What is broadband?
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the term "broadband” refers to high-speed internet access that is always on. It is transferred by a variety of transmission technologies such as digital subscriber line (DSL), cable, fiber optic, and satellite by internet service providers (ISPs). Broadband speed, measured in megabits per second (Mbps), refers to the rate at which information is downloaded from, or uploaded to the internet.
Why is access to fast broadband necessary?
Broadband is essential to supporting economic development, innovation, jobs, and global competitiveness, and ensures access to things like educational materials, telemedicine, and employment and community resources. For those working in agricultural-related businesses, the ability to get real-time data on markets, weather, and new products and practices is critical to success. In 2014, the Indiana Rural Broadband Working Group (RBWG) reported that current speed needs were 20Mbps for high-definition video with an average need of 5Mbps. It also expected that speed needs would grow by 16% per year, and that there would be a 40,000% increase in traffic (bits) by 2019. In 2015, the FCC raised the standard for minimum download speeds to 25Mbps and minimum upload speeds to 3Mbps. Due to these changes, 13.1% of US households don't have access to broadband service capable of providing the standard parameters. DSL technology generally never even reaches the minimum download threshold.
How is access to fast broadband being addressed?
Rural areas are commonly underserved by adequate broadband services as it is often not financially feasible for private companies to provide the needed infrastructure. Because of this, governmental entities are taking action. The RBWG helped to enact Indiana House Enrolled Act 1101 (2015) which established a Broadband Ready Communities Development Center (Center) to serve as an information resource and to certify local communities as being broadband-ready. Once a local unit of government establishes a procedure to review applications and issue permits for communications projects, the Center may designate it as a broadband-ready community. While being designated as broadband-ready will not guarantee investment, it will provide a way for communities to voluntarily distinguish themselves and encourage economic growth by attracting broadband providers.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) developed Broadband USA to assist communities in promoting broadband adoption and expanding existing broadband capacity. BroadbandUSA brings stakeholders together to solve problems, links communities to federal agencies and funding sources, and addresses barriers to collaboration across agencies.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers the Community Connect Grant program to help fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service and the Farm Bill Broadband Loans and Loans Guarantees to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide service at the broadband lending speed in eligible rural areas. In some places, local governments are beginning to supplement broadband infrastructure costs through the use of tax increment finance (TIF) and community economic development income tax (CEDIT) funds.
Steps to take to ensure accessibility to fast broadband may include:
Meeting with representatives from local economic development agencies and/or local ISPs to determine the feasibility of adding or extending broadband service
Determining a strategy for expanding broadband access and quality in the community. In rural areas, research eligibility of applying for the USDA funding programs or other grants or loan assistance.
Working with schools, libraries, and other community facilities to create low-cost or free internet hotspots (public wireless internet access points for mobile devices such as laptops or smartphones)
Garnering public support for broadband service expansion by conducting community-wide educational meetings, convening educational and health provider stakeholders, and developing strategic media campaigns.