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Data-Centric Approach Key to State Broadband Expansion

To reach communities that are unserved and underserved by current high-speed Internet availability, states and broadband providers that leverage available data will make the biggest impact.

The lack of ubiquitous broadband in the U.S. has caused significant impacts to education, health care and the economy. Today there are more than 14.5 million unserved people in the U.S., while an additional 19 million Americans are underserved — and contrary to some misconceptions, this is not just a middle America or rural issue. The lack of pervasive broadband is an issue that every state, municipality, technology company and telecom operator is being called on to help solve.

Expanding broadband access to all can have an enormous economic impact on everything from jobs to education to health care. In the new hybrid/remote economy, access to broadband services welcomes people into the workforce that otherwise would not have access to certain jobs. In education, distance learning will benefit children up through adult learners by decreasing the learning gap, expanding opportunities and knowledge through online higher education. Additionally, through telemedicine, an increasingly aging population can reach health-care providers from the comfort of their homes, and patients can gain access to health-care specialists that may not be available in many smaller, local communities.

Solving the digital divide issue at the state level requires a holistic approach, spanning traditional communication providers, technology providers, utility companies, colleges and universities, and other government agencies. For example, the cost of deploying fiber can be reduced significantly if it could be coordinated with a utility that has received a grant to move power lines underground. This not only saves time and money, but also helps with sustainability goals by reducing truck rolls and their associated carbon emissions.

With significant funds being allocated by federal and state governments, the requisite attention and resources may finally be lining up to make big headway in narrowing the digital divide. However, given the criticality of the challenge and the high cost and complexity to bring connectivity to everyone, the focus must shift to expanding broadband access in the fastest and most efficient way. And, before the network is built, states need to fortify plans to extend distance learning, professional development, business growth, telemedicine and other remote services enabled by broadband networks.


For decades, broadband networks have been built where the best return on investment could be found. Factors such as population density and targeting “NFL cities” weighed heavily. As a result, portions of the population were either left behind entirely or relatively ignored due to either limited regulatory requirements or economic considerations. However, government subsidization of broadband construction will not necessarily solve the larger and longer-term problem either.

We need economically and technologically sustainable solutions that enable the widest possible impact of this generational investment in infrastructure, especially given that broadband data usage has been growing in the range of 20 to 30 percent. However, networks are extraordinarily expensive to build, maintain, operate and upgrade, and customers require support and training to drive adoption. All these factors are driving a need to focus on intelligent investment, technical architecture that can keep up with capacity growth and technology evolution, new operating models, and sustainable financial structures.


Business and government leaders are grappling with tough questions on how to move forward. They need to consider everything from which solutions to choose — fiber-to-the-home, fixed wireless access, Wi-Fi 6 or another technology (e.g., satellite) — to the right strategy around prioritization of areas. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but data can provide the clarity to answer many of these questions.

Extensive data sets spanning private, public and nonprofit sources offer insight around network architecture options; economics to build, operate and rationalize; geographic coverage challenges; educational levels and any hybrid or remote learning; socioeconomic baseline and the opportunity to improve socioeconomic status; and the ability to positively impact disproportionate ethnic groups who are unserved or underserved.

Leveraging such data sets and applying artificial intelligence capabilities can provide insights from the largest lens down to a microscopic view of state, county and census block groups. For example, a broadband decision platform can leverage extensive data sets focused on key areas such as:
  • Demonstrable benefit of funds distributed and impact
  • Prioritization and rationale for build priority
  • Network design, budget and schedule
  • Monitoring of suppliers, timelines and operational service level agreements (SLAs)
  • Readiness of key services to be provided to communities

This type of powerful analysis can show how certain decisions would impact revenue and sustainability, allowing states to see the impact of changing various inputs (e.g., prioritization, cost assumptions, technology) to help not only make the right decisions but also measure success moving forward.

The states and carriers that adopt this type of rigorous data-centric approach will be the fastest and most efficient at deploying and operating broadband networks and promoting services newly available to these communities. These states will also be best equipped to measure outcomes and demonstrate how investment of taxpayer funds can be translated into tangible benefits for communities, specifically for unserved and underserved populations.


Broadband networks are essential infrastructure that all communities should have to sustain growth and development. Just like other infrastructure — electricity, clean water and transportation — broadband is a basic service, required to improve basic economic, business and community conditions; increase tax revenues; and improve education. States should be actively planning ahead to maximize the benefits promised by extending broadband to those currently unserved or underserved.

Peters Suh is Accenture North America Communications & Media industry lead and Ryan Oakes is Accenture Global Public Service industry lead.