On Nov. 30, I attended “Transforming Communities, Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond” to learn about efforts to support greater broadband access and adoption. Because broadband expansion has bipartisan support and because of groups like the Senate broadband caucus and interest in infrastructure, 2017 holds potential for new policy activity in this space. NHC has been encouraging broadband in affordable housing through research, policy and our Connectivity Working Group. Our focus is to expand at home broadband access, especially for low-income households who otherwise may be left behind. Speakers at the event discussed how the U.S. has made significant progress in improving broadband access and adoption, moving from a 68% adoption rate in 2009 to a 75% rate in 2016. Internet speed has increased 300% in the past six years, and schools connected to the internet have increased from 30% to 78%. As we’ve made these strides in broadband access, home broadband access has become increasingly important and is now a necessity. However, the digital divide in terms of geography, income, age and disability status is still significant and needs to be addressed.
While the digital divide was certainly a focus of this event, the connection to affordable housing was barely mentioned. Unless we commit to ensuring the most vulnerable residents, including those in federally assisted housing are connected to broadband, inequity will increase. Partnerships among housing providers, technology providers and digital inclusion organizations are necessary to bridge this divide. Creative thinking about how to finance broadband infrastructure and service as well as how to fund equipment and digital literacy programs will be essential. The FCC’s Lifeline Modernization can offer some new opportunities for housing providers because of the expanded individual subsidy for broadband as well as opportunities to aggregate and to become a Lifeline Broadband Provider. And housing providers could join and network with existing collaborative efforts like HUD’s ConnectHome program, Next Century Cities, Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance to find new ideas and solutions.
Home broadband is only going to become more important and NHC looks forward to further engagement in this work. Please reach out to me if you want to learn more or join NHC’s Connectivity Working Group.