A new report from the White House and the Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC) states that broadband internet in the US is no longer an “optional amenity” but a core utility that is now “taking its place alongside water, sewer, and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities."
The BOC, which is chaired by the heads of the Commerce and Agriculture departments, spent five months reviewing every major Federal program that provides support for broadband access, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Justice. The report presented a list of 36 actions that the government needs to implement over the next 18 months in order to improve broadband access, including:
- Modernize Federal programs valued at approximately $10 billion to include broadband as an eligible program expenditure, such as the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Community Facilities (CF) program, which will help communities around the country bring broadband to health clinics and recreation centers;
- Create an online inventory of data on Federal assets, such as Department of the Interior (DOI) telecommunications towers, that can help support faster and more economical broadband deployments to remote areas of the country;
- Streamline the applications for programs and broadband permitting processes to support broadband deployment and foster competition; and
- Create a portal for information on Federal broadband funding and loan programs to help communities easily identify resources as they seek to expand access to broadband.
President Obama claims that since he took office over 45 million people have gotten online, but the BOC’s report suggests there’s still much more work to do. Other recommendations it makes include implementing outreach programs to Native American tribal lands to improve broadband access in those areas, and that federal agencies promote "dig once" policies that put fiber or fiber conduit underground when streets are dug up for other purposes.
In July, the White House launched the ConnectHome project across 27 cities. The program aims to bring high-speed broadband to a number of low-income families in the US. 275,000 families have since benefitted from the initiative’s offer of free or very low-cost broadband services.