The first National Broadband Plan, published in 2010, put forward six goals for the decade ahead. While progress has been made since then, by 2020 most of its long-term targets for affordable, high-speed access had not been achieved. This includes creating the world’s fastest wireless networks. As of 2021, the United States is not among the top 10 countries in the world for either mobile or broadband Internet speed.
To change that, the federal government’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $65 billion for broadband. It’s a start. A Brookings analysis of the American Rescue Plan identifies more than $388 billion for which projects to advance various aspects of digital equity are allowable uses.
The pandemic gave this work new urgency. Disadvantaged Americans who lack affordable, high-speed Internet service suffered from poor access to everything from public health updates and health care to education, social services, jobs, food and family.
In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission estimated that it would take an investment of $80 billion to give every American access to high-speed (25/3 Mbps) Internet. With funding now available, states could begin to make this happen, but it will depend on how the money is spent.
A recent analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts examines the extent to which states are prepared to make the most of broadband dollars. It shows where states stand in regard to developing broadband plans and goals, establishing central offices, task forces or funding mechanisms for broadband deployment and mapping to determine where broadband is available.
As of Nov. 30, 20 states had not announced broadband plans.
Pew will be publishing a report in early 2022 that looks at the details of available state plans. Anna Read, senior officer for Pew’s Broadband Access Initiative, says they don’t all have the same depth.
Some states provide details beyond just a plan, laying out a vision and long-term goals. Some list short-term priorities. Some are short on details, focusing instead the importance of broadband.
Read points to North Carolina’s plan, finalized in 2016, as an especially strong example. “It highlighted a number of priorities for broadband expansion in the state and set some very clear goals and recommendations for achieving them,” she says. It is flanked by an executive order that created a task force to evaluate progress toward the goals outlined in the plan.
Pew’s broadband research has been ongoing for just over three years, according to Read. During that time, the number of states with broadband offices, funding programs and agencies tasked with expanding broadband availability has grown steadily, well before pandemic stresses heightened the importance of this work.
The plans that are currently available reflect these efforts and provide an overview of the goals that have emerged from them, Read says.
“The fact that states have been prioritizing this issue, in conjunction with this influx of federal funding, creates a very unique moment to make progress towards closing gaps in broadband access and adoption.”
Governing staff writer Zoe Manzanetti contributed to this report.
Originally published by Governing. Republished with permission.