The Brookings Plan for Rural Broadband

These days, it’s trendy to trash U.S. infrastructure, from our crumbling roads to our tepid broadband, but luckily we have think tanks to get out there and write papers telling politicians and taxpayers just how to improve the situation. The Brookings Institution recently put up a series on how to improve America’s infrastructure, including how to change our wireless spectrum auctions and how to increase broadband penetration.

I’m most interested in increasing broadband penetration, which should be a concern for every reader of this blog. According to the Brookings report, about 10 million people (about 3 percent of the U.S. population) don’t have access to broadband. Sure, almost 20 percent of those who use dial-up apparently wouldn’t choose broadband even if it was offered, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that not having access to broadband today is similar to denying people electricity or access to public education. Increasingly that lack of access will mean rural communities live in this century’s version of the company town, only able to get access to goods, services and information found in their own backyards.

The Brooking paper proposes some interesting solutions to increase penetration — which mostly boil down to using wireless to deliver rural broadband. In order to do that, the paper proposes, legislators would need to change the way FCC auctions off spectrum and offer up an interesting subsidy plan for carriers who would provide the service. The ideas are worth exploring, but because the FCC and politicians don’t legislate in a vacuum, the suggestions presented in the paper will never see the light of day. Instead, we’re likely to get some bastardized version of this legislation, which is currently being touted by the incumbent ISPs.


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