Fiber Optic Cabinets, Cables, Pedestals and Terminals

Two big ideas that emerged from the many keynotes and sessions at Fiber Connect in Nashville are that local matters and state governments get the need for broadband. The local community needs to be actively engaged to best define and advocate for broadband service needs and requirements, with the local provider willing to listen and implement what is required by the community. And, state and local officials who understand the economic and social needs of the community are best positioned to advocate and allocate broadband dollars to meet those requirements.

Tuesday’s keynote by Kathryn de Wit of the Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted why local knowledge and advocacy matters as she presented the latest research findings from its Broadband Access Initiative. Each state is different, with factors such as geography, population density, available resources, the number and type of ISPs already available, and the amount of middle mile infrastructure playing a role. Federal programs based on a “one size fits all” approach didn’t consider such factors when it came to cost of deployment and the ability to replicate solutions across communities.

State policy makers – knowing their communities and voters – created efforts to incentivize deployment, improve accountability, and advance technology priorities. Successful state programs used a common set of activities, including engaging diverse stakeholders – i.e., actively engaging with the local community – with dedicated staff viewed as “connectors” to knowledge and resources with political support backing them up.

De Wit noted that states “don’t run deficits” and are, on a bi-partisan basis, allocating precious tax dollars to broadband projects, prioritizing fiber and focusing on affordability with pilot programs for hard-to-serve populations. Decision-makers are less focused on a simple business case approach and more focused on the opportunity cost if quality broadband isn’t available for things like education, health care, and supporting job creation.

Thanks to the pandemic, states realize that high-speed broadband is no longer a “nice to have” solution, but an essential resource for communities. “Good enough” solutions through community centers, libraries, and schools aren’t an adequate substitute for home connections, since broadband availability, quality, and adoption is more closely related to income, not geography.

Closing the digital divide across America will require local leaders to continue their efforts by continuing to participate in the planning process, educating state and community partners, and continuing to advocate in state legislatures and Congress. Those are efforts I look forward to seeing in the months and years to come.