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NACo Study Makes Case for Larger County Role in Broadband

The National Association of Counties’ Broadband Task Force released a report last week highlighting the widening digital divide and the need for equitable Internet access in all U.S. counties.

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Last week, the National Association of Counties (NACo)’s Broadband Task Force published a report making the case for broadband expansion efforts at the county government level.

The report, titled Broadband Task Force: High-Speed Internet Is Essential For All Counties, looked at the growing digital divide, an issue that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated as both jobs and government services moved online.

Among the preliminary findings, the report emphasized the role that county officials play in achieving broadband access — and not necessarily only acting in the capacities in which they currently serve, but as policymakers, partners and more.

Additionally, the findings highlighted the importance of locally collected data, which can serve as a tool in identifying the current status of connectivity in the U.S. Inaccurate Internet service data at the federal level has been a point of contention in the fight to expand Internet service nationally.

The pathway to bridging the digital divide with equitable broadband access will involve more than one solution, the report argues, citing that fiber, satellite, cellular and other technologies will need to be utilized for maximum effect.

Backing up what many in the public and nonprofit sectors have argued for years, the report also asserts that broadband should be regulated like any other utility — like gas, electricity or water.

With case studies and research from 28 counties, the report highlights best practices and policy recommendations as they relate to areas like the homework gap and community partnerships.

Within each of these areas, identified by the report as “force multipliers” for deploying broadband services, the report offers at least two best practices and at least one policy recommendation. For example, one area focuses on removing bans on municipal broadband. The report identifies state-imposed restrictions as a primary challenge to deploying broadband, noting that 18 states have passed laws to limit such networks. The report suggests best practices and policy that can help to overcome these barriers.

This report builds on the findings of a previous NACo report examining the state of connectivity in the U.S. That report, titled Understanding the True State of Connectivity in America, found 65 percent of U.S. counties experience Internet at speeds below the Federal Communications Commission’s standards. It concluded that without changing the way data is collected, removing barriers and redefining broadband as a utility, the digital divide will continue to increase.
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