July | August 2017

Broadband services have attained a high profile as a critical component of the information economy, supporting the vigorous interchange of information within and between all segments of society.
Businesses, independent contractors, libraries, individuals, educational institutions, health care
providers, government and the entertainment industry have enhanced their services by leveraging the capabilities of broadband services. These enhancements boost the economy, as well as enrich the education, quality of life and awareness of our citizens. In addition, the environment broadband fosters facilitates participation of our citizens at all levels of government.
Population centers were the first to enjoy the availability of and advances in broadband capability, as their demographics better supported the deployment of services by commercial providers. Even within cities, availability of services can be limited to areas with high density of potential customers.
Physical network components—fiber and associated electronics—supporting broadband services have decreased in cost and increased in capacity, thereby improving the value proposition for bandwidth delivered. However, installing the components can be expensive and challenging. Issues with rights
of way, conduit availability, construction requirements, physical security, geographic topology and environmental compatibility can present formidable, expensive obstacles.

Qualities that make areas of high customer density attractive can make rural areas unattractive for a company trying to earn a profit on its infrastructure investment. Potential customers desiring service in a rural area can band together to approach a service provider the way that early cable television customers approached providers to encourage wider service availability in less populous areas.
Satellite and terrestrial wireless services offer advantages in solving access issues on an interim or permanent basis for both rural and urban users. Although these services often provide less bandwidth than fiber infrastructure, the performance and bandwidth capabilities are impressive and expanding at an increasing rate. The radio spectrum used for these services has been undergoing continuous improvement for more efficient use of assigned bandwidth allocations. This, combined with technological improvements to overall spectrum efficiency, brings customers greater bandwidth at attractive rates. While fiber infrastructure often comes to mind in broadband discussions, wireless services are a key component of the broadband availability equation.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, also known as the NTIA, has played a critical role in promoting advancement of our nation’s broadband capabilities. Along with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the NTIA initiated development of a National Broadband Map to assess the geographic availability of broadband services from various service providers.
A March 2015 report by Anne Neville, director of the NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative, provided perspective into the progress made. Prior to the development of this coordinated gathering of data, assessing availability of services at a point in time was difficult. Regular updates from the states, territories and the District of Columbia, along with coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, have made this a success. Going forward, the FCC will maintain the data and the NTIA will focus its efforts on interaction with the states through the BroadbandUSA initiative.
President Obama recently launched the Broadband Opportunity Council, chaired by the secretaries of U.S. departments of Commerce and Agriculture. He charged the council with reporting back in 150 days with the necessary steps required in determining how government can support communities seeking broadband investment; identifying regulatory barriers impeding broadband deployment or competition; reporting back on existing programs that support broadband competition and deployment; and identifying actions to align programs and remove barriers.
The simultaneous focus on broadband deployment by state and federal organizations, along with grant programs, has advanced progress and heightened awareness at both state and federal levels. Some local governments are creating councils and committees to foster further broadband advancement and advocacy.
This broadband focus also has brought attention to conversations on network neutrality, commercially provided services, municipal networks and the federal and state laws that govern these areas. These efforts, along with technological advances and commercial investments, have accelerated the availability, quality and diversity of broadband services nationwide.
Bernie O’Donnell is director of communication services for the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services, Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology. He also is serving as president of the National Association of State Technology Directors.