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.
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.