The internet is an essential component of the modern world. Economic, political, educational, health, and public safety sectors all rely on connectivity. However, affordable high-speed internet is far from universally available. Rural areas often have the least access; low population density, lack of infrastructure, and high rates of poverty often make rural areas unattractive prospects for broadband providers. Federal, State, and local governments recognize the importance of broadband access and have instituted many programs to provide affordable high-speed internet to underserved communities. Regional governments play an important role in developing and administering these programs. They quantify and aggregate regional demand for broadband, facilitate partnerships, and help plan and execute broadband programs. Furthermore, they help secure State and federal funding for broadband projects. Regional councils across the United States have used these tools to support successful broadband programs that advance economic and community development.
Broadband Issue Brief
Regional councils play an important role in providing their residents and local businesses with high-speed, affordable internet. Regional councils survey broadband use and aggregate demand, facilitate project partnerships, plan and execute broadband projects, and secure the necessary funding. An important piece of legislation regarding broadband access came out of the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill. The USDA implemented the broadband loan program to provide loans and loan guarantees to support construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in rural areas. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided almost $7 billion for broadband grant and loan programs through the the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provided an unprecedented opportunity for communities to establish broadband infrastructure in previously under-served areas.
NARC Member Case Studies
- Providing Access Directly – Green River Area Development District (GRADD):GRADD developed ConnectGRADD, a broadband provider serving rural areas in Kentucky. It provides high-speed internet to over 3,000 regional residents of rural areas in the district’s seven counties, which cover some 2,660 square miles. As of March, 2013, 58 access sites serve the area, with more in the plans to continue to expand coverage.
- Public-Private Partnerships to Expand Broadband Access and Economic Opportunity – North Central Illinois Council of Governments (NCICG):NCICG runs the LaSalle County Broadband Initiative, part of a regional program to create an 870-mile fiber optic network providing high-speed internet to nine Illinois counties. The LCBI organization is made up of public and private entities with experienced providers of technology within consortia. The network and its access to unrestricted, high speed broadband at competitive prices provides economic development and job creation opportunities while strengthening education, public safety, health care and general quality of life throughout Lasalle County.
- Overcoming Last-Mile Connection Challenges – North Central New Mexico Economic Development District (NCNMEDD): NCNMEDD is part of a coalition that developed REDI Net, a high-speed fiber-optic network covering three counties and five Pueblos in the Santa Fe metropolitan region. In August 2010, NCNMEDD received $10.6 million from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to build REDI Net. Launched in August 2013, REDI Net will serve over 120 community institutions and thousands of end users, through partnerships with last-mile providers.
Digital Access Driving Economic Opportunity, 2013 NARC Annual Conference Workshop
- Presentation by Tom Koutsky, Connected Nation and John B. Horrigan, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- Connect America Fund: Unveiled in 2010, as a Federal Communications Commission plan to improve Internet access in the United States. One goal is providing 100 million American households with access to 100 Mbit/s connections by 2020.
U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)
- National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA):NTIA is engaged in a range of efforts to increase broadband Internet access and adoption in America, which supports economic growth, job creation, and improved education, health care, and public safety. From managing broadband expansion grants under ARRA through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to creating maps of broadband availability and conducting research on connectivity, the NTIA is working to close the digital divide.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service (RUS)
- Community Connect Grant Program: The purpose of this grant program is to provide financial assistance in the form of grants to eligible applicants that will provide currently unserved areas, on a “community-oriented connectivity” basis, with broadband transmission service that fosters economic growth and delivers enhanced educational, health care, and public safety services.
- Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program: A program authorized by the 1990 farm bill to provide grants to rural schools and health care providers to help them invest in telecommunications facilities and equipment to bring educational and medical resources to rural areas where the services otherwise might be unavailable.
- Rural Broadband Loan Program: The goal of this program is to ensure that rural consumers enjoy the same quality and range of services that are available in urban and suburban communities. It aims to lend to entities capable of repaying its loans and that plan to offer service at a level that keeps pace with technology upgrades while meeting the demands of customers in rural America.
U.S. Department of Treasury
- State Small Business Credit Initiative: Uses federal funding to stimulate private-sector lending and improve access to capital for small businesses and manufacturers that are credit worthy but not getting loans they need to expand and create jobs. The initiative allocates up to $15.4 million into three state programs: The Capital Access Program, Emerging Entrepreneurs Fund, and Small Business Loan Guarantees.
- Center for Rural Strategies: The Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates that emerged from the National Rural Assembly. The group’s goals are 1) to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation’s democracy, economy, culture, and society, and 2) to spark national collaboration among rural broadband advocates.
- Connected Nation: Connected Nation is a national non-profit that expands access to and use of broadband Internet and the related technologies that are enabled when individuals and communities have the opportunity and desire to connect. Connected Nation works in multiple states to engage community stakeholders, state leaders, and technology providers to develop and implement technology expansion programs aimed at improving digital inclusion for people and places previously under-served or overlooked.
- National Telecommunications Cooperative Association: The premier association representing nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. NTCA advocates on behalf of its members in the legislative and regulatory arenas, and it provides training and development; publications and industry events; and an array of employee benefit programs.
- One Economy: One Economy’s Access Service team works with affordable housing owners, technology companies, HUD, and others to bring low-cost high-speed wireless broadband services to low-income residents and communities.
- Rural Broadband Initiative: This national initiative works to ensure universal access to high speed internet through the development of broadband networks in rural America.
- Rural Telecommunications Congress: A national membership organization dedicated to assuring that rural areas in the United States have access to the information and support they need to obtain and use advanced telecommunications services and technology for social and economic development.
- Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition: The SHLB Coalition promotes government policies and programs to enable schools, libraries, health care providers, other anchor institutions and their communities to obtain open, affordable, high-speed, broadband connections to the Internet.