In practice, Dig Once policies attempt to lower the cost of broadband deployment by providing internet companies access to state- or city-owned rights of way. This is complemented by the mandatory installation of conduit for fiber-optic cable during road construction, or by allowing qualified broadband deployments to be installed during road construction projects.

Rural communities shouldn’t have to settle for slower Internet speeds. The effort to expand broadband Internet to public schools and libraries will draw its funding from the FCC’s E-Rate component of the Universal Service Fund. The Universal Service Fund established by the Communications Act of 1934, was originally created to provide telephony services to low-income and rural areas. With an update from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Universal Service Fund now covers advanced telecommunications services, including Internet service.

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Iowa and Indiana are moving ahead with a mix of new programs and tax policies designed to expand broadband development in the state’s rural areas. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad made his “Connect Every Acre” proposal a top priority this past legislative session. With passage of HF 655, the state is establishing a grant program for service providers that install broadband in areas that connect farms, schools and communities.

According to NetIndex, which tracks key metrics related to the Internet, the United States is ranked 24th in terms of average internet speed. However, there is great variation among the states. Some have average download rates similar to the top 10 countries, but others’ rates are comparable to those around number 60.

Although many of the Internet’s technological underpinnings were invented in the United States, the U.S. continues to lag behind other developed countries in terms of broadband adoption and connection speeds. Cloud services provider Akamai Technologies ranks the U.S. 19th in average connection speed and 23rd in broadband adoption based on the Federal Communication Commission’s previous definition of broadband as 4 megabits per second.

Residents of Chattanooga, Tenn., have access to Internet speeds of one gigabit per second—more than 50 times faster than the rest of the country, leading it to be nicknamed “Gig City.” If Chattanooga were a country, it would be tied for the fastest Internet connection in the world with Hong Kong. The rest of America comes in at 26th, behind Singapore, Romania, Japan and Sweden. Residents of surrounding areas are envious because the service, which is provided by the city’s public utility company, is prohibited by state law from expanding beyond city lines. Chattanooga is one of several cities—including Lafayette, La., and Wilson, N.C.—that has built its own municipal high-speed broadband networks. These cities have been cited as success stories among local governments, taking action to provide faster Internet speeds for residents and to encourage economic development.

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Across the Midwest, state legislators have heard stories about the promise of high-speed broadband, and the problems of having inadequate or no connections at all. In her home state, Sen. Jennifer Shilling says, family-owned dairies in rural Wisconsin have been able to expand product sales well beyond state and even national borders — thanks to having a strong Internet presence. But at the same time, she has talked to emergency responders in rural parts of her district who couldn’t find a nearby Internet connection reliable enough to simply complete a state-mandated certification course. 

Since the Super Committee failed to produce legislation to reduce the deficit, smaller yet extremely important issues have resurfaced in Congress. On Tuesday, Rep. Greg Walden introduced the Jumpstarting Opportunity through Broadband Spectrum, or JOBS, Act. The bill seems to be on the fast track to approval in the U.S. House, as this Thursday, the Committee on Energy and Commerce will take up the bill.

As state leaders begin to realize and utilize the incredible potential of technology to promote transparency, encourage citizen participation and bring real-time information to their constituents, one area may have been overlooked. Every state provides public access to their statutory material online, but only seven states provide access to official versions of their statutes online. This distinction may seem academic or even trivial, but it opens the door to a number of questions that go far beyond simply whether or not a resource has an official label.

The availability of high-speed access varies widely in the Midwestern states.