In October 2020, Benton updated its Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s report. In Broadband For America Now, Jon Sallet adds a sobering lens of the deepening digital divide triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterates why broadband access is no longer a luxury. Rather, it has become a necessity that society needs to address with timely solutions that will ensure long-lasting effects.
Using policy experts to reflect on the importance of digital equity, deployment, competition, and community anchor institutions, Sallet offers another compelling argument for why federal, state, tribal, and local governments must work together on comprehensive broadband policy agendas. Adrianne Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Institute, also made an impassioned plea for advocates and concerned citizens to demand policies that “ensure that everyone has affordable access to, and can use, the essential service of our time.”
The report emphasizes four pillars:
- Digital Equity. Making affordable high-performance broadband available to low-income, unserved and underserved, accompanied by digital skills training that empowers users to make the most of their connections, will help make society more equitable.
- Deployment. There are no reasons why unserved and underserved areas of the nation should be relegated to second-rate broadband connections regardless of the outdated urban/rural dichotomy.
- Competition. Competition can enable lower prices, improved service, and spur creation of innovative; technologies, bringing better and more affordable broadband to more Americans; and
- Community Anchor Institutions. Community anchor institutions can use broadband to fulfill their missions, reach users wherever they are, and serve as launching pads for community-wide access.
The report also highlights Next Century Cities’ members, their stories, and the creative ways in which they are adapting to new challenges brought about by new technological needs in their communities.
- Boston, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, California, have partnered with startups to help bring new connectivity and competition to their cities.
- Chattanooga, Tennessee, teamed up with Hamilton County Schools in July 2020 and provided free service of at least 100/100 Mbps, with no data caps, to approximately 28,500 students.
- Detroit, Michigan, is developing plans and strategies to tackle the digital divide on both the infrastructure and digital equity fronts. Connect 313 coalition partners are working to implement programs that provide resources for remote learning and making broadband more affordable.
- Lexington, Kentucky, provides short surveys to visitors of the city’s website so they can stay apprised of what information and services their citizens want and need.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, partnered with a local nonprofit and the resident cable company to secure support that ensured “nearly all” households would be able to study online in this school year.
- San Antonio, Texas, is using the fiber-optic network that connects to schools, libraries, police stations, and public-safety radio systems to help offer LTE wireless broadband in neighborhoods.
- South Bend, Indiana, is modernizing city programs to provide digital services as a result of citizens desire to do as much as they can remotely.
Municipalities in Next Century Cities’ network are committed to bringing universal connectivity to every resident in their community. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the importance of broadband and the strides that municipal officials have made to bring broadband within reach for their residents. That has helped to ensure access to remote learning, work from home opportunities, and other meaningful benefits of digital citizenship, but there is more work to do. Government officials, private sector, philanthropic partners, and the public all have a role to play in our pursuit for widespread broadband access.