By: Laurel Duggan
Broadband access has been a top priority for President Trump. A recent progress report reveals the stunning progress his administration has made on this front. Four million rural Americans have gained access to broadband during his presidency thus far, and the number of Americans without access to broadband has declined to a record low of 5.6%.
The U.S. government successfully stepped out of the way of competition and helped companies efficiently allocate resources. The Administration is targeting funding to actual unserved areas and encouraging deregulatory efforts. The Federal Communications Commission is removing regulatory barriers, like so-called net neutrality, to broadband deployment. They are also retargeting funds to the unserved and limiting waste, fraud, and abuse. As a result of this Administration’s deregulatory vision and the following increases in network investment, the U.S. set records for new fiber deployment in 2018 and 2019, increasing the number of homes passed by fiber by 5.9 and 6.5 million respectively.
The strength of American networks has been apparent throughout the pandemic. During an unprecedented 35% spike in usage as Americans shifted to online school and work, broadband speeds declined a mere 1%. For context, a similar surge in demand left European networks reeling. E.U. officials had to beg Netflix and other companies to reduce streaming quality. The network resilience we have seen in the U.S. has been made possible by years of private investment in network infrastructure.
The American Broadband Initiative, launched last year by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has resulted in the removal of barriers to broadband deployment through simplified application processes as well as new partnerships between government agencies to improve broadband mapping data.
Congress is also taking initiative to improve networks and expand internet access. The Energy and Commerce Committee recently unveiled a package of 26 bills to streamline broadband infrastructure deployment. The bills promote competition, remove unnecessary barriers, improve broadband mapping, and allow broadband deployment on federal lands.
Programs like the Universal Service Fund should assist in reaching unserved rural communities, but they cannot be effective or efficient if we do not have accurate data about where service is needed. The Broadband DATA Act, introduced by Senator Wicker (R-Miss.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and signed by President Trump in March, will require the FCC to collect and disseminate granular data on broadband availability. It also establishes a process for verifying the data’s accuracy. Mapping is a priority across the board, and this legislation aligns with efforts already underway at the FCC. Accurate geographic mapping of broadband availability is the first step to connecting the unconnected.
Fortunately, President Trump, Congress, and the FCC are working together to improve the speed by which companies can deploy network infrastructure and make connectivity universally available.
Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission