Make America great with great broadband

One of the most powerful metaphors in American politics is John Winthrop’s memorable sermon urging his fellow Puritans to create a “city upon a hill.” Many presidents have drawn on that vision, but none more memorably than President Reagan, who, in his farewell address, described his American dream as a city “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

If that vision animates the new administration, then it should look to broadband policy for a major area of such opportunity. If America is going to be or continue to be “great,” it has to have great, world-leading broadband.

The other issues—the appropriate criteria for eligibility and how to distribute the funds—are linked. I can think of seven potential approaches, none of which are exclusive and many of which are complementary:

  1. Target anchor institutions—schools, libraries, health facilities, and other community institutions—to assure they have abundant bandwidth.
  2. Target middle-mile facilities—the networks between the internet backbone and the local, final connection– to lower operating costs for multiple providers in low-density areas.
  3. Target final-mile facilities, with a focus on communities that lack access to a network offering a certain speed threshold. One could build on the Federal Communications Commission’s current Connect America Fund structure to accelerate a next-generation buildout in rural areas, something I’ll discuss in more detail in a future post.
  4. Target next-generation 5G mobile networks and the Civic Internet of Things to bring intelligence to the water, sewer, electricity, and transportation grids underlying our communities. Both these new platforms will share a need for, and operate over, a fiber network. The infrastructure fund could accelerate such deployments either through a model cities approach of funding demonstration projects or by funding many projects to create scale and standards.