With more and more funding for broadband – for example, the US’s $100 billion through the American Jobs Plan, or Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund – unserved and underserved localities should be encouraged by these positive and significant steps. However, there are a number of uncertainties:
- Will the broadband funding legislation actually pass? – intact? – and when?
- Government investment in broadband will not cover all the unserved and underserved areas – so who will get the funding?
- How long will the application process take to define? – what will be the terms and conditions? – and when will funds actually be available to localities?
- Will localities be able to over-build existing incumbent networks – even if they are not future-proof? – if no, to what extent will digital infrastructure fully cover the locality? Will all have access to online health, education, workforce development, smart community services, etc.?
- Do local leaders understand why some individuals and businesses do not take advantage of what broadband is already available? Does the locality have strategies and eligible funding to bridge digital divides, to bring everyone online, and to maximize community benefits from broadband investments?
SNG recommends that localities proceed with their own and/or private investment to build digital infrastructure and to not lose any additional time in bridging broadband gaps. No locality can wait to catch the next wave of broadband funding. COVID-19 has accelerated the urgency that digital infrastructure be available to all – now.
In parallel to developing their own broadband investment solutions, localities should apply for broadband funding once the application process is available. If their application is funded, great – then use public funds to support and expand a healthy competitive broadband marketplace that connects all local premises with digital infrastructure that can provide needed redundancy by being available to multiple providers.
For those localities that know they have broadband problems, but struggle to find a path forward – especially when potentially large investments are needed … there is an alternative strategy. Localities need to answer key questions on how to solve their broadband needs:
- Where are the broadband gaps and where are the greatest needs in our locality?
- How is the lack of broadband affecting our businesses and residents?
- What technologies make sense to address our broadband gaps? Are we committed to solutions that meet current and long term needs? What investments are needed?
- Will our broadband problem be solved by the private sector service providers? Are there areas of interest and opportunity for private sector providers for accelerating network build-out to our unserved and underserved areas?
- Based on identified broadband gaps and needs, potential for accelerating private sector build-out – what is the roadmap for potential broadband projects?
SNG can help in this process with our Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap to answer these questions and empower localities to develop their own strategies so they can effectively engage with service providers and other partners to take action. Broadband is too important to your community’s prospects not to own your digital future.