The research group will soon release its findings about where the largest connectivity gaps are in the U.S., as well as the state policies and practices being implemented to correct Internet disparities.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has spent more than a year studying Americans’ access to broadband, will soon be launching an online explorer inventorying the data it’s collected — including information on gaps to coverage and the policies state governments are pursuing to fill them.
The explorer will be a searchable catalog of everything from current laws and policies, to information on funding and financing, and will likely launch sometime late this summer, said Kathryn de Wit, manager of Pew’s broadband research initiative — which began its work early last year.
Pew — which specializes in statistical data and analysis — has launched similar explorers before, including one on state fiscal policies.
Though broadband is now considered a necessity for daily life in the 21st century, some 24 million Americans — many living in rural communities — still lack adequate access to it. Why this is the case is a complex question that cannot be easily explained away by simple rationalizations, said de Wit.
“What we know at this point is that different communities can be difficult to connect for different reasons,” said de Wit, in an interview with Government Technology.
While broadband gaps are more persistent in rural rather than urban communities, with 30 percent of rural residents lacking access compared to only 2 percent for urban ones, the issue is far from black and white, she said.
One thing is certain: The solution to many of these issues lies in state policies.
“At this point, state policy sets the framework for deployment within states,” said de Wit. “The first step in looking at whether states are effectively closing the gap is looking at policy, and that’s what my team has spent a significant amount of their time on.”
This major effort has included a review of “all broadband deployment laws, statutes, codes, policies, executive orders and administrative codes across all 50 states,” de Wit said. “It was not a small undertaking, but it was important for us to do this research,” she said.
The areas of focus for legislation have been diverse. According to de Wit, one key area is permitting and processing and getting communities ready for the installation of the physical infrastructure that make broadband possible. Other proposed strategies have included tax incentives and other means of encouraging providers to invest in communities that need it most. Meanwhile, legal definitions for broadband and associated concepts are also an important issue.
The explorer lays the groundwork for another pending report on the most promising state practices for improving access, meant to summarize the best means of fostering coverage in underserved communities.
“How do states use policy to shape these environments and then what are states doing through the actual regulatory environment but then also through state government in order to effectively close gaps in connectivity,” de Wit said.
The explorer that Pew will launch this summer will hopefully be encyclopedic in scope, and will give lawmakers and laymen alike a resource to better understand the legal framework surrounding deployment.
Ultimately, de Wit said, publishing this research will be a way for diverse communities to approach the same problem in an appropriate and individually tailored way.
“What we know is that every community is different and will require different solutions, which is why we’re doing the research that we’re doing,” she said.