Filling Gaps in Broadband Deployment  

By Danielle Dean  | Vol . 26, No. 09 / March 2018

NCSL News

Did you know?

  • According to a CTIA wireless association 2017 survey, Americans believe wireless access is essential when moving into a new community.
  • At least 13 states have initiated statewide broadband programs to improve access to broadband in rural and underserved communities.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, maintaining broadband benchmark speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 3 Mbps for upload connections (25/3 Mbps).

With roughly nine out of 10 adults in America using the internet, many consider it to be a necessity of modern life. Because access to the internet is unavailable or inadequate in parts of the country, states and the federal government are focusing on deploying broadband—the technologies that allow internet data to be transmitted at high speeds—as universally as possible.

State Action

States have implemented policies that address regulatory reform of internet service providers, invest resources into broadband offices and programs, and develop plans to deploy infrastructure in rural and underserved communities. However, questions remain about how to provide universal access that meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) benchmark broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 3 Mbps for upload connections, or 25/3 Mbps. For context, the FCC has a broadband speed guide showing that the minimum speed needed for downloading files is 10 Mbps and streaming high-definition video is 5 to 8 Mbps.

Deployment. Thirty-four states have broadband offices, task forces or legislative committees responsible for managing or offering incentives to providers to deploy and adopt broadband internet across the state. Broadband offices collaborate with local government, industry and other stakeholders to identify gaps in service, gather service location data and quality of service complaints, and develop strategic planning for future deployment and adoption.

Regulation. Generally, states have removed broadband regulatory authority from public utility commissions (PUCs). However, PUCs do maintain some authority over broadband, including to:

  • Accept complaints about service, billing and other issues from their constituents, regardless of the technology used to offer the service.
  • Certify or register carriers to operate in their jurisdictions.
  • Manage state universal service funds.
  • Certify eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs).

Broadband Mapping and Crowdsourcing. State broadband offices are looking for more granular data on service quality and access gaps for broadband, as existing data is not sufficient to accurately identify communities that are unserved or underserved. By doing so, broadband offices can target resources to unserved communities and reduce redundancies in spending. One strategy states such as California, North Carolina and Virginia are using to address this issue is crowdsourcing. Broadband offices or PUCs solicit data on internet access and quality from people via an online survey. Using this tool, state broadband authorities can collect information on whether individuals have broadband access, review results from self-run speed tests and review details regarding their quality of service.

North Carolina is one such state seeking detailed data on access gaps to target resources for deployment more efficiently and effectively. The N.C. Broadband Map is the state Broadband Infrastructure Office’s (BIO) reporting tool that allows individuals to submit their internet access information, and furthers the office mission to develop a strategic plan for improving connectivity across the state. By creating its own mapping tool, the office can generate unique data sets tailored to the state’s needs and publicly disseminate information regarding areas receiving service at 25/3 Mbps and areas with lower speeds or no service. From its central office, BIO can consult with localities on where to focus infrastructure expansion, provide detailed reports on aggregated demand through mapping tools, identify existing infrastructure such as fiber runs and cell towers, and develop a statewide network plan.

Statewide Broadband Strategy. At least 13 states—Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin—have strategic plans that provide dedicated funding for statewide broadband deployment. Ohio introduced H.B. 378 in late 2017 that would dedicate $50 million in grants to assist with statewide broadband access. The bill would allow for the construction of infrastructure and reimbursements for project planning, obtaining permits and purchasing equipment.

The New NY Broadband Program, administered by the Empire State Development economic development program, is investing $500 million with the goal of closing the broadband gap by the end of 2018. The program is not funded through appropriations, but rather through capital resources from bank settlements, and offers incentivizes to the private sector to expand high-speed broadband access in underserved and unserved areas. It requires participating companies to provide speeds of at least 100 Mbps download speeds in most places, and 25 Mbps download speeds in the most remote, unserved parts of the state. Priority is given to applications that will provide broadband to unserved communities, libraries and educational opportunity centers. New York plans to include an additional $170 million in Connect America Funds (CAF), administered by the FCC, to coordinate several funding streams at both the state and federal levels to implement the state strategic plan.

Federal Action

The president issued two executive orders outlining executive branch policy to support accelerated deployment and adoption of affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband connectivity in rural America. Both orders direct agencies to streamline standard terms and conditions in contracts and regulations in the Department of Interior and General Services Administration (GSA) for broadband deployment and wireless facility siting on buildings and other property owned by the federal government. https://it.nc.gov/about-oits/leadership/jeffrey-jeff-sural

U.S. House members introduced several resolutions laying out principles for broadband infrastructure.