Networks to People-Opinion Piece

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From Networks to People

Jon Sallet

Broadband’s fundamental value doesn’t come from connecting computers to networks; its value comes from connecting people to opportunity, and society to new solutions. When a broadband network is available but a person who wants to use it can’t do so, then the network is less valuable to everyone else who does use it.

That’s because the he benefits of broadband adoption do not flow only to the people who are new broadband users. Expanding broadband usage can grow the U.S. economy broadly. Expanding broadband usage, furthering civic engagement, can build stronger democratic institutions. Expanding broadband usage, from an individual’s perspective, opens a window on the world, connecting people to people, and people to services that can improve lives.

Broadband adoption benefits people in concrete and practical ways. Children can do homework at home. Parents can become more involved in their child’s school. Families can stream educational content. Adults can obtain digital skills training, including improving workforce skills, and create résumés. Americans with disabilities can establish better access to education, employment, health care, and community activities. Recognize that far too many people face practical barriers in using broadband service they want and that is ostensibly available to them. Academic research has established that socioeconomic factors impact broadband usage.

Local leadership is crucial in both identifying digital divides and combating them. The focus in the near term is ensuring that everyone in America has the opportunity to use robust and competitive broadband. But we also must set long-term goals to ensure that High-Performance Broadband is fully and realistically available to all people in the United States over the next decade.

Drawing from Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the challenges the U.S. faces as we try to achieve more equitable and effective broadband use. We’ll review:

  • Why cost is the primary reason that people do not subscribe to broadband, 
  • What communities are doing to increase the skills people need to be able to effectively use broadband connections when they obtain them, and
  • The critical link between digital-inclusion efforts and broader economic and social strategies.

We will also focus in on adoption efforts in the first Google Fiber location — Kansas City. 

Finally, Benton Fellow Denise Linn Riedl, in collaboration with technology champions and planners in eight cities, has written A Field Guide for Inclusive Urban Technology which will be released in February. The technology being deployed on our devices and our sidewalks and street lights (whether Internet of Things sensors, small cells, or Wi-Fi kiosks) has the potential to improve mobility, sustainability, connectivity, and city services. Public value and public inclusion in this change, however, is not inevitable. Depending on how these technologies are deployed, they have the ability to increase inequities and distrust – and even impede adoption – as much as they can create responsive government services. Recognizing this tension, an initial coalition of local practitioners combined knowledge and personal local government experience to tackle a common question: What does procedural justice look like when cities deploy new technology?

Everyone using broadband makes broadband better for everyone. A stronger, more-just America will be built when society ensures that High-Performance Broadband is widely available and affordable, and that everyone has the opportunity to learn how it can serve their personal and professional goals.

For more on Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, please sign up for updates.

Download a special Benton Report by Jonathan Sallet

Jonathan Sallet is a Benton Senior Fellow. He works to promote broadband access and deployment, to advance competition, including through antitrust, and to preserve and protect internet openness. He is the former-Federal Communications Commission General Counsel (2013-2016), and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Litigation, Antitrust Division, US Department of Justice (2016-2017). ​