Commissioner Clyburn Addresses the Need for Local Solutions for Each Community’s Unique Broadband Barriers

By Chris McGovern, Manager, Research Development, Connected Nation

Last week, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addressed the Internet2 Spring Membership Meeting, where she stressed the need to promote locally-driven solutions to address the gap in broadband adoption. She said “an approach that allows for the development of best practices while at the same time tailoring those best practices to the unique needs of a local community is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to combat barriers to deployment and ensure adoption.” We at Connected Nation couldn’t agree more.

Take, for example, rural Benton and Decatur counties in Tennessee, two neighboring counties with similar population densities, median ages, and median household incomes. These two counties are not dramatically different in their broadband availability, according to the National Broadband Map (94.2% of Benton County residents have access to broadband service at speeds of at least 3 Mbps downstream/768 Kbps upstream, compared to 98.5% in Decatur County). Yet Connected Tennessee’s 2010 Residential Technology Assessment indicated that only 37% of Benton County residents subscribe to home broadband service, compared to 53% in Decatur County.

What causes these differences? Does the increased competition between providers in Decatur County force providers to offer better service (79.4% of Decatur County residents can choose from three or more broadband providers, compared to only 63.4% in Benton County, according to the National Broadband Map)? Is it the result of local programs like Vision Perry that provide computer training and job opportunities for local residents?

These differences can’t be identified, let alone addressed, with state or national maps that only show broadband availability. That’s why Connected Nation plans to conduct surveys across several states in 2011 that can help identify communities with the lowest adoption rates and provide local leaders with insights into the best ways to address their unique barriers to adoption. We’re looking forward to compiling one of the most robust data sets regarding broadband adoption and barriers to adoption, and we plan to start conducting those surveys soon.

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