Nicol Turner-Lee Brookings Techtank:
Not all U.S. communities are created equal when it comes to broadband deployment and availability. Earlier this year, my colleagues Blair Levin and Carol Mattey shared the challenges associated with deploying broadband in rural areas. According to the authors, it is not only expensive, but it does not necessarily yield a profitable return for private companies.
The gap in high-speed broadband access between rural and urban areas remains wide in the U.S. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans (23.4 million) lack broadband access to a fixed service with speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload, while only four percent of urban residents lack access to those speeds. Without access to high-speed broadband, rural residents are severely limited when it comes to economic development, civic engagement, and the other social benefits related to broadband availability and its adoption.
As the House GOP released the first draft of the tax plan last week, rural broadband deployment, an issue that continues to receive bipartisan congressional attention, may find some helpful incentives. For telecommunications companies that are highly capital-intensive, the draft that the Senate eventually adopts could impact investments in new rural broadband facilities or the upkeep of existing network infrastructure in rural and urban areas.
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Conclusion: Moving forward, it’s important that policymakers consider both the immediate and longer-term needs of American businesses. More important, the alignment of the plan’s details with national infrastructure goals should become one of the priorities during the next round of debate. In the case of broadband deployment, these conversations should anticipate how to fund the access needs of rural America as part of a plan to return prosperity back to American communities.