A new report from the Broadband Opportunity Council, a group tasked with examining broadband access issues for the federal government, shows that while the digital divide is narrowing, significant challenges remain when it comes to improving broadband access. President Obama has said that he thinks broadband access is a necessary part of economic opportunity in today’s economy. But, geography, income, and ability can all limit access.
According to the report authors, since President Obama took office the federal government has expanded and upgraded more than 110,000 miles of network infrastructure. 45 million additional Americans have also adopted broadband internet. Other programs like ConnectHOME, which are focused on bringing internet access to low-income households are also working to close the gap. Still there is work to be done, and the report makes four recommendations.
1. Modernize federal programs for broadband investments.
2. Provide communities with tools and resources to attract new broadband investment.
3. Promoting increased broadband deployment and competition.
4. Improving data collection and research on broadband.
According to report data, there are approximately $10 billion in federal programs that could be modernized to help expand broadband access. Updating the permitting process would also help so that network providers can work through issues like land use and right of way more quickly. The report further suggests creating an online portal with information on federal broadband funding and loan programs for communities.
The Council also plans continuing work to bring in more expertise on broadband access. “The Council will explore additional actions that can unlock even more value across our agency initiatives,” report authors write. “For example, greater reach, speeds, and cost savings can be achieved in our broadband investments by adding technical expertise and reference designs to support each initiative. As one of its first steps, the Council will explore ways to bring this expertise into key agencies, which in turn will increase the impact of the recommended actions.”