CSG Midwest
In recent years, state government has taken a more active role in helping provide citizens with greater access to reliable broadband Internet. By using funding or incentives to encourage providers to expand broadband into underserved areas, policymakers hope to address equity issues involving access, as well as the role that access plays in terms of improved education, economic development and even public safety.

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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On January 29, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) redefined "broadband internet." Under the new definition, broadband internet connection must meet benchmark speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Such speeds allow multiple users (or devices) within a household to browse the web and stream video simultaneously, or allow a single user to stream high definition video. The Commission's redefinition of broadband—more than six times its previous download speed benchmark of 4 Mbps—reflects the growing ubiquity of the Internet and aims to ensure the infrastructure has the capacity to meet new, data-intensive usage and its derived benefits.

This SLC Regional Resource examines the role of states in broadband deployment and its relationship to municipal and federal initiatives, with particular attention to the needs of rural areas, and the successes of Southern cities and towns. Notably, this SLC Regional Resource focuses on government-owned broadband infrastructure and direct service provision, though other policies and incentives are discussed broadly. It does not address private alternative internet service providers.

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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.

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