Federal, State Broadband Analysis Issued By Pew Charitable Trusts

November 02, 2018
pew broadband analysis

The Pew Charitable Trusts has issued a comprehensive news analysis on broadband. Published October 17, the report includes an overview noting that  Congress and more than a dozen states are considering legislation to expand broadband access. Most efforts aimed at increasing spending and streamlining regulations, according to the analysis. State and federal lawmakers, it notes, aim to improve broadband access by funding expansion projects, bolstering research, and streamlining policies and procedures. The analysis by the global research and public policy organization offers the following insight on federal and individual state activity. On behalf of the independent nonprofit, the analysis was authored by Anne Stauffer, Project Director, and Kathryn de Wit, Manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband research initiative.

Federal and state lawmakers are considering an array of measures aimed at bringing broadband access to the 24 million Americans who lack this service. During the current legislative session, lawmakers have enacted dozens of pieces of legislation to fund connectivity programs, direct more support to projects in underserved areas, streamline policy and procedures, and conduct needed research. These laws and other proposed bills reflect lawmakers’ recognition of how essential high-speed internet has become to peoples’ lives—and the economy.

Federal Activity

Since January 2017, the beginning of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have addressed broadband in many bills, notes the report. Here’s a breakdown of several notable measures by theme:

Funding and authorizing broadband expansion: The fiscal year 2018 spending bill that President Donald Trump signed in March included $600 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “e-Connectivity Pilot Program,” which will support broadband projects in rural areas. The spending law also gives the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) $7.5 million to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enhance the national broadband map, which depicts broadband availability and speed across the country.

Legislation proposed for this fiscal year would provide more funds for  USDA’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program: $550 million in the House-passed version of the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill and $425 million in the Senate-passed version. Pending legislation would also maintain funding for NTIA’s map modernization effort.  

The 2018 Farm Bill—legislation authorizing federal agriculture and rural development programs—has not yet been signed into law, but the House- and Senate-passed versions would authorize new USDA grants for rural broadband deployment projects. The Senate version also includes up to $50 million for the existing Community Connect grant program.

Bolstering research: The fiscal 2018 spending law also includes measures to bolster federal government research on broadband connectivity. It requires the FCC to issue a report to Congress on the status of broadband availability to military veterans who are low-income or live in rural areas. As noted in the Pew Report on Broadband, it also requires the FCC to establish a methodology for consistently collecting wireless coverage data about speed and reliability. And the fiscal year 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, which the president signed in August, requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study evaluating the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses. Another measure, which has not become law, would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess, analyze, and submit a biennial report to Congress regarding the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy.

Streamlining federal broadband policymaking efforts: Congress is considering measures that would improve the efficiency and execution of federal efforts to expand broadband connectivity. The proposed Senate and House farm bills establish a task force within the FCC for meeting the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the U.S.  The House bill also establishes minimal acceptable service standards for rural projects seeking funding from the USDA. Other bills streamline the permitting process for broadband deployment projects; establish an Office of Rural Broadband within the FCC to bolster its coordination with other federal agencies; and create an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within NTIA to develop training and guidance to promote broadband development in underserved communities.

In addition to these themes, Congress is also considering measures to expand access in tribal areas and bring or restore broadband to disaster-stricken areas.

State Activity

Since January 2018, 19 states have enacted 26 bills related to increasing broadband availability, noted Pew’s newly-released report. These laws fall within three themes: funding, regulatory reform, and exploratory research.

Funding: States are using funding and financing options to increase broadband availability, including “last mile” deployment—reaching the homes, businesses, and other entities that still lack reliable, high-speed internet service. Wyoming created a new grant program for broadband deployment and New Mexico set up a $1 million fund to connect public, tribal, and school libraries. Colorado has taken a different approach by repurposing funds for rural telephone deployment to support rural broadband deployment. States are also offering incentives to boost private sector investment. For example, Alabama and Iowa art giving internet service providers tax credits and exemptions to encourage build-out in communities with limited or no access to broadband.

Regulatory reform: States are adjusting rules and regulations to promote broadband deployment, stated the Pew Charitable Trusts news analysis on broadband. Georgia enacted legislation directing the state technology authority to develop and implement a plan to promote the installation and maintenance of broadband services along interstates and state roads. Other states, including West Virginia and Maine, have focused on “dig once” activities, which would minimize the number of excavations required to install telecommunications infrastructure.

Research: Lawmakers are supporting efforts that will help them better understand the scope of broadband challenges and solutions in their states. Kansas, Nebraska and Maryland have created task forces to determine best practices for deploying broadband to unserved and underserved areas. And Virginia lawmakers have asked the state’s Center for Innovative Technology to determine the viability of a statewide “dig once” policy.

About The Pew Charitable Trusts

Informed by the founders' interest in research, practical knowledge and a robust democracy, the Pew Charitable Trust portfolio has grown over time to include public opinion research; arts and culture; and environmental, health, state and consumer policy initiatives. The mission includes the following objectives:

  • Improve public policy by conducting rigorous analysis, linking diverse interests to pursue common cause and insisting on tangible results;
  • Inform the public by providing useful data that illuminate the issues and trends shaping our world;
  • Invigorate civic life by encouraging democratic participation and strong communities. In its hometown of Philadelphia, the organization supports arts and cultural organizations, as well as institutions that enhance the well-being of the region's neediest citizens.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. An independent nonprofit organization – the sole beneficiary of seven individual trusts established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. As noted on its website, "From its first day in 1948, Pew's founders steeped the new institution with the entrepreneurial and optimistic spirit that characterized their lives. As the country and the world have evolved, we have remained dedicated to our founders' emphasis on innovation. Today, Pew is a global research and public policy organization, still operated as a non-partisan, non-governmental organization dedicated to serving the public."


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