. online job searching). If states incorporate CTCs with other objectives that have sustainable funding streams, such as work-force training and health care, they may be able to qualify for federal funding. For example, it has been demonstrated that digital skills are necessary for the 21st century work-force; hence, states could direct more federal dollars (e.g. the Jobs Act) towards programs that teach individuals basic and advanced technology skills necessary for many 21st century jobs.
- Promote computer donation programs: When states or cooperating agencies replace desktop and networking technologies in their offices, older machines may be refurbished and reconfigured to be placed in public facilities or offered at significant discounts to low-income households. Similarly, states should offer subsidies to purchase computers.
- Have effective partnerships around community technology success with aligned and interested groups, including business and other private sector players, and encourage the appropriate level of reinvestment of Telecom/Technology sector resources for digital inclusion, work skill training, and related purposes: The support of the public-sector and private-sector partnerships, the philanthropic community, and other non-profit organizations in the community, along with strong relationships with the board of education and higher-level institutions, build a sustainable infrastructure that provides a variety of access alternatives for citizens.
- Develop a community technology resources map or database: Inform community members of community technology access points, training programs, technical support organizations, as well as low-cost and refurbished computer resources.
- Support community colleges’ expansion of digital literacy programs.
- Over the last couple of years, Washington State has taken aggressive steps to increase digital literacy. During the 2008 legislative session, Washington enacted Senate Bill 6438, which established the Community Technology Opportunity Program to provide resources for capacity-building and grant-giving to Community Technology programs that provide hands-on technology access and training to residents. In 2009, HB 1701 was enacted to create a menu for the Community Technology Opportunity Program. Initiatives were established to promote Internet adoption, training, and skill-building opportunities, access to hardware and software, digital inclusion and digital media literacy, development of locally relevant content, and organizational and capacity building support to community technology programs throughout the state.
- Other states such as California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio, have established a fund or council to address the digital divide.
Expand Broadband Access through Anchors Institutions
Anchor institutions – like schools and libraries - are the only way that many broadband users access the Internet. Studies have concluded that nearly one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 14 use library computers to access the Internet. The number increases for those from low-income households; 44 percent of them use the libraries’ Internet. Minority groups are also more likely than whites to access the Internet at community anchor institutions. Seniors, especially those living in poverty, use public library computers for health or wellness needs. Internet access from library computers have also been used in the wake of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, to search for housing and other government assistance.
Employees of anchor institutions also serve as their as communities’ digital connectors. They help the unemployed with job searches, high schools students looking for college opportunities, patrons looking for government aid, and teachers on all levels of education. As a result of the demand for assistance, anchor institution employees are now teaching computer classes, hosting job training seminars, and providing one-on-one computer training. Two-thirds of patrons who used library computers said to have received assistance from library staff or volunteers on computer or wireless network issues.
Anchor institutions should be supported by the following state-wide efforts:
- Promote community expansion and improvement of e-rate programs.
- Provide assistance to school and library districts in completing applications for E-rate funds.
- Include anchor institutions in broadband state strategies
- Launch a state-wide digital literacy Corps: Legislation should promote collaboration of state agencies to acts as partners in building digital literacy opportunities.
Prepare Youth for the 21st Century and Partner with Them
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 8-18 year olds spend on average six and a half hours per day with various forms of media. The evidence of media saturation underscores how important it is for young people to be able to think critically and create media in order to communicate effectively with society.
Since today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce, it is imperative that throughout their education, they receive instruction on necessary digital skills. In order to ensure that children from all backgrounds receive the necessary training to be able to participate in an increasingly digital world, states should promote digital skills as a priority for children. Digital literacy curricula should be integrated into classrooms, after-school programs, and at libraries or other places children spend their time.
To increase digital literacy among children, states should:
- Equip children with digital tools at home: Provide financial incentives to help low-income families acquire home computers and affordable high-speed Internet, and encourage their use at home to pursue educational, health, and other opportunities.
- Support parents in today's technology-based world: Support the development of model digital literacy efforts, and other technology training to help parents guide their children wisely in the online world.
- Work with youth as digital connectors of their communities: A study has found that young people were the primary source of support for digital literacy training.
- Establish media literacy curriculum requirements for secondary schools
- Encourage partnerships between on- and off-campus online educators: Digital literacy programs in schools and in after school activities should complement each other.
- In 2009, New Mexico enacted HB 342, allowing media literacy courses in secondary public schools. The state legislature's decision to pass a law that will facilitate public schools incorporation of media literacy as a more central part of their curriculum is a victory for advocates who have long argued that the changing communication landscape demands us to expand our educational priorities to include media literacy.
- A Kentucky resolution (HCR12) was passed in 2010 to create a task force that will establish a strategy in order to provide home laptop computers for middle school students. The task force will include representatives from agencies, businesses, industries, civic organizations, and others.
PowerUp the Campaign for Digital Inclusion
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies – National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance, and Use
Leverage Technology for Economic Development, Health, Energy and Educational Opportunities
Funding for high-speed Internet in state budgets is a challenging task, but the rewards of potential greater economic growth, more accessible health care, energy savings and increased educational benefits make the investment more than worth it. Funding for broadband is an investment that pays for itself.
Broadband enhances the economic development and public safety for communities, while offering improved health care, increased educational opportunities, and a better quality of life.
Core Policies to Leverage Technology
Wide-spread adoption of affordable high-speed Internet can be a key tool to rejuvenate lagging economies and sustain inter-state commerce as it makes states globally competitive. It is estimated that widespread adoption of high-speed Internet will add $134 billion to the U.S. economy annually and create 1.2 million new jobs per year. Further, high-speed Internet is key to drawing new businesses to an area, no matter how remote or small it is.
A recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California found that areas with broadband saw employment growth 6.4 percent higher than areas without it in the period from 1999 to 2006, with the highest employment growth where technology services represent a larger share of local industry’s inputs. Careful analysis in the report indicates that this relationship is not incidental but a causal relationship between deployment and subsequent economic growth. A report by the Center for Social Inclusion corroborated these findings: Mississippi Delta zip codes without Internet providers average 7 businesses in contrast to zip codes with eight or more Internet providers, averaging 811 businesses.
These reports confirm findings by earlier studies from organizations like the Brookings Institution, which estimated that for every one percentage point increase in broadband penetration in a state, employment increases by 0.2 to 0.3 percent per year. Similar studies estimate that in the early stages of the Internet, information technologies were responsible for two-thirds of total growth in productivity and that for every dollar invested in broadband, the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment. In a 2009 report to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Broadband Coalition - representing more than 160 organizations that include communication providers, labor unions, consumer groups, educational institutions, and units of state and local government - estimated that investment in broadband can create or retain 1 million to 2.5 million jobs.
The following are a few programs working to leverage this economic benefit from high-speed Internet:
- One of the most successful programs in using technology to spur economic development has been the e-NC Authority. By investing in long-term projects related to high-speed Internet build-out and adoption, the program aims to create communities that can sustain high-value jobs and a greater quality of life through the creation of wealth on a local level. This includes grants for seven e-NC Business and Technology Telecenters, which serve as small business resource centers, providing business start-up counseling, low-cost office space and technological resources, in economically-distressed communities.
- Lake County – a small county in central Florida – began generally offering private businesses and municipal institutions access to one of Florida’s most extensive, municipally-owned high-speed Internet networks, with fiber optic connections to hospitals, doctor offices, private businesses, and 44 schools. Since the opening of their municipal network, Lake County has experienced approximately 100% greater growth in economic activity–relative to comparable Florida counties.
State legislators are laying the regulatory framework to spur more broadband-based economic growth:
- Through Senate File 376, the Iowa legislature has established a grant program that creates jobs for public broadband. The bill came in response to a $25 million grant received by the state, the I-JOBs bond. The intent of the legislation is to match the state funding with federal funds available through the broadband programs.
Center for Social Inclusion – Broadband in the Mississippi Delta: A 21st Century Racial Justice Issue
Public Policy Institute of California - Does Broadband Boost Local Economic Development?
U.S. Broadband Coalition – Report of the US Broadband Coalition on a National Broadband Strategy
MIT/Carnegie national study "strongly" suggests connection between broadband and job growth
S.E. Gillett, W.H. Lehr, C.A. Osorio - Measuring High-speed Internet’s Economic Impact
Brookings Institution - The $500 Billion Opportunity: The Potential Economic Benefit of Widespread Diffusion of High-Speed Internet Access
Educause White Paper - A Blue Print for Big Broadband
Iowa Life Changing –Broadband Deployment
States can help make health care more accessible and affordable by utilizing modern day technology. By merging technology and health care, state policymakers can create new opportunities for medical professionals and patients to interact in more efficient ways. The use of technology in health care -- often called telehealth -- utilizes high-speed Internet applications to remotely monitor patients, facilitate collaboration between medical professionals, exchange medical data and images, and instantaneously provide efficient emergency service to remote areas. Telehealth increases access to and quality of medical services, facilitates continuing education for health care professionals, improves the standards of life for the elderly and disabled, provides better treatment for chronic illness, reduces medical costs, and curtails energy consumption.
Although telehealth has been around for years, its promises have not been truly realized. The obstacles to achieving the full potential of telehealth include the lack of widespread high-speed Internet technology, the way in which Americans pay for health care, and how physicians are regulated by the government. Key policies that address these barriers to the adoption of telehealth include:
- Build-out of high-speed Internet technology: While telehealth provides many benefits, such as transmitting detailed images, remotely monitoring patients at home, and utilizing advanced teleconferencing technology for collaboration, trainings, and patient visits, states need to support the deployment of sophisticated high-speed Internet services primarily in un-served and under-served areas.
- Enact health care legislation requiring insurance coverage for telemedicine.
- Reform medical licensing rules: It is of utmost importance that state licensure regulations and legislative policy support the provision of health care across state lines. State legislation can encourage and facilitate the adoption of state reciprocity agreements for practitioner licensure to expedite the provision across state lines of telehealth services.
- Changing medical reimbursement policies: The absence of consistent, comprehensive reimbursement policies is another serious obstacle to the integration of telehealth into health care practices. For telehealth technology to achieve sustainability, states must require Medicaid, a significant payer for medical services, and encourage other private insurers to develop standards for reimbursing providers for telehealth services.
- Establish an accountable entity within state government to coordinate telehealth activities among the various state agencies.
Progressive States Network - Telehealth: Merging of Technology and Medicine Leads to Improved Healthcare
Bio-Medicine - Latest Studies Show Consumer-Directed Solutions Like Consult A Doctor Lower Costs While Providing Greater Access to Affordable, Quality Health Care
Center for Information Technology Leadership - The Value of Provider To Provider Telehealth Technologies
Communication Workers of America - Telemedicine Helps Save Time and Lives in Smaller Hospitals
Internet Innovation Alliance - Advancing Healthcare Through High-speed Internet-Opening Up a World of Possibilities
Improving Access to Education Through the Use of Advanced Online Tools
A vibrant economy depends on a highly-skilled workforce. As such, our workers must become digitally literate citizens to ensure that they are successfully competitive in today’s global workforce. In addition to educating our children, we must educate adults the technologies and applications found in broadband that can improve their job performance.
States should also promote distance learning programs to increase educational opportunities for residents. By infusing online learning programs, we enable students in remote, small, or poor areas to take courses they could not otherwise access.
- Promote online learning by designing a plan to create and disseminate technology-enabled curricula relevant to the educational needs of students and workers.
- Support efforts to identify best online teaching and/or professional development efforts.
- Last year, Maine’s Senate Bill 531 created the state’s online learning program to provide a broader range of educational opportunities, including learning technologies.
- Washington’s House Bill 1946 encourages all institutions of higher education to use common online learning technologies including existing learning management and web conferencing systems, as well as to share professional development materials and activities related to the effective use of these tools.
- Another strong model exists in Idaho where HB 543 was enacted in part to promote a statewide coordinated and funded high-bandwidth education network. The Idaho Education Network (IEN) coordinates a statewide telecommunications distribution system for distance learning in each public school, including two-way interactive video, data, internet access and other telecommunications services. Further, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), a state sponsored, accredited, on-line virtual school created through the Idaho state legislature, is designed to increase educational opportunities and choices to all Idaho students regardless of learning ability, income, or geographic location. IDLA provides a high quality public school education, aligned with state achievement standards, utilizing the Internet and innovative educational methods of delivery.
Networking a New Green Economy
With less than five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for about a quarter of the world’s energy consumption. A poor communications infrastructure underlies much of our wasted energy use. With an electric grid that is supported by broadband application, the U.S. can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 22 percent and save up to $240 million in fuel costs. Broadband and information technologies have the potential to revolutionize energy management and economic development by facilitating and integrating natural and renewable energy resources.
The smart grid, smart buildings-and homes, and the smart technologies are critical components of a highly-networked and sustainable economy. Legislators must ensure that broadband is universal, seeing broadband not as a luxury or an asset, but as a necessity for survival.
Upgrading the Grid: Information Communication Technologies Are Key to More Efficient Coordination of Energy Supplies and Distribution
States can no longer afford the estimated $80 billion to $150 billion costs that power outages incur annually. Along with better building design, management and automation, the smart grid could save $20 to 25 billion in energy use. Only in the eastern United States consumers pay $16.5 billion per year in higher electricity prices due to transmission congestion, a problem that would be largely resolved by an upgraded smart grid.
Integrating networked communications into the transmission system will help create a grid capable of better response time to large-scale and isolated-system failures, moving energy efficiently over long distances and addressing congestion issues. Communications technology is essential to the functionality of the smart grid because it gathers the vast data generated by energy use and transforms this data into information for the consumer and the utility company.
Many renewable energy sources - like wind, solar, and geothermal - are in isolated areas throughout the United States and are unable to connect effectively with our current power grid. By improving the connections with a smart grid, the Department of Energy concluded that 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand could be met just by wind sources. Consequently, smart grid improvements sequenced by broadband application can move the energy from renewable energy sources to distant distribution centers where the population is higher but the source of renewable energy is much lower.
Smart Technologies that Reduce Energy Demand in the Home and Office
By transforming the way people and businesses use technology, the United States can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 13 to 22 percent by 2020 — and potentially see gross energy and fuel savings of $140-240 billion.
Smart technology devices and dynamic pricing could give consumers the ability to track their own power usage and then provide a financial incentive to alter their energy consumption either by shifting away from periods of peak demand, purchasing more environmentally friendly and energy efficient appliances, or simply decreasing overall energy usage. Pilot programs and studies have demonstrated that consumers who track their energy use in real time and consequently make simple behavioral changes can save 5 to 15 percent on their electricity consumption, which amount to savings of $60 to $180 per year. Dynamic pricing to shift demand can also lead to a more reliable grid and reduce the risk of outages that are often costly to the economy.
Under LD 1535, which establishes a Smart Grid Policy in the State of Maine, legislators established consumers’ right to access real-time information on their energy usage so that they can manage and adjust consumption, as well as generate and store electricity. The law outlines the creation of the smart grid with the following purposes:
- Increase use of digital information and control technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric system.
- Deployment and integration into the electric system of renewable capacity resources
- Deployment and integration into the electric system of demand response technologies, demand-side resources and energy-efficiency resources
- Deployment of smart grid technologies, including real-time, automated, interactive technologies that optimize the physical operation of energy-consuming appliances and devices, for purposes of metering, communications concerning grid operation and status and distribution system operations
- Deployment and integration into the electric system of advanced electric storage and peak-reducing technologies
- Provision to consumers of timely energy consumption information and control options
- Identification and elimination of barriers to adoption of technologies.
To achieve these goals, Maine’s Public Utility Commission will conduct a study on each utility’s transmission or distribution investments or upgrades, and subsequently create standards that promote cost-effective technologies and practices supporting smart grid functions.
In addition, smart grid technologies can enable homes and buildings to become energy producers as well as energy consumers. For instance, a home could be powered by its own solar energy during the day and then the consumer could sell any extra energy produced back to the larger grid, an option called “net metering."
California is one of the states that allow net-metering. In 2010, it enacted a bill requiring that the standard contract or tariff for net metering be offered on a first-come-first-served basis until the time that the total rated generating capacity used by eligible customer-generators exceeds 5 percent (raising the cap from a previous 2.5 percent) of the electric utility’s aggregate customer peak demand. The bill will ensure that more renewable energy producers have access to net metering benefits.
The incorporation of networked technology into buildings can optimize their energy consumption by controlling multiple devices, improving the ability to monitor buildings, giving building owners and occupants more information about and control over their energy use, and integrating that use into the new smart grid. By using specialized software and broadband, smart buildings can make their own efficient energy use decisions. For instance, a smart building could potentially adjust the amount of indoor light being used based on the amount of sunlight coming through a window.
Pathway to Networking the Green Economy
In building the smart grid and using broadband technologies to green the economy, there are both challenges and opportunities. The opportunities are clear: investments made now will not only create immediate jobs in the economy but also build in long-term energy and economic savings that will pay back those investments many times over.
However, there are critical decisions to be made to assure that all members of our communities benefit from the transition, from eliminating the digital divide to protecting consumer interests to assuring that current workers in industries find new and better job opportunities. Any transition to smart grids and new energy management technologies should ensure that consumers and workers in the industry benefit from the economic savings and growth generated. So the following are a few key guidelines for policymakers:
- Eliminate the Digital Divide: Despite the great potential to create jobs, lessen our dependency on foreign oil and save the environment, limited access to broadband is currently crippling the complex operations that the smart grid requires.
- Invest in Infrastructure and Interoperability: State policy makers should support the installation of networking infrastructure that is interoperable with existing broadband and Internet systems and where smart appliances and other technologies can work with each other without become obsolete.
- Protect Consumers’ Interests: Ensure that smart devices and dynamic pricing that allow individuals to track their energy consumption and provide financial incentives for reduced energy use could result in savings for consumers.
- Enhance Workers’ Rights: With more than 564,000 people working in the utility industry, the adoption of smart meters and smart grids will likely change the nature of the work for many front-line utility workers. Utility workers must receive training and other support necessary to learn the skills to work on new technologies and to build careers in the industry.
States have already taken the steps to analyze the benefits of the smart grid:
- In California, SB 17 was enacted in 2009 to determine the requirements for a smart grid deployment plan. The bill requires each electrical corporation to develop and submit by July 1, 2011, a smart grid deployment plan. It also declares a state policy to implement the smart grid in California.
- SB 180 in Colorado established in 2010 the Smart Grid Task Force that will provide recommendations and analysis on the feasibility, cost, and timing of transitioning to a secure resilient and technologically advanced electric grid. The Task Force will include members of investor-owned electric utilities, municipal utilities, experts in energy policy and regulation, environmental issues, and engineering, as well as consumer groups, academia, and commercial development.
- North Carolina has also introduced legislation to create a Broadband –Smart Grid Task Force to advance broadband deployment and energy savings for consumers and businesses. In accordance with the bill, the task force shall be composed by members of the State House and Senate, academia, the telecommunications industry, the environmental non-profit community, electricity providers, alternative energy providers, and two members of the general public.
Broadband policy is not only a federal issue; state leaders can greatly shape the way that broadband is accessed, adopted, and utilized. Historically, states have had the power and have successfully placed regulation that has allowed more Americans to access electricity and landline phones. If they follow the same steps, the same can occur with broadband. As explained throughout this report, we have to think of broadband as any other utility, as such, the responsibility of the states to provide to each of its residents. In the period of deregulation of electricity, prices significantly skyrocketed and pollution increased. State leaders should not repeat the mistakes made in the past. In order to deploy more infrastructure, make broadband affordable to all Americans, and teach these the necessary online tools to survive in today’s digital world, states should step in to create the public structure that guarantees universal access to broadband.