Access & Infrastructure

Form an Infrastructure Committee

Start by figuring out what infrastructure and access your community has now. Tasks for the committee might include:

  • Identify broadband mapping and other efforts that have already been complete by federal, state and other initiatives in your community. If a map of broadband coverage in your community does not exist, create one.
  • Invite the local telephone companies and other broadband providers to a meeting to discuss what their near and long-term plans are and how they might help fill coverage gaps.
  • Make a list of any public access locations in your community.

With a little bit of knowledge about your community's infrastructure, you can start to think about holding community meetings to discuss what the community broadband needs and wants are.

The availability of broadband infrastructure in the United States is growing but rural communities continue to trail suburban and urban areas according to reports from the Federal Communication Commission reports and Pew Internet research.

The barriers to expanding broadband services in rural areas include:

  • The high cost of deployment due primarily to the low population density
  • Lower return on investment required to deploy broadband infrastructure
  • Lack of awareness about the importance of broadband, lack of computer skills, and lack of understanding about applications or uses that will improve quality of life and the local economy. These result in lower customer demand for broadband services in rural communities versus more densely populated areas

Incumbent telephone companies, cable companies and other private sector broadband providers are often unwilling to upgrade or deploy broadband infrastructure because of these barriers. Even where it exists, broadband service often costs more in rural areas than equivalent service in urban and suburban communities.

Even faced with these barriers many rural community leaders have undertaken a variety of projects to increase the availability of affordable broadband services in their community. You will find brief sketches of several successful community projects in the case study section of this guide.

The strategies available for improving community broadband infrastructure range from:

  • Doing nothing and waiting for the private sector to provide service
  • Actively working with the local phone or cable company or a private Internet Service Provider (ISP) to deliver the service
  • Developing a public private partnership or municipal broadband delivery and many other solutions.

Any of the strategies other than doing nothing will require an investment in time at the minimum. Local leaders will need to mobilize a technology project team to assess the situation, identify the strategy that "fits" the community, develop and implement a plan of action. Making the business case will be important whether you are requesting public or private investment in your broadband infrastructure. This begins by determining where services are lacking or insufficient. Once identified, perform an assessment of interest in receiving high speed service, applications or uses, and ability to sustain the infrastructure.

Even with $7 billion in federal stimulus funds allocated in 2010 to increasing broadband access and adoption the need still remains great in many communities. Search for additional resources through public, private and non-profit organizations. Like many community and economic development initiatives, increasing the availability of broadband services can take time, money and commitment from many diverse individuals and interests in the community but it is critical to the success of communities in our networked, world.