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Less than 25% of respondents are confident that national ISPs have the ability to effectively use future federal funds to close the digital divide, according to a new policy study from Benton Institute for Broadband and Society with The Broadband Equity Partnership.

The study was based on responses from more than 120 state and local leaders with a wide variety of titles and responsibilities across 18 blue and red states.

The question of who should be in charge of tackling the difficult challenge of bridging the digital divide has taken on new importance as policymakers consider new funding programs.

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Other key take-aways:

  • 70% of respondents say local economic development agencies are capable implementation partners
  • 88% of respondents ranked fiber deployment among their communities’ highest priorities for investment. Subscription subsidies, digital literacy and inclusion programs also are key investment priorities
  • 50% of survey respondents identified either utility classification or municipal ISP authority as a high priority policy change for their communities

Subscription subsidies and digital literacy and inclusion programs are the next highest priority investments after infrastructure.

The report found a desire for state and local governments to determine “their broadband futures.” This includes having more accountability on how ISPs spend public funds. More than half of respondents say that they have “investment-ready” broadband plans – but no funding.

The survey found backing for extension of the E-Rate program beyond schools and libraries. The American Rescue Plan includes $7.1 billion for E-Rate and an emerging effort in the House of Representatives could result in $7 billion to be added.

Respondents also said that recipients in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction are “often not adequately evaluated on their financial and technical capabilities and do not have satisfactory buildout plans.”

The report on the survey quoted a respondent who said that RDOF should be revamped or eliminated and the funds given to states and counties for targeting, noting that some other respondents made similar comments.

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2 thoughts on “Policy Study: Digital Divide Better Fought at Local Level with Low Confidence in Large National Carriers

  1. It’s great that people have confidence in local solutions; however, the national carriers have done everything possible to block and to undermine local ISP’s and any efforts that local governments and communities make to bridge the digital divide. Instead of partnering, national ISP’s have more lobbying power, receive more than their fair share of subsidies, and are hell bent on spending the money on any and everything they can besides developing rural and small community networks. Normally, I’d say you get what you pay for, but in this instance, it’s simply not the case. Large corporations continue to soak up all sorts of subsidies then use those same funds to develop their own pet projects and undermine the mission of expanding access to affordable broadband. After all, national providers aren’t stupid. They’re cashing in on both ends-government cash and more expensive services forced upon rural and small community customers trying to survive in a digital world by being forced to pay for their own build outs and 10-20 fold subscription rates.

  2. Thanks for your comment,Dave. I see this as an example of the age-old debate about the role of government in refereeing commerce. A company–including national ISPs–have a responsibility to make money. If part of that is limiting the opportunity of others, the can do so within the rules and laws. The government’s job is to create space for companies without the power of the big guys. Of course, our two political parties see that role differently. We certainly will see how it all hashes out during the next few years…Again, thanks for the great comment.

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