The Knight Commission recognized that for there to be healthy news communities, all Americans need access to diverse sources of news and information. In the future, that means that all Americans will need access to broadband networks, and public policy should encourage broadband adoption. Yet current government programs to assure communication networks are available to all Americans will neither ensure that such networks are available nor encourage adoption.
“Universal Broadband: Targeting Investments to Deliver Broadband Services to All Americans,” (download here) a new policy paper by Blair Levin, proposes a number of steps to achieve these goals. First, the paper outlines the steps necessary to make basic broadband available to all Americans, regardless of location. As an initial matter, the paper proposes setting a target of assuring that all Americans have access to a network capable of delivering 4 Mbps actual download speed and 1 Mbps actual upload speed. To do so requires a fund of approximately $10 billion over 10 years. This money can be obtained by repurposing existing money from the Universal Service Fund, which is no longer efficiently serving the goal of connecting Americans to the universal communications medium.
In the paper’s first major initiative, Levin recommends a ten-year transition to shift over $15 billion of inefficient USF expenditures to a more efficient system that allows for experimentation and is designed to address today’s needs. To assure deployment and operation of broadband networks everywhere, the government should
- Create a Connect America Fund to support the provision of affordable broadband and voice specifically to those areas where, without such support, broadband would not be available.
- Create a Mobility Fund to ensure no states are lagging significantly behind the national average for broadband wireless coverage; and
- Remove barriers to local government funding of broadband networks.
The paper’s second major initiative makes a number of recommendations to increase adoption of broad¬band by low-income Americans and other non-adopter communities. Cost is the biggest factor, but it is not the only factor. Digital literacy and relevance also loom large as factors affecting adoption. Government should
- Expand, and eventually transform, the current Lifeline and Link-Up programs from subsidizing voice services to making broadband affordable to low-income individuals.
- Form partnerships with non-profit agencies to address relevance barriers with targeted programs.
- Create a National Digital Literacy Corps to teach digital literacy skills and enable private sector programs addressed at breaking adoption barriers.
- Convene a working group to address adoption by persons with disabilities, a key non-adopter community
- Experiment, through a competition, to try new techniques to drive adoption.
In addition, the paper suggests that to drive both deployment and adoption, the country needs to improve broadband-related funding to community anchor institutions. This can be done by facilitating demand aggregation for public sector broadband facilities, such as health care facilities, and by enabling partnerships that focus on serving the needs of institutions that require more complex networks. The paper also recommends a number of steps to improve the use of broadband for economic development efforts, including competitions to improve broadband for economic development purposes and the creation of Model Communities for testing next-generation, ultra-high speed broadband on military bases and in designated economic enterprise zones.