The Road to Gigabit Connectivity for Every Anchor and Community January 31, 2020
By John Windhausen, Executive Director, SHLB Coalition
You’ve probably heard me say that Goal #4 in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan calls for gigabit connectivity for all community anchor institutions (CAIs) in the country by the year 2020. Until we come through on that gigabit connectivity commitment, we are failing our nation’s CAIs. Even worse, we are failing our students, low-income residents, and patients. In short – we are failing America.
The SHLB Coalition advocates for policies to bring high-quality and affordable broadband to all anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. We have made great progress, but many schools, libraries, healthcare providers, museums, public housing authorities, community media, and other anchor institutions still do not have enough broadband capacity. Missing the 2020 due date doesn’t mean we ought to give up on our mission, but it does add urgency to the efforts of SHLB, policymakers, and our fellow advocates.
SHLB’s 2020 Policy Roadmap, released today, outlines the policy priorities we aim to advance over the course of this year. Addressing these issues will break down the barriers standing in the way of connecting every CAI and community to gigabit broadband.
Why Students, Library Patrons, and Patients Need Gigabit Broadband
Last year, EducationSuperHighway touted that 99 percent of school districts have high-speed internet access, but only at the FCC’s outdated minimum goal of 100 Kbps per student. Fewer schools have the bandwidth they need for 21st century learning. SETDA reports that eighty-seven percent of teachers now use digital learning in their classroom multiple times per week, which requires significantly more bandwidth. In the Broadband Imperative III, SETDA recommends that the modern digital learning environment needs at least 1.4 Mbps per user for large school districts, and at least 2.8 Mbps per user for small districts. With insufficient bandwidth, a classroom risks experiencing a “learning disruption” – the interference in a lesson plan when digital learning technology lacks sufficient bandwidth to function properly.
Libraries are essential to addressing the digital opportunity gap and realizing the vision of universal broadband adoption, according to the American Library Association. For the estimated 162 million Americans who don’t use the internet at broadband speeds, the library may be the only place they can go to create content, take online courses, apply for jobs, and more. Libraries have taken innovative steps to promote broadband access, such as loaning out hot spots and promoting kiosks. We must find ways to encourage these activities so that library patrons aren’t held back by slow speeds.
Gigabit broadband is also crucial for the health and well-being of rural America. Rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate, leaving the people who call these areas home with sub-par healthcare options. Telehealth solutions, such as remote-patient monitoring, have the potential to remedy this rural healthcare crisis. Telehealth consortia are seeing a surge in the use of such solutions. For instance, the Medical University of South Carolina, part of the Palmetto State Providers Network, has witnessed a dramatic growth in annual telehealth interactions from 1,078 in 2013 to more than 235,000 in 2017. Of course, telehealth applications require broadband, meaning that the rural residents and health clinics who stand to benefit the most from the technology also have the hardest time getting the bandwidth to use it.
The Road to Goal #4
Though common wisdom holds that policy is paralyzed in election years, 2020 may be different. There is momentum for broadband infrastructure legislation in both the House and Senate, and the FCC is ramping up its efforts to close the digital divide. SHLB is working with all parties to make headway toward Goal #4 and will continue doing so throughout the year.
SHLB’s 2020 Policy Roadmap outlines six focus areas that will shape our advocacy this year. We urge policymakers to:
#1: Increase funding and improve the administration of the Rural Health Care program.
#2: Streamline and strengthen the E-rate program.
#3: Fund broadband infrastructure programs that include anchor institutions.
#4: Increase competition through licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
#5: Simplify and strengthen the Universal Service Fund.
#6: Develop more accurate and granular maps that include anchors.
It’s unlikely that SHLB will check off all of these priorities in a single year. However, every policy victory that aligns with these goals – for example, the FCC’s permanent elimination of the E-rate amortization requirement earlier this week – moves the needle in the direction of gigabit connectivity for every CAI. More importantly, each small step takes us closer to doing right by the people and communities that anchors serve.
For more details about the SHLB Coalition’s 2020 Policy Roadmap, please visit www.shlb.org/policy/roadmap.