Expert Commentary

Expanding U.S. broadband, Internet infrastructure

2010 report from the Pew Center on the States on the challenges the country faces in providing high-speed Internet access to all Americans.

Broadband access is widely regarded as a critical driver of economic growth and a potentially transformative force in education, government services, public safety and health care. Nevertheless, the United States lags other developed nations in broadband Internet access, particularly in rural areas.

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission introduced the National Broadband Plan, which outlined its goals for national investment in broadband infrastructure. At the same time, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dedicated $7.2 billion in stimulus funds to broadband projects, both wireless and land-based.

The Pew Center on the States’ report “Bringing America Up to Speed: States Role in Expanding Broadband” reviews the challenges of implementing nationwide access.

Important points in the report include:

  • Some 100 million Americans, or 35% of households, are without broadband access in their homes.
  • The FCC estimates it will cost $23.5 billion to extend access nationwide.
  • More than half of the states have regions where less than 50% of households have broadband access.
  • The estimated cost to reach 250,000 “extremely rural” households is $13.4 billion — more than half the total.
  • Only 15 states have dedicated agencies that focus on broadband and few have done comprehensive access mapping. Varied ownership of utility infrastructure forces piecemeal expansion.

The report notes that significant issues of inequality mark the challenges around broadband access. Only 40% of households earning less than $20,000 annually use broadband. Most states lack agencies or authorities dedicated to these problems, and financing wider broadband reach to poorer residents, particularly in rural areas, remains unfeasible in many circumstances.

Tags: poverty, technology, infrastructure

About The Author