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Shot in the Arm, but Not the Cure

“President Obama appears to have struck the right balance with the initial announcements on broadband infrastructure awards. The administration’s focus on connecting community anchor institutions such as libraries, schools, and hospitals is a big step forward in bridging America’s digital divide. And, the awards for last-mile projects in rural areas are clearly key to closing the broadband gaps for unserved residents and businesses.

We are eager to learn more about the full list of projects funded in the first round, particularly within the sustainable adoption program. While the supply-side projects are obviously important for broadband stimulus efforts, effective demand-side programs are critical to accompany these network deployments if we hope to see any sustainable positive economic effects.

Connected Nation
research in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio shows that the largest barrier to broadband adoption is a lack of awareness about broadband’s benefits. Across these three states, 44 percent of those without a home broadband connection say ‘I don’t need broadband.’ Among vulnerable populations such as low-income residents, minorities, and people with disabilities, this awareness challenge is even greater.

While these middle-mile projects to connect community anchor institutions should be a big shot in the arm for broadband expansion in those areas, if there is not enough prospective demand for broadband service, particularly in the rural markets, then the wholesaler will be hard-pressed to get any internet service provider (ISP) takers to provide last mile service on the network. Even then, if take-rates remain low, the last mile services will likely prove to be unsustainable.

So, in addition to the hope of spurring demand indirectly through community anchor institutions, it is critical that effective digital literacy/awareness and computer ownership programs are funded and established to ensure the sustainability of these type of infrastructure projects as well as to ensure that vulnerable populations are not marginalized as a result of not having a computer or the digital skills to use broadband.“

--From Laura Taylor, Connected Nation’s Chief Policy Officer, in response to the federal government’s awarding of $183 million in federal broadband stimulus funds through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Infrastructure program.

Want to know more? Click
here to view Connected Nation’s recommendations to NTIA about these projects.