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Broadband's Future: Where Will We Be in 10 Years?

Our 10 government, industry and nonprofit representatives answer to what extent universal access to broadband will be accomplished in 10 years.

Editor's note: Recently the FCC estimated that about half of the residents living in rural America can’t get the advanced broadband service that metropolitan areas take for granted. Some rural residents can't get any Internet connection at all. And even some city dwellers lack access: At Government Technology’s Los Angeles Digital Government Summit in August, CIO Ted Ross said that almost a third of the city does not have broadband Internet access.

But as broadband in the United States inches toward utility status, Government Technology asks representatives from government, industry and nonprofits why the broadband equity gap exists and how to fix it in our five-part series: The Need for Speed, which details who each of our representatives is.

In part four of our series, 10 representatives answer the question: To what extent will universal broadband access be accomplished in 10 years?

Ric Lumbard: We fully feel that Iowa will be a connected state, rural and urban, and that within the next 10 years, it will be as expected as having electrical service. You move into a place, you have broadband, you have electrical, you have water and air. Just how electrical demand rose in rural areas, we’re going to see it force the infrastructure out into those places.

Joanne Hovis: The prognosis for the next 10 years is relatively good, particularly for metropolitian areas. Incumbent phone and cable companies respond [to competition] by investing and offering better and more affordable services. The key question for progress in the next 10 years will be how much new investment goes into building competitive networks, thus stimulating innovation, competition and new broadband opportunity.
John Jones: As entertainment has become more and more a driver of data usage, the consumer market is really wanting more speeds where they don’t have buffering and pausing, whether they’re watching a movie or gaming or whatever. So the demand for speed is really a key driver in today’s market and that will probably continue to increase over time as more and more robust applications start riding over the Internet.
Robert Bell: Not everybody is going to be online and not everybody wants to be online, and that’s fine, but I think in 10 years from now, we’ll be pretty close to saturation.
Michael Mattmiller: The broadband we have today is not the same as what we will need in the future. I think in 10 years we will be smarter about how we evolve our infrastructure to be ready for future needs, to be more thoughtful about planning, and to have better strategies for helping communities that don’t have the access they need to take advantage of programs and resources to get online.
Heather Burnett Gold: Ten years from now, I think we will have 50 to 75 percent of the country covered. I think that that last 25 percent is going to be challenging and probably needs to be dealt with with federal funding. There’s probably no way that those communities can make the costs work on their own.
Doug Brake: The FCC is working to develop rules to transition the existing Lifeline Program. It makes sense for us to have a subsidy program to help low-income Americans pay for such an important service as broadband. I’m confident that we will see that subsidy become successful.
Chris Mitchell: I think we can solve this problem in 10 years, where at the minimum, every child who is in school would have a broadband connection at home. Some of that might be solved by state and federal sources providing grants or loans, but a lot of it has to be local government-led initiatives. I don’t have any faith that the private sector will develop an effective solution to that problem.
Miguel Gamiño: Fortunately, I think the demand from the public will drive the speed at which this stuff gets developed. In the tech space, 10 years is a lifetime. In the infrastructure space, 10 years is one planning period. And I think we’re going to see those two things collide and you’re going to see the speed of technology push the speed of infrastructure investments.
Bernie O’Donnell: I think progress will be made even within a five-year period and certainly within the next five to 10 years, we’ll make some giants steps forward. 
Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.