New America’s Open Technology Institute has a new report out called “Community Broadband: The Fast, Affordable Internet Option That's Flying Under the Radar.” It offers a brief look at the problem of broadband access across the United States, points out of the many benefits of the community networks which have stepped in to fill the gaps left by private Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and provides a snapshot of a few examples that have overcome legislative hurdles and monopoly ISP lobbying to bring fast, reliable Internet service to people around the country.
Reports Highlighted by MuniNetworks.org
Our case study, How Local Providers Built the Nation’s Best Internet Access in Rural North Dakota, explains how the majority of rural North Dakota has access to gigabit fiber, highlighting how 15 telephone cooperatives and local companies came together to invest in their rural communities and build broadband networks across the state. In the 1990s, those companies united to purchase 68 rural telephone exchanges in North Dakota from regional provider US West (now CenturyLink). Then, they leveraged federal broadband funds to deploy some of the most extensive fiber networks in the country, turning North Dakota into the rural broadband oasis that it is today.
Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands, a report from the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University (AIPI) provides a detailed examination of broadband access, device use, and uses of the Internet by Tribal peoples on Tribal lands. Authors Brian Howard and Traci Morris completed the 2019 report aiming to develop a closer look at the digital divide and "to create a new baseline for future studies with the expectation of potentially measuring growth in coming years."
Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.
All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.
*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.
In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.
Broadband for All Needs a New Approach
As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband.
As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.
Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.
Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country.
Local communities continue to search for ways to tackle the digital divide and in San Francisco, the city is making strides by working with a local Internet access company. The City by the Bay and ISP Monkeybrains have adopted a new model to bring high-quality connectivity to residents in public housing. The approach not only creates new opportunities for people who were once denied economic and educational opportunities, but does so in a way that is financially self-sustaining. With modest maintenance and start-up costs, Monkeybrains and San Francisco has found a way to bring the same high-speed Internet access to low-income households at an affordable rate. Read our new report, A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig, to learn how the partners found a way to shrink the digital divide in public housing facilities.
Without access to capital, even the best laid plans for Internet access infrastructure can fall apart. In rural areas, large corporate Internet access companies don’t consider deployment an investment with a sufficient return, so local communities are finding ways to improve connectivity on their own. In order to locate funding, they seek grants and loans to supplement local investment. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently released Expanding Internet Access: Bank Financing for Rural Broadband Initiatives to provide insight into the role banks play in financing local rural projects. The report also offers several case studies examining projects that benefitted from bank financing.
When privately owned utilities refused to electrify rural areas, communities established electric cooperatives to light up their homes and farms. A recently released report, Unlocking the Value of Broadband for Electric Cooperative Consumer-Members, describes how electric co-ops now have an opportunity revisit that role as they bring Internet access to their rural members nationwide.
The report, published in September by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), finds that millions of people in electric cooperative service territories lack access to broadband. As the report explains, rural electric cooperatives are uniquely poised to meet their members’ needs for better connectivity. However, public investment may still be necessary to connect many rural communities.
In this policy brief, we highlight the gulf between FCC broadband data for Rochester and what’s actually available to residents by examining local competition.
Rochester Competition: Not All it Appears to Be
The city, home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, had previously considered building a municipal network, but the idea was dropped, in part because of the incorrect perception that enough competition already exists between Internet service providers. Our analysis and the corresponding maps reveal that broadband competition in the region is more limited than many realize.
The policy brief concludes:
“Overall, Charter and CenturyLink compete for the urban center of Rochester, while the rural areas rely almost exclusively on fixed wireless for broadband service. Even where residents have a choice in broadband, anyone looking for speeds in excess of 40 Mbps will almost certainly have to subscribe to Charter Spectrum. This is why more cities, especially those with municipal electric services, are considering how smart local investments can ensure more consumer choices and a working market for these essential services.”
Read more details about the situation in Rochester; download the policy brief Broadband Competition in the Rochester Region: Reality vs Federal Statistics here.