NewDEAL Forum Publishes Recommendations to Improve Broadband Access
WASHINGTON — A new report from a Washington-based nonprofit offers a blueprint for how states and cities can most effectively address inequities in access to high-speed Internet with funding newly made available by the federal government.
Published by the NewDEAL Forum, “Bridging the Digital Divide: Policy Proposals to Increase Broadband Access for All,” calls for state and local policymakers to improve mapping and data collection, build new broadband networks in unserved and underserved communities, strive to innovate when it comes to affordability and adoption and enhance the digital skills in their respective communities.
Prepared by the Forum’s Broadband Task Force, the report highlights a number of case studies from states, counties, and cities that are making progress in overcoming barriers to provide reliable broadband to residents.
“The pandemic revealed more clearly than ever that far too many people lack broadband access, and that lack of access exacerbates the systemic racial and economic gaps we see in other areas,” wrote Task Force co-chairs Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Florida Sen. Loranne Ausley and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in the report’s introduction.
“We learned how incomplete and inaccurate our connectivity maps have been and how we have misunderstood the problem. But now we’re learning how we can properly evaluate gaps in high-quality internet access and make targeted investments to address them at the federal, state and local levels,” they said.
Launched in mid-2021, the task force has brought together elected officials across the country who are leading efforts in their communities, as well as policy experts and private and non-profit organizations.
The group has been active in national policy discussions, sending a letter to the Treasury to press for the expanded use of American Rescue Plan funding for more broadband projects and advocating for more accurate maps of where high-speed internet access currently exists.
A key theme of the report is the inequitable nature of the digital divide, recognizing that inadequate broadband disproportionately impacts people of color. The model initiatives and policy recommendations included by the task force would specifically address the needs of these communities.
Now that its recommendations are public, the policy group will focus on trying to get its recommendations adopted across the country. Toward this end the Forum will be working with its sister organization, the NewDEAL, a network of 200 innovative state and local officials across the country.
“The work of our co-chairs and partner organizations has provided a platform for leaders and organizations to promote some of the most promising work taking place across the country,” said Debbie Cox Bultan, CEO of the NewDEAL Forum.
“With unprecedented bipartisan political will and infusion of federal funding as a result of the pandemic, we cannot miss this moment to get all Americans online, and it will be up to state and local leaders to implement initiatives that will close the digital divide once and for all,” Bultan said.
New Democrat Coalition Chair Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the critical need for equitable broadband access in the United States.
“That’s why the New Democrat Coalition fought for and secured $65 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve our nation’s broadband infrastructure and help Americans access this essential 21st century tool. Across federal, state, and local levels of government, officials are showing good governance can work by coming together to implement this crucial funding and bridge the digital divide,” she said.