Broadband and Technology Investments: Policy Options for 2011

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Broadband – high-speed Internet – has redefined the way we work, communicate, and unite; it has also become a galvanizing political tool, with the proven potential to unite progressives across the nation. Combined with investments in local technology and in digital inclusion programs that are needed to prepare today’s workers, states can incorporate technological advancement as a key part of a progressive economic growth agenda.

High-speed Internet has been one of the most transformative communication technologies in human history; it is just as important as other traditional public goods or infrastructure investments. Broadband applications are essential for our economic, cultural, and social survival. With universal and affordable high-speed Internet, states can leverage technology as an economic development tool and a means of providing better healthcare services, smarter environmental policies, and greater educational opportunities. As this packet will demonstrate, promoting increased access to and adoption of high-speed Internet accompanied by a digital inclusion strategy, will not only provide many societal benefits, but can unite economic development experts, healthcare advocates, environmentalists, labor unions, and educators.

With the U.S. now ranked 17th in global use of broadband and information technology, 100 million of adults in this country are not subscribed to broadband services at home. In fact, according to a Census Bureau Survey cited by the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA), this number represents more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. A closer look at the numbers reveals that access and use of the Internet is heavily weighted toward the upper echelons of society. Certain demographics have effectively been left out of the digital renaissance and these disparities have persisted over time. Several studies, including one recently published by the NTIA, conclude that geography, income, ethnicity, education, and age impact high-speed Internet adoption.

  • Geographic Divide: Americans in rural areas tend to have lower broadband adoption rates than urban and sub-urban residents. Only 37.6 percent of rural households report having high-speed Internet at home.
  • Economic Divide: Only 40 percent of homes with less than $20,000 in annual income have high-speed Internet, while 70 percent of households earning more than $50,000 per year are connected. See Figure 2 of NTIA Report
  • Racial / Ethnical Divide: High-speed Internet adoption varies depending on race. Sixty-six percent of non-Latino whites have high-speed Internet access at home, in contrast to the 39.7 percent of Latinos, 42.6 percent of American Indians, and 45.9 percent of African Americans who use broadband at home. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies observes that while adoption rates among minority populations have increased; their study suggests that minority groups are overrepresented as new Internet users and underrepresented as experienced Internet users. See Figure 4 of NTIA Report

States need to create policies to promote access to and utilization of high-speed Internet and related applications. Technology is our greatest partner and asset as we work to conquer the challenges that threaten our future. Universal affordable high-speed Internet:

  • Can help rejuvenate a lagging economy: Spurs economic development, increases economic equality, and increases job opportunities.
  • Enhances educational opportunities: Digital literacy skills are primordial to prepare the workforce of the 21st century.
  • Provides more accessible healthcare: Supports the merging of technology and basic services to provide increased accessibility and for certain residents, better quality in areas such as healthcare, e-government, and education.
  • Can be leveraged to reduce our carbon footprint and energy use: Permits more efficient energy management and can be an essential component of many environmentally friendly policies.
  • Maximizes participation in a democratic system: High-speed Internet allows for a more participatory and efficient democratic system. Individuals with broadband find it easier to research candidates and can review local and state hearings and agency meetings.

The key to advancing the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet in the states is to promote universal, affordable high-speed Internet, fund digital inclusion programs, educate leaders and the public on how to utilize high-speed Internet for economic and social benefits, as well as support local investment in technology based growth.

  • Universal Access to Broadband: Increasing the infrastructure of broadband networks stimulates investment and economic growth throughout the country. State legislation should encourage the development of last-mile and middle-mile networks for un-served and under-served populations wherever possible. The first step states need to take to provide affordable high-speed Internet for all is to determine, through mapping efforts, where high-speed Internet access is lacking.
  • Affordable High-Speed Internet Policies: To compete in a global market and to ensure equity of services to all Americans, states should promote universal affordable high-speed Internet. Without universal and affordable Broadband, a state’s ability to leverage technology as an economic development tool and a means of providing better healthcare services, smarter environmental policies and greater educational opportunities, is severely limited.
  • Increasing Technology Fluency Equalizes Opportunities: In every state, a divide exists between those who have access to high-speed Internet and those who do not. The digital divide, however, is not only a function of limited access, but also of lacking the necessary technology literacy skills to function in our 21st century digital world. Increasingly, jobs in both the service and manufacturing sectors, in particular higher paying jobs, require digital skills. Combating the digital divide is a key component to shrinking the growing economic inequality in this country. Hence, states must complement high-speed Internet deployment by supporting digital education programs, funding community technology centers, and establishing computer disbursement programs. Such programs help to ensure that residents of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages understand how to be producers for as well as consumers of this 21st century economy.
  • High-Speed Internet Revitalizes the Economy and Promotes Better Healthcare, Environmental Policies, and Educational Opportunities: High-speed Internet infrastructure is essential to the rejuvenation and sustainability of states. Universal and affordable high-speed Internet enables states to utilize technology to provide better access to healthcare, promote energy efficient and environmentally friendly policies, and provide increased educational opportunities to all. For example, the utilization of telehealth technology has the potential to deliver huge cost savings to America's health care system---over $300 billion annually. And this is just one sliver of the savings pie. It is estimated that widespread adoption of high-speed Internet will add $134 billion to the U.S. economy annually and create 1.2 million new jobs per year.
  • Local Investments for Technology-Based Growth: State governments manage trillions of dollars in financial assets. This money can be a key tool to promote technology innovation and economic equity. Linking state-controlled financial capital with university innovation and local entrepreneurial energy initiatives can not only jumpstart job creation that will accompany high-speed Internet deployment, but also be used to revitalize economically abandoned communities most in need of jobs.

The benefits of high-speed Internet, laid out in this packet, are clear and overwhelming. Yet, to achieve wide-spread adoption of high-speed Internet, resources must be provided from public funds or public/private partnerships. As telecommunication providers are not fully delivering these benefits, state leaders need to leverage funding as a means to bring build-out to under-served and un-served areas, provide affordable access for low-income families, and to establish regulatory oversight to protect consumer rights. Further, state leaders need to make sure that all of their residents are provided with both the digital skills and capital investments needed to take full advantage of this new communication technology.