The biggest challenge for broadband right now is coming up with a national plan for its funding and classification as a utility, David Gilford, co-founder of the Broadband Equity Partnership, said in an interview with Broadband Breakfast.
Gilford was asked what are the major roadblocks that are preventing the new administration from achieving its goals.
Beside having a uniform plan, he said classifying broadband as a utility would also be difficult and the ability to regulate street poles in national policies that don’t upset local and state jurisdictions are also going to prove challenging.
Smaller jurisdictions will continue to work hard to get their fair share of funding, which will be especially challenging due to current inaccurate and underdeveloped data reflecting where areas are well served.
Gilford, who is also a principal at HR & A Advisors, discussed the findings from their recent survey that found “88 percent of respondents identified fiber deployment as a high priority investment in their communities,” which was largely a bipartisan agreement.
When asked which short-term versus long-term broadband goals should be prioritized, Gilford replied that every city and community is in a different stage of planning. No two communities are the same.
Some areas have advanced plans to tackle broadband deployment and upgrades while others have no plan at all. As federal funding is deployed, there is a large group of cities that will be ready to move fast and act on their plans, he said.
A major finding in the survey was that prioritizing broadband is not a rural versus urban or even Republican vs Democrat problem, as people in a variety of situations agree broadband is important. Gilford said that people do not even think of broadband as an IT or even technical issue, but view it as more of an “educational and economic opportunity” that can’t be lost.
The survey was comprised of over 120 respondents from 18 states across the country representing the political spectrum. Respondents came from small towns, big cities, state and local economic development and IT agencies, utility companies, nonprofits, and educational institutions, and are at many different stages of implementing broadband plans.
Its findings were published on March 12 and will be shared with federal and state policymakers in aggregate.
The survey recommended “the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress consider ambitious infrastructure funding, states and localities have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide.”
Gilford compared broadband to utilities like electricity, gas and water.
“With no internet access, it is impossible to fully participate in the economy, healthcare, and so forth,” he said.