National efforts to close the digital divide require local empowerment

In the light of the call for new and improved Federal programs to close the digital divide by the US Congress and the incoming Biden-Harris Administration, Broadband Equity Partnership conducted a national survey of state and local leaders, investigating their priorities for a national broadband stimulus. The survey, which aimed at shaping the Federal agenda to facilitate locally-based solutions, outreached 120 respondents from 18 states across the US representing different stakeholders. The survey flagged out the importance of investments in broadband infrastructure nationwide and a new approach to funding for broadband deployment: 88% of respondents ranked fiber deployment among their communities’ highest priorities for investment. It further accentuated funding dispersal at the state and local level, with the flexibility to deploy that funding to directly support respondents’ different priorities. Substantial policy reform is yet another priority to help local communities overcome the digital divide. For example, broadband utility classification and the removal of policies impeding the public sector’s ability to provide infrastructure and service, including becoming municipal internet service providers (ISPs). These policy changes empower local governments to partner with third-party ISPs, set regulations around subscription prices and service requirements (i.e. net neutrality), increase access to utility rights-of-way, and provide more options for direct household subsidies.