Publicly Funded Infrastructure Projects Extend Broadband to Unserved and Underserved Areas

The importance of the internet extends to nearly every function of modern society including education, the economy, public safety, health care, entertainment, social offerings and transportation/travel. In fact, internet access is becoming increasingly seen in the United States as important to communities as traditional utilities like water and sewer service.

Per survey findings compiled in 2012 by the Kentucky Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development and the Kentucky Council of Area Development District, 19 percent of households would definitely relocate to another community for broadband service if it was not available to them in their current location and another 20 percent would be very likely to consider relocation.

However, according to the most recent Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, Broadband Progress report, there is still a significant lack of access to fast and reliable internet services to some parts of the country.The report details that 10 percent of all Americans, approximately 34 million people, do not have access to at least a 25 Mbps (download) / 3 Mbps (upload) service, which is a benchmark speed for end uses such as distance learning. Of this number, about 23 million or 39 percent of people come from rural America compared to the 4 million people representing urban America. This disparity can largely be attributed to the economics internet providers face due to the large capital expenditures necessary to extend their services to remote areas with comparatively far fewer potential customers. 

To meet the present day needs of their communities, some states have taken the lead to initiate projects that will extend broadband to unserved or underserved areas. In 2013, the commonwealth of Kentucky entered into a public-private partnership to design, build, operate and maintain a fiber optic network of over 3,400 miles that will extend broadband service to each of the state’s counties. The $324 million initiative known as KentuckyWired saw construction begin in 2015 and is currently in progress.

In 2015, the state of New York appropriated $500 million for a similar initiative called the New NY Broadband Program to bring statewide highspeed internet access by the end of 2018. The state estimated that at the onset of the project, 2.5 million New York homes were without or had limited broadband access. The project is divided into several phases which consist of individual deployment projects that independently extend broadband services to New York communities.

On the national level the FCC has started its Connect America Fund, a six-year program that seeks to expand access to voice and broadband services for areas where they are unavailable. As one part of the program, funds are provided to local telephone providers to subsidize the cost of extending the infrastructure necessary to connect with the unserved or underserved areas around the country. In its latest report, the FCC stated that it has invested $438.3 million in support across the states with participating telephone providers. The project’s completion date is slated for 2020.