November 30, 2022
Ensuring universal connectivity for every person in every community is an important goal of all broadband providers. It is also the shared commitment that defines and unifies our USTelecom membership—large and local, regional, urban, rural and everywhere in between. That’s why our commitment to digital equity is unshakeable.
We also know from experience that deploying broadband—especially fiber broadband, which requires providers with existing copper networks to deploy an almost entirely new network infrastructure—is an expensive and time-intensive process, requiring a long-term commitment. Network deployment takes place over years, not weeks and months, and is a continuous endeavor. That’s why America’s broadband providers have invested more than $2 trillion since 1996 to build and expand the nation’s high-speed infrastructure, with more than $86 billion in private capital invested in 2021 alone.
Our member companies were founded, often a century or more ago, with the mission of connecting their communities to opportunity. They have paved the way for each generation of technological advancement in this country, from the technological revolutions driven by the availability of telegraphs and telephones, to universal copper-based telephone service, to DSL internet service, and now to the power of IP-based fiber-optics and fixed wireless technologies. Each new era in our connectivity story has required us to expand, upgrade – and now essentially replace – our existing networks. Ushering the current era of high-speed broadband will bring much faster and resilient connectivity, but it requires immense resources and takes time to make it a reality.
Our commitment to connecting everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, or income—runs deep in our DNA. Connecting all communities is a complex issue that requires a robust toolkit of solutions. Bridging the gap requires building more high-speed connections, ensuring that low-income consumers can afford service, and ensuring that those customers that would benefit from broadband access have the digital skills to get online. We cannot oversimplify the true complexities of achieving universal connectivity. We must work together to overcome these challenges if we are to achieve our shared goal of empowering everyone to take full advantage of affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.
Here are four areas of focus where we can make a constructive difference together:
Elevate our emphasis on the underserved. Broadband providers’ investment is why U.S. networks, unlike those in other countries, were able to meet the challenges of the pandemic despite surges in demand due to the abrupt shift to work, school, healthcare and everything else from home. The pandemic also made clear the urgent need to connect not only every unserved, but also every underserved community. We all need not just a digital connection, but a high-quality, high-speed one. The good news? The bipartisan Infrastructure Act commits $42.5 billion to closing the connectivity gap, both for the unserved and underserved. If administered correctly, this historic opportunity will go a long way toward connecting our nation.
Make a permanent commitment to affordable access for low-income communities. Of course, broadband can only be really available to everyone if it is affordable to everyone. The good news here is twofold. First, broadband prices—for all tiers of services—have bucked the inflationary trends hitting consumers on almost every other bill. Second, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), part of the Infrastructure Act, provides up to a $30 per month discount on broadband bills for those who need it most. Providers have stepped up to the affordability challenge by offering broadband plans that allow qualified customers to use the ACP benefit to receive broadband for free or at a very low cost. More than 1,300 broadband providers are participating in the program. The federal funding that makes the ACP possible should be made permanent so the program’s benefits can continue.
Remove or lower hurdles to speedy deployment. From landlords who won’t allow access to their apartment buildings to permitting delays that can add months of time and resources to a project, much can be done by policymakers at all levels of government to eliminate barriers that deny or delay affordable, reliable high-speed connectivity for all. This should include passing legislation to ensure federal funds for broadband deployment aren’t taxed—which simply diverts a large chunk of these public investments away from communities and back to Washington. It should also include modernizing antiquated regulations which have delayed the transition to new technology.
Ensure everyone has the skills necessary to unleash the promise of broadband. Digital skilling initiatives can ensure that we all have the tools necessary to harness the many opportunities broadband makes possible. Local organizations are essential partners here. Unfortunately, much of the discussion around digital equity ignores this piece of the puzzle—leaving millions without the skills they need to use broadband effectively. Indeed, the Administration and Congress recognized the criticality of these skills with the Infrastructure Act’s $2.75 billion in Digital Equity Act funding. Our members have been working to support digital skilling for years and are committed to continuing this work.
With the Infrastructure Act’s unprecedented and bipartisan commitment to broadband, efforts to achieve universal connectivity are at a critical juncture. We should come together—bring the core challenges to the surface—and work collectively and constructively toward solutions. The nation’s broadband providers stand ready to work with all stakeholders who share our commitment to getting the job done.