New reports bolster broadband data, provide tactics for successful state broadband expansion

March 05, 2020

Two new reports, one from the National Association of Counties (NACO) and the other from the Pew Charitable Trusts, provide new data on the gaps in access to broadband and some tactics for how states can effectively develop their broadband expansion projects.

The NACO report provides an analysis of proprietary data gathered by the organization through a mobile app it developed and deployed last year. The app provides internet speed data based in more accurate geographical terms than the existing coverage maps from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which have received sweeping criticism on their accuracy.

Using data from 99,000 speed tests, NACO finds that 77 percent of small counties, 51 percent of medium-sized counties, and 19 percent of large counties have average connection speeds slower than those defined by the FCC as “high-speed” — 25 megabytes per second download and 3 megabytes per second upload (25/3 mbps). The report also provides a better understanding of the severity of the broadband access gap between urban and rural areas showing that rural access is lower and slower than the FCC data indicates.

The Pew report identifies and examines five “promising practices” that may increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which states can implement their broadband expansion efforts. While these practices may seem basic at first glance, there are some important details buried within that states should heed as they develop their own broadband expansion projects.

The five promising practices outlined in the report are: 1) conducting stakeholder outreach and engagement; 2) developing a statewide policy framework; 3) planning and capacity building; 4) funding and operations; and, 5) program evaluation and evolution. Among the important details that are provided: when setting a policy framework, states must be sure to define both the expected technologies and internet speeds, define what constitutes “unserved” and “underserved” areas, identify and address policy barriers, and connect broadband priorities with other policy directives. Similarly, while planning and capacity building, states should work with municipalities and other local organizations to incorporate and support local efforts to gain broad buy-in and support.

The report also provides case studies in nine states — California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — that appear to be successfully implementing broadband expansion programs using these practices. This section provides states with a deeper look into the processes and practices of their neighbors and peers. Although each state faces unique challenges and must coordinate among myriad stakeholders with widely varying priorities and preferences, these case studies help illuminate the common threads faced by states and sets the groundwork from which other states can build their broadband expansion programs.

broadband, rural