The Broadband Opportunity Council Report: White House Calls for Broadband for All

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At the end of September, the White House released proposals to expand and increase the Internet’s speed. It’s a clear message that broadband is not the luxury it once was. The U.S. views the Internet as a necessity, and the government recognizes the need to create a broadband strategy to expand service and improve connection speed. To date, the USDA and the DOC have invested nearly $7.5 billion in broadband networks to help connect underserved areas across the nation. The administration continues its focus on these efforts.

In July, 2015, the government launched the ConnectHOME program across 27 cities and one tribal nation, with the goal of bringing Internet access to more than 275,000 low-income households. And still, the Council of Economic Advisers has said that nearly 75 million Americans still don’t have high-speed Internet at home (the problem is far more prevalent in rural parts of the country).

The Broadband Opportunity Council is working to address this, focusing on underserved and rural communities. The council seeks to provide additional federal support to those who lack access, citing broadband as a “core utility,” alongside sewer, electricity and water as essential infrastructure. The council has recommended making $10 billion dollars available to federal agencies to spend on broadband. How? It’s complicated (but we bet you’ve already guessed that). The council suggests involving various agencies including HUD, the Treasury Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The report, Broadband Opportunity Council Report and Recommendations, is summarized by the President: “Access to high-speed broadband… is a necessity for American families, businesses, and consumers. Affordable, reliable access to high-speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth… [and] enables Americans to use the Internet in new ways, expands access to health services and education, increases the productivity of businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem.”

Are there more important things to worry about? Maybe. But we’re living on the forefront of the digital age, and while some are scrolling Buzzfeed and streaming Netflix, the Internet is also bringing us more noble endeavors. Applications for jobs and colleges? Online. Real time interaction with and streaming of a college class? Improved healthcare access and information?  Yes, broadband is a necessity.

High-speed Internet is inextricably linked to progress. As Susan Crawford, a tech policy expert, writes, “Truly high-speed wired Internet is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago, but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it to Comcast and few other companies.”

It’s a digital-age dilemma: Is high-speed internet access a right? And if so, how do we ensure everyone has access?

What do you think? Is broadband a utility? Should the government subsidize it?