Another Utility That Government Will Provide To Citizens

July 29, 2016
Another Utility That Government Will Provide To Citizens

Government furnishes most utilities to citizens in the United States – basic necessities which include water, electricity and gas. But, in today’s digital age, there is something else just as necessary to everyday life, and government is scrambling to make it available to all citizens. The expansion of utilities now includes access to the Internet.

Studies show that the Internet has accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years. Most people realize that businesses can no longer be competitive without Internet operations.

Citizens cannot remain competitive without Internet connections and schools and universities cannot exist without access to it. It’s a basic necessity – one that must be available for individuals, cities, states and the nation if America is to remain competitive.

However, there’s a problem. Without an existing network, it is extremely expensive for government to provide Internet access. There’s not enough public funding available to ensure that all citizens have access. Most cities have networks but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rural areas do not. Those without a network connection usually reside in a rural area or they fall below the poverty line wherever they reside. According to the Federal Communications Commission, fewer than half of the country’s poorest families have reliable Internet access at home. That is creating a huge social and economic inequality known as the digital divide.

Those on the wrong side of the digital divide, without Internet access, have far fewer opportunities to find employment, advance educationally and raise children who will be able to compete in a connected world. It is an inequality that government is trying to reverse as quickly as possible.

Many public-private partnerships (P3s/PPPs) have been formed to provide Internet access to those without it. The federal government is also committed to the problem.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently launched a program, known as ConnectHome, in 28 different communities. While this is only a pilot program directed for low-income residents in public housing, there are similar programs focused on bringing broadband to rural areas where Internet access is significantly limited.

Westminster, a small community in rural Maryland, recently built out an entire broadband network and then partnered with a private Internet provider so that every home and business could be connected. The Internet company will lease the city-owned network and share the financial risk if demand for services is less than projected.

Other communities are launching similar public-private partnerships. The city of Bloomington, Ind., issued a broadband RFI a few months ago for the deployment of a citywide fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network. The project will involve a public-private partnership with a selected company or coalition interested in providing broadband to every home and business.

The city of Saint Louis, Mo., partnered with a number of nonprofit organizations to issue a Request for Interest to provide broadband from private-sector firms. The city of San Francisco is also evaluating RFI submissions related to broadband. City officials say that every household and every business will be provided access to the Internet.

These projects are just several of hundreds of examples that cities now consider access to the Internet the next basic resource that must be provided. The federal government is also heavily committed, and currently a procurement known as First Net is in the early stages of development. Without going into detail about what the federal government intends to do to ensure Internet access to all citizens, it is important to realize that the federal government plans to hold cities and states accountable for the rollout of the program. Those cities and states that have already started working on the problem will be the leaders of this all-important national effort.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Follow Mary on Twitter.

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